Boomers Chose Their Summer Footwear Carefully

For a good many boomers, their choice of summer footwear fell into two categories: casual or dress, and generally speaking for boomer boys, at least, there would be one pair for each. Some boomer girls might have more than one pair of summer sandals, depending on a range of factors that included their families’ economic class.

For Mister Boomer and all the boomers he grew up with, casual summer shoes were the very pair of canvas sneakers that had been worn the previous school year in gym class. Some boys had high tops, while others preferred the low rise (like Mister B). These shoes served triple duty during the summer, getting wear from everyday walking to playing sports, or going shopping or to drive-in movies with the family, but never to Sunday church. The shoes could often end up torn and tattered by summer’s end, so a new pair would be purchased for the upcoming school year. Many boys chose to wear their sneakers without socks, but Mister B did not; he always wore gym socks with his sneakers.

Boomer girls wore sneakers as well, but often wore sandals of various styles. Usually, they were made of leather with flat bottoms and a strap of some kind that wrapped around the top of the foot, with or without a buckle. There was usually a heel strap and buckle as well. Flip-flops, the ultimate in casual summer footwear, were not worn anywhere but the beach in Mister B’s area — by girls or boys — at least until the late sixties.

Some boomer boys and their fathers wore leather sandals, which often had thick leather straps to distinguish a manly shoe from the thinner-strapped feminine counterparts. Mister Boomer recalls two fathers of his neighborhood boomer friends who wore sandals with socks, the nightmare of every son or daughter. One of the men wore his usual socks with his leather sandals, which could be navy, black or olive green color. The other wore the proverbial knee-high white tube socks with his dark brown sandals. It was not the sartorial preference of boomers. However, some of the boomer boys in Mister B’s neighborhood had leather sandals. They might have simple (but thick) leather straps of a lighter or darker color, or be gussied up with gold-toned metal rivets that harkened back to gladiator days.

Mister Boomer tried a pair of leather sandals once, but found them immensely uncomfortable without socks, the leather digging into multiple locations on his foot. Wearing socks, of course, was not an option, so he abandoned the idea. Then one day one of the neighborhood’s older boys came back from Vietnam, with tales of how the Vietnamese made sandals from old tires. The boys were enthralled with the homemade factor, including Mister B and his brother. The Army vet gave the boys instructions of how tire treads were cut to foot size, then pierced on either side of the toes so strips of rubber inner tube could be slipped through the holes and knotted underneath to create a strap over the top of the foot. The process was repeated for a heal strap. Since the rubber stretched, the homemade sandals could be adjusted to suit the size of every foot. He said the Vietnamese wore them constantly, and they were very durable.

There always seemed to be plenty of junk material in Mister B’s neighborhood for building projects, from underground forts to treehouses, go-karts, to now, tire-tread sandals. As several boys in the neighborhood attempted to make their own Vietnamese-style sandals based on the neighbor’s instructions, Brother Boomer secured a chunk of tire for his pair, and for Mister Boomer as well. He retrieved his father’s hunting knife from the basement and, in the backyard, traced his feet with a pencil on roughly-cut pieces of tire tread. He brandished the hunting knife to trim the tread along the outline, then placed four piercings for the straps. An old tire inner tube — Mister B thinks it might have been from a bicycle tire — was sliced to a close size. Brother Boomer slipped one end through the hole and knotted it on the sole, repeating the process for the other side and heel. By leaving one side unknotted, the rubber strap was adjusted until it provided a snug fit. Then the straps were knotted completely underneath, with excess rubber getting sliced off with the knife.

Wearing his newly-made sandals and looking out for the safety of his younger brother, Brother Boomer cut tire tread for Mister B. After slicing the strap holes, he let Mister B complete the process to make the straps. While the DIY project was great fun, Mister B found them completely impractical and for him, unwearable. Brother Boomer wore his for more than a week before giving up, while one or two of the neighborhood boys continued to wear theirs well into the summer.

Society had structural rules for practically everything in the fifties and early sixties, and that included going barefoot. If boomers weren’t in the backyard kiddie pool or running through the sprinkler, they would be wearing some type of footwear. By the end of the sixties, rules were relaxed or demolished as boomers wore sneakers in places that were unheard of earlier (like to church) and flip-flops were worn in public by both males and females. Mister B had flip-flops for beach and vacation trips, but rarely wore them. He never got used to having that thing stick between the toes.

What memories of summer casual footwear do you have, boomers?

Boomers Got Tattoos — Or Did They?

The history of tattooing spans countries, cultures and generations. The early days of tattoos in the U.S. echoed the new country’s military beginnings, as tattoos were predominantly inked on male soldiers and sailors, who sported patriotic themes or regimental insignia. This same practice was reawakened during the Civil War, when tattoo artists would travel, even from Union to Confederate camps, to practice their art.

