Boomers Helped to Dismantle the Culture of the Business Suit

Before the mid-60s, every man was required to own a suit. If he worked in an office, as opposed to a factory, he had to wear a suit to work, daily. Every TV sitcom pictured men coming home from work in their suits. Boomers will remember their fathers wearing suits to church every Sunday. On holidays, whether attending church, visiting relatives or taking the family to dinner at a restaurant, it was an occasion for wearing a suit. This was the order of the day for men’s fashion for decades, before the Boomer Generation.

Come the 1960s, while parents were yelling about the Generation Gap, boomers were on the way to creating a new fashion industry. Even more, this new industry, meant for a younger generation, had no room for the neutral colors and “acceptable” cuts of the previous generation. They reinvented the suit in a mod way.

Ultimately, jeans became the new sartorial requirement for boomers. Mister B has written in the past about the first time he saw teens wearing jeans in church, and the not-so-silent whispers of disapproval that pulsed through the congregation like the fan wave in a sports stadium. Boomers did not want to be told what to wear.

As the 1970s came in, suits for both men and women were reborn in fabrics, shapes and colors that were previously considered too loud or had too much personality than what was worn and accepted by earlier generations.

The slow downturn of suits, initiated by boomers in the 1960s (in Mister B’s humble opinion), continued as the idea of Casual Fridays took hold in Corporate America in the 1980s. One day a week, companies that participated in this culture shift allowed their employees to wear pants and shirts instead of suits. The more adventurous were tie-free as well.

Kids today did not grow up watching their fathers wear suits the way boomers did. In most households in the past couple of decades, by Mister B’s anecdotal polling, men had suits in their closet for weddings, funerals and job interviews. These days, it may not be necessary for the job interview, either, especially if the interview is conducted by video chat.

So it should come as no surprise that national retailers including Brooks Brothers, Neiman-Marcus, J. Crew, Lord & Taylor and Tailored Brands, the parent company of Men’s Wearhouse and Joseph A Banks, have filed for bankruptcy. Men’s suits made up two-thirds of their annual sales, which have dropped by a billion dollars from the figures of five years ago. Now with the appearance of Covid-19, sales seriously dropped again as men and women are working remotely from home, and have no need to buy new suits.

It remains to be seen what will happen once the virus is controlled by treatment or vaccine. Will suit-wearing people pick up where they left off, or will the echo of 1960s fashion-follows-comfort spell the end of the suit?

How about you, boomers? If you are retired, is there a suit in your closet waiting for weddings and funerals? If you are still working, did you wear a suit daily before the coronavirus, and if so, do you anticipate going back to it when you can return to your workplace?

Did Boomer Girls Choose Their Hair Length?

The prime boomer years of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s saw drastic changes in fashion, and with it, hair styles and length. Mister Boomer has previously talked about how long hair for boys and men grabbed the attention of baby boomers (Boomers Watched the Long Hair Trend Grow), but what was happening with girls and women?

When we look at TV programs of the the early days of the era, adult women wore a “moderate” style and length, often curled, while the young girls in the shows generally had shoulder length or longer hair. Take a look at Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver in Leave It to Beaver (1957-63), or Jane Wyatt as Margaret Anderson in Father Knows Best (1954-60). In the movies of the early 1960s, however, a mix of hair lengths for women appeared on screen. Audrey Hepburn wore a popular bob style in movies throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, while Marilyn Monroe sported the more natural look that made inroads with women after the War, and Brigitte Bardot epitomized the longer style associated with sex kittens of the era. Meanwhile, the beehive hairdo burst on the scene in 1960, and many music icons of the time adopted the style, including The Ronettes, Aretha Franklin, and Priscilla Presley, to name a few. Then, as now, popular culture — TV, movies and music icons — highly influenced the styles girls wanted to wear.

As with boys and men, the 1960s brought a revolution of personal expression. Hair lengths were marked at the extremes by the long hair of the Hippies to the short, even what some termed boyish-length hair like supermodel Twiggy’s pixie cut that she wore in her famous photo shoots. Both styles were rebellious in the eyes of boomer parents, yet girls persisted in experimenting with different styles and lengths.

Throughout the boomer years, for both boys and girls, the notion of hair style as protest was widely prevalent. In the 1950s, Black women associated with civil rights activism began to wear their hair unstraightened as a protest against the established hair styles of the previous era. By the 1960s, that trend continued among those involved in Vietnam War protests, the Feminist movement, and the Black Is Beautiful movement. The result was the style known as the Natural or the Afro, a spherical shape sported by the likes of women as different as Angela Davis, Pam Grier and Diana Ross.

To recap and very generally speaking, boomer girls wore their hair the way their mothers wanted them to in the 1950s and early ’60s. By the time they were rebelling teenagers, they may have wanted to experiment with styles they saw on TV and in movies, but that would have to wait. For many boomer girls, control over their own hair style would not be theirs until their parents put up their hands in surrender once their rebellious teen got to high school. (What’s the matter with kids these days?)

When the 1970s arrived, women had a wide choice of hair styles and lengths they could adopt, based on their own personalities. However, once boomer girls began their working careers, they found their hair styles were not so much limited by their mother or society as the companies for which they would work; the business world still had a hold on what it deemed acceptable. It is only now, decades later, that states have enacted legislation to protect a woman’s right to wear her hair in the manner that she chooses, and that is not federal policy.

How about it, boomer ladies? Do you have fond memories of early hairsyles, or were they traumatic experiences?