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 Embraced Change

Recently, Mister Boomer observed a group of teenage boys horsing around (as our parents used to say) while walking down the street. They were punching each others’ arms and running away, like some sort of tag game, until one boy pulled pennies out of his pocket and started hurling them at his friends. They, in turn, picked the coins up and hurled them back, until all efforts focused on hitting one kid. When the dust settled and the group walked on, Mister B saw a couple of dozen pennies littering the sidewalk. He had seen abandoned pennies on this walk before, and wondered about their presence. After testing the hypothesis that by picking them up, all the day he would have good luck, to no avail … at least now he knew how and why they got there.

What was surprising to Mister B was the casual way in which these teens threw away money — yet after a little thought, it wasn’t surprising at all. They live in a time when a penny buys virtually nothing. In our boomer years, a penny could buy ten caramel swirl candies or two root beer candies. Five pennies bought a premium candy bar. Just ten pennies bought a McDonald’s hamburger. Boomers were used to carrying change, because it was spendable income.

Mister Boomer recalls in his early days, on occasion his father would race his kids back to the car in a shopping center parking lot. (Please don’t even THINK of such a thing as kids running through a parking lot these days.) As he ran, he’d have to grab his pants pocket to quell the jingling of all the change, which, if he hadn’t, would find its way out onto the pavement, thereby letting his kids win the race. His father carried a lot of change, and counted it out, coin by coin, to cashiers in supermarkets and ice cream parlors, department stores and drive-in theaters. Change was good.

Mister Boomer still has the first wallet he was ever given, though it has long been out of service due to its condition. The zippered leather wallet opened to an area containing picture-holding sleeves on one side, and a snap-closure change pocket on the other. Women regularly carried change purses, and many boomer women do so to this day.

Somewhere in the late sixties, there was a sea change in Mister B’s dad, and he no longer wanted to carry it. Instead, he’d stockpile any coins he got until they got unmanageable. Then he’d give Mister B coin sleeves that he picked up from the bank, and asked him and his sister to pack the correct amount into the sleeves. Often he’d give the kids a roll of pennies or nickels as payment for services rendered. When he passed away, Mister Boomer and his siblings discovered boxes full of jars in his room that contained what was probably years of loose change. There was so much change that it brought the supermarket coin machine to its knees, as a voice from within it said, “Please wait. My, you have a lot of coins.”

It turns out, he wasn’t alone. Many boomers picked up the habit of not carrying change lest it ruin the line of their trousers (we talked like that back then). By the 1970s, large water jugs were commonplace in boomer apartments, slowly filling with pennies or mixed change. Nonetheless, change was still money. There were many times Mister B recalled friends raiding their change jug for gas money.

Today we are at a crossroads concerning the use of coins. It was once thought that coins would always be necessary as long as there were vending machines, but the advance of electronic payment methods has rendered that argument useless. Then there was the fiasco of the dollar coin by the U.S. Mint. There have been predictions that we were heading toward not only a coinless future, but a cashless one, which have been bantered around for a couple of decades now. At this point, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco has stated in a recent study that cash is still the preferred method of payment for roughly half of all transactions less than $50 in the U.S.

Even still, it looks like boomers lived during the Golden Age of Coins and Loose Change. Millennials (people aged 18-34) are changing the landscape on how transactions are paid. Studies show they currently use cash more than any other method, but that is only because they don’t want to incur debt through a credit card. Their preferred method, according to multiple sources, would be an electronic transfer via smartphone. Mister Boomer has observed millennials paying for a pack of gum with a debit card. As it turns out, this is not unusual as BankRate.com says one in three millennials pay daily transactions with debit cards. Capital One, the credit card company, chimes in that one in four millennials say they rarely or never carry cash because it’s “too inconvenient.” Business Insider adds that in their survey, 40 percent of millennials would give up cash today if easily workable methods could replace it. Apple, Amazon, Pay Pal and a host of others are attempting to do just that.

In 2015, a growing Chinese middle class made more purchases via smartphone than on computers. The pace of Internet purchases in the U.S. via smartphone is also increasing by leaps and bounds. By 2021, home personal digital assistants are expected to expand by 84 percent. Instead of reaching into a pocket for change in a brick-and-mortar business, you’ll speak to a disembodied voice that will arrange a purchase for you, and debit the money from your account.

What memories of loose change do you have, boomers? Are you lamenting the decline of cash and coins, or do you embrace this change?