Boomers Had Strict School Dress Codes

This time of year, Mister Boomer recalls the daily dread he felt as the Labor Day holiday weekend approached. It meant one thing: summer was over and school was about to begin.  Another dreaded part of every impending school year was the mandatory back-to-school shopping venture. As growing boomers, clothing from the year before often would no longer fit. For many boomers, including Mister B, school clothes were different than casual clothes. School dress codes had a great deal to say about that.

Mister Boomer and his siblings went to parochial school. Therefore, girls were required to wear uniforms, and boys wore dress pants, dress shoes, dress shirts and ties. Styles and fit were strictly enforced. Girls could not have a skirt hem land more than one inch above their knees, and it was often checked with a ruler at the school entrance. Boys were allowed the leeway of a bow tie or clip-on neck tie, but in Mister B’s early days, the shirt had to be white, light blue or pale yellow. Girls had two styles of collar that was allowed on their blouses, and had to wear plaid jumpers or skirts and black patent leather shoes with a single strap over the instep — known as a Mary Jane. Boys were required to wear leather dress shoes with laces. That was all that was allowed.

Mister B’s public school neighbors had rules that were a bit more relaxed in that they did not require boys to wear ties, but their shirts were required to have a collar. It was preferred that girls wore skirts and blouses or dresses, though by the mid-1960s, pants were allowed.

As the rebel images of James Dean and Marlon Brando popularized dungarees in movies of the 1950s, kids wanted to embrace the fashion. There were protests, mild and polite by today’s standards, by students from coast to coast. Still, for several years, the students lost the argument. Long before dungarees became known as blue jeans, dress codes explicitly forbade them for both boys and girls. As loafer shoes and penny loafers became a trend, they were banned by many school districts.

The sixties changed everything, man. Many point to The Beatles for popularizing longer hair for boys, from the moment they landed in the U.S. with their “moptop” hairdos. In Mister Boomer’s observation, though, there was a sea change in 1967 after the Summer of Love. Take a look at audiences at rock concerts before that time and after, and you’ll see a marked difference in the way boys and girls dressed. Before 1967, you’d see kids dressed like they were going to school. This is quite a contrast when you view early videos of Elvis, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones or The Beatles, for example. However, after 1967, there were Bohemian and Eastern influences that helped to create what we now know as the clich√© of sixties fashions.

Before the mid-sixties, a great many school districts did not feel there was a reason to have written guidelines on hair. Boomer boys and girls tested their patience by adopting every trend that came along, and that necessitated a reaction to “keep the kids in line.” There were all sorts of seemingly random rules designed to limit everything from girls’ bangs and hair height to boys’ sideburns and overall hair length.

In the last half of the 1960s, school dress codes slowly began to loosen. In public schools, most school districts allowed “clean” blue jeans, and bans of loafers quietly disappeared. The styles of the day slowly brought athletic shoes into the casual realm as the ’60s became the ’70s.

By most historical accounts, the confluence of culture and modernized education methods of the 1960s altered the way dress codes were viewed. The era of Civil Rights brought about in some small measure an understanding that dress codes could be culturally biased, and it was a time when the concept of “students’ rights” was being discussed. For boomers who were in school at the beginning and end of the 1960s, there was a huge difference in what school clothes their parents were shopping for as the new school year approached.

Take a look at the way kids are dressed when they head to school today, and it appears to old Mister Boomer, there are no rules governing dress whatsoever. Mister B recalls many students in his day either altering their look once they left the house (girls rolling the waistband of their skirt to make it shorter, for example), or literally changing clothes when they left the house and again before walking into school. These fashion rebels were definitely mild compared to the beyond-casual presentations of today’s kids.

Whether boomers welcome or lament these relaxed school dress codes, today’s kids have boomers to thank for their sartorial freedom. Boomers blazed the trail over three decades to set the stage for today’s casual class-wear.

What memories of school dress codes do you have, boomers?

Boomers Loved Candy Apples

It’s Halloween time once again and you know what that means: pumpkin spice everything has co-opted the season. This year, it seems like the pumpkin spice products emerged around Labor Day. It wasn’t always that way, of course. In boomer years, the fall-leading-into-Halloween time was marked by the annual appearance of caramel and candy apples. In fact, for some people, candy apples were the go-to choice for giving Halloween trick-or-treaters. However, Mister Boomer did not appreciate this offering that added weight to his pillow case of treats. He was not a fan of the hard-shelled sugar candy coating, but the color and sheen — that was another story.

Candy apples were first made by Newark, New Jersey candymaker William Kolb in 1908. He was looking for a way to showcase his red cinnamon candy, and experimented with dipping apples in it. Displayed in his shop window, the shiny red apples with a stick in each one drew in customers, eager to try his new concoction. They were a big hit! The idea spread quickly to local and regional fairs, but early in the twentieth century, they became a popular giveaway treat for Halloween.

After the War, the Baby Boom began. Optimism was high in the country, and national mood was expressed by a series of heavily saturated colors. One of those colors was a rendition of that shiny red, inspired by candy apples. By the 1950s, a candy red could color could be seen on women’s handbags, footwear, jewelry and accessories, as well as home appliances.

It wasn’t long before the West Coast custom car culture experimented with methods of reproducing the color and shine that was pulsing through the consumer market. Mel Pinoli, of Pinoli’s Body & Paint Shop in California, is credited with creating the first candy paint color for cars — but it wasn’t red, it was green!

A couple of years later, around 1956, car customizer Joe Bailon built on Pinoli’s process in an attempt to create the color he saw on a set of Ludwig drums. Bailon’s method applied a metallic coat of paint (silver or gold) to the car, followed by a translucent dye layer, which was then covered with a clear lacquer. Sanding and polishing brought out the blends of each layer with a shine that mimicked Kolb’s original red cinnamon candy apple. Mr. Bailon called the resulting color, candy apple red. Voila! he painted the first car a candy apple red!

Mister Boomer remembers being wowed by the visual depth and beauty of a candy apple red finish on custom cars he saw in car shows and occasionally, in neighborhood parking lots.

In 1963, Fender guitars offered a candy apple red option for their iconic Stratocaster model for the added price of $15. The company offered the color only until 1974.

What about caramel apples? Not to be confused with candy apples, caramel apples are what the name says: an apple with a stick in it dipped in melted caramel, often rolled in crushed walnuts. Unlike its candy apple cousin, caramel apples were a true boomer-era invention, arriving in 1948. Mister B recalls Kraft caramels having as recipe for caramel apples printed on the back of the bag.

Mister Boomer much preferred the caramel apple variety, but not for Halloween. No way. To him, that was as bad as receiving a popcorn ball, or a plain apple! Nonetheless, Mister B concedes that somebody somewhere used to enjoy getting caramel or candy apples for Halloween, back in a time when homemade treats were an acceptable part of trick-or-treating.

How about you, boomers? Candy or caramel apple fan? Loved or hated the color?