Boomers Grew With Their Closets

Mister Boomer’s “closet system” came crashing down this past week in one tremendous snap, crackle, pop event. The plastic clips supporting the wire shelving became brittle over two decades of service, and, combined with the cumulative weight of twenty years of clothing, had sustained all they could stand.

Mister Boomer is not a hoarder, but like many boomers, he never wanted to toss something that still had potential for a useful life. This experience, however, displayed in graphic form that it was time for Mister B to take a look at the collection that filled his closet, and cull the herd lest the replacement shelving also meet an untimely, early demise.

While mulling which garments had won the restocking pool, Mister B came across some of his vintage clothing that harken back to boomer days of yore. One thing became abundantly clear in the light of day, though, and that was that items made in the 1950s and ’60s still held their style and grace, while those of the 1980s and ’90s were totally lame, dude. Those johnny-come-latelys would have to go. Mister B doesn’t have an extensive collection of Boomer Age shirts, but does have a couple of note:

Banded bottom shirt. Mister B has one dating from the late sixties. His circle knew them as “baseball shirts” even though in style they more resembled the shape of Eisenhower jackets than the two-tone long or short sleeve “baseball shirt” that has become so ubiquitous in our casual culture. Mister B picked it up in a vintage shop in the early ’80s when the nostalgia of his 1950s and ’60s upbringing swept over him, but hardly ever wore it because it just wasn’t in the best colors and was not that attractive a garment. Banded bottom shirts first appeared in the late 1950s and had their heyday in the 1960s. After a brief departure they returned for a while in the 1980s in slightly altered form. Mister B plans on returning it from whence it came, and will see if he can sell it at a vintage shop.

Iridescent shirt. Sharkskin fabric, so called because the weaving of contrasting thread colors produced a shimmering, iridescent effect, debuted in the high fashion of the 1950s, particularly for men’s suits and women’s dresses. It attained wide appeal in the 1960s for men’s and women’s clothing, then made its way to ready-to-wear. Mister Boomer once had a sharkskin suit, and loved it (Read: Our Sunday Best for Easter), so the opportunity to obtain a shirt (was it the 1970s or ’80s when he acquired it?) was welcomed. Mister B still likes the sharkskin, so he is unsure of the shirt’s future.

Mister Boomer has previously written about how boomers have witnessed the growth of closet space (Boomers and Closet Space: A Little Dab’ll Do Ya). Little did we know that we would need the expanding closet to hold not only our personal definition of the latest in wearables (adjusted for current body shape, of course), but also for the myriad of items that have made the long, strange trip with us.

For many boomers, value and thrift go hand in hand, so parting is a sweet sorrow we don’t look kindly upon. The older Mister B is getting, the more he finds he’d like to wear the clothing he fondly remembers. Maybe it’s a case of wanting the outside appearance to reflect the inside-his-head age? Who knows … What he needs to figure out now is whether there is enough space to add a freestanding wardrobe in his room.

How about it, boomers? Do you still have clothing remembrances of your salad days? Do they fit and do you wear them? And what does it mean for your closet space?

Boomers and Closet Space: A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

As new houses were built in each decade since the 1900s, square footage increased … and with it, closet space. Mister Boomer has talked about the changes square footage made in housing in the fifties though the seventies (Boomers in the House: Square Footage Changes With the Generations). Now he’d like to focus on one element of the search for space: the closet.

In houses that were built in the 1940s and ’50s, the average closet was a three by three foot square, with a two foot door that closed. Prior to 1940, houses were often built without closets at all. Up until World War II, people had very little need for more closet space as the average person had two changes of clothing, plus one set of Sunday Best clothes for church visits, weddings and funerals. Mister Boomer recalls his grandmother saying that during the Depression, clothing was patched and sewn repeatedly because money for new clothing was not available. His great aunt was the seamstress in the family, and made most of his father’s clothing in that time.

By the 1940s, things began to change. Perhaps the self-expression by fashion of the upper class 1920s Flapper Era found its way down the economic chain by then, or maybe the choice of fashionable clothes began to be more readily available and affordable for blue collar workers. In any case, younger people started to accumulate more clothing than their parents, or what they had as children.

Some say that after the War new parents, swept up in the optimism of the era, were primed to spoil their Boomer Generation kids. Yet many boomers will say their wardrobes were kept to a minimum until they started working and earning their own money. Nonetheless, boomers grew up with a larger wardrobe than their parents, and new houses reflected that fact by providing the closet storage space.

Like many other boomers, Mister Boomer shared a bedroom, and therefore a closet, with his brother. A round wooden pole that stretched across the back of the closet was all the space the two boomer boys had for hanging parochial-school and Sunday Best shirts and pants, but it was sufficient. Each had a dresser that stored socks and underwear, sweaters and casual shirts that did not have collars or buttons.

Once Brother Boomer was in high school and started working, he expanded his wardrobe, taking most of the closet space. About a year or two after Mister B began working, his brother had moved out, so the whole closet was his. Over the course of his college years, little by little he filled it. However, in Mister B’s defense, it wasn’t that he kept buying more and more as much as it was that he refused to get rid of anything that he found still wearable.

Mister B recalls that in his college years of the 1970s, there were many people who wore the same clothes repeatedly, some day after day, like a uniform. Certainly that was the case for jeans, if not shirts. Mister Boomer had two pair of jeans that he could rotate as needed, but clearly remembers a young lady who wore a pair of jeans with a butterfly patch on her back right pocket. Mister Boomer noticed that butterfly every day for an entire semester.

Forty-plus years later, Mister Boomer finds he and his wife, living in a building built during the Boomer Era, are in desperate need of closet space, not only for clothing but for the vast accumulation of other things one acquires through the ages. Unfortunately, Mister B carries very few articles of clothing from his prime boomer days, having long physically outgrown them. A while back he instituted a policy of zero population growth — nothing goes into the closet unless something is removed — but lately he is thinking that perhaps it’s time to jettison the apparel from the 1980s and ’90s. These styles can’t possibly compare with those of the 1960s and ’70s in quality and appearance, but yet they are still serviceable and old habits die hard.

Should Mister B purge himself of these older garments, he thinks the closet he has — a trifle larger than the one he had as a child — should more than suffice. He is painfully aware, however, that younger people born a generation or two later than the boomers would not agree.

How about it, boomers? Should we lead the way, stating less is more and therefore more closet space is an unnecessary indulgence, or go with the flow and say, when it comes to closet space, the bigger the better?