The Victorian Era saw acceptance of tattoos grow from the strata of the military and lower income classes to higher echelons of society. A New York newspaper at the time reported that as many as three quarters of the women of high society were tattooed for decoration, mostly with butterflies and flowers.

Like most trends in the U.S., the popularity of tattoos started on the East and West Coasts and moved inward, but times were changing. By the 1920s, tattoos and tattoo artists were equated with the excesses of the Jazz Age, and it fell out of fashion in the general population as part of the sweep of the Prohibition Movement. Tattoos on women were thought to be a sign of promiscuity. This forced some heavily tattooed women into working circus and strip-tease acts. Nonetheless, the practice continued. When Social Security was introduced in the 1930s, a minor trend appeared of getting your newly-issued Social Security number tattooed on your body so that you would remember it!

In the 1940s, many men still sought out tattoo artists. However, as the possibility of the U.S. entering World War II loomed large, the military would not accept individuals with images of naked women or pin-ups, popular tats of the day. Consequently, there was a surge in tattoo business nationwide as men had their tattoos “dressed” with nurses’ uniforms, bikinis or even Native American garb. During the War, it was mainly sailors — like the early days of the U.S. military — who received tattoos. And like the time of the American Revolution and Civil War, their tats were most often patriotic images or regimental insignia.

By the time the War had ended and the first boomers were born, tattoos were once again losing their status in society. Prisoners gave each other tattoos, often to reflect group affiliation, and thus a person observed with a visible tattoo was thought of as either a felon or under-educated. This rebellious reputation made tattoos more attractive for motorcycle clubs and Beatniks, though their chosen imagery differed greatly. Motorcycle club members often had a club logo tattoo in the 1950s, while the Beatniks preferred imagery that suggested Eastern mysticism.

In 1961, a hepatitis outbreak in New York City was traced to a tattoo studio in Coney Island. Consequently, a New York City law banned all tattoo establishments, and most of the country followed suit. (New York City didn’t repeal the law until 1997.) More underground than it had been in decades, tattoo artists worked illicitly. As rock ‘n roll established itself as the voice of the younger generation, some rock stars sported tattoos as a sign of their rebellious nature. Members of the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, in particular, sported visible tattoos.

In Mister Boomer’s circle of family and friends, tattoos were a rarity. He only knew two people — both men — with tattoos. The first was his uncle, a veteran of World War II, who had his army division insignia tattooed on his arm. The other was a manager at the first retail job Mister Boomer worked. The man’s tattoo pictured snakes slithering down an anchor — he had recently left the Navy.

In Mister Boomer’s area, it was commonly said during the 1960s and ’70s that any tattoos or markings should be covered up for job interviews. It was not going to be easy to enter Corporate America if you had a visible tattoo. Thus the alienation between financial classes, heightened by level of education, could also increase over physical appearance. Many long-haired boomers will attest to this same form of discrimination. Consequently, tattooed boomers tended to work in factories, record stores or places where they would not be seen by the general public lest someone be offended.

Now it is said that the number of tattoo studios in the U.S. has doubled since the 1990s. Many corporations still frown on their workers showing tattoos, and tattoo concealer sales have grown to serve this market. At the same time, tattoo removal services have also grown exponentially. According to a 2006 study by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly a quarter of Americans between 18 and 50 have at least one tattoo.

These days it’s hard to turn practically anywhere without seeing people of both genders sporting tattoos. Male and female stars on all types of TV shows, movie stars and sports stars proudly display their tats. More establishments are relaxing their ban on tattoos in the workplace as the popularity seems yet to have reached its peak. Who knows where this will lead? Mister Boomer can’t help but wonder if the Boomer Generation didn’t set the stage for the level of freedom this current generation has to express themselves with their bodies.

While Mister Boomer doesn’t have any tattoos and doesn’t know tattooed boomers himself, he did run into one man in his daily work commute last summer who had a series of tattoos on both his arms and legs. The man appeared to be of boomer age and was dressed in shorts, so he may have been retired or worked as a corporate messenger since he was observed carrying large envelopes each time Mister Boomer encountered him on the train platform. The interesting thing about his tattoos to Mister Boomer, though — and what made him think the man was a boomer himself — was that virtually all of his tattoos were cartoon characters from our boomer days. The man had Mighty Mouse, Heckel and Jeckel, Huckleberry Hound, Popeye, Felix the Cat, Yogi Bear and Bullwinkle and Rocky inked on his arms and legs! While Mister Boomer isn’t of the mindset to ever get a tattoo of any type, this was one display he could appreciate. How is that for a rebellious boomer?

Did you know any fellow boomers who got tattoos back in the day, boomers? Have you jumped on the tattoo bandwagon yourself in subsequent years? Do your children have tattoos?