Boomer Fashion: I Feel Dickey, Oh So Dickey…

In the boomer years of the 1950s through the 1970s, fashion trends came and went. One that survived those decades in various forms, though, was the dickey. Literally a false shirt front, dickeys have been around at least since the 1800s, and possibly back as far as the mid 1700s. A dickey is a meant to add a layered look or complete the look of an outfit, for either men or women.

No one knows exactly when the practice started, or why this garment accessory was called a “dickey.” In the 1800s, dickeys for men were primarily meant for tuxedo shirts. They were one of the first fashion items to be made from celluloid — the earliest form of plastic — and looked like a “bib” that was worn over the neck and under a shirt.

For men and boys in the boomer years, dickeys could be made of knit material, cotton or polyester fabric. They were primarily turtleneck or mock turtleneck styles. They could be worn under shirts or sweaters to give the appearance of another collared garment under the first. As far as Mister B knows, the only real practical reason for men to wear dickeys other than pure fashion sense was to have another layer of neckwear without the added bulk or warmth of another full garment under a shirt or sweater.

For women and girls, dickeys completed necklines in dresses, shirts and sweaters. They sometimes had embellishments like bows, buttons, lace or even complete collars. Like the male counterparts, they could be made from knitted, cotton or polyester fabrics.

Whether styled for men or women, the dickey was often a plain color or of limited patterns, used as an accent to a main garment so as not to overpower it. The main shirt, dress or sweater was usually boldly patterned or more colorful in itself.

Mister Boomer was a big wearer of dickeys in the falls and winters of the late fifties and early sixties. His parents had purchased knitted turtleneck styles for him and his brother. Mister B often wore them with V-necked shirts, and occasionally with V-necked sweaters, recalling TV and movie idols of the era. Mister B and Brother Boomer more than likely received the dickeys as Christmas gifts. At the height of his dickeys collection, Mister B had them — all knit turtleneck styles — in black, blue, brown and red. On occasion the Boomer Family males would dress wearing matching shirts and dickeys, though usually the three would each have the same style shirt in a different color.

Right up to the very early 1970s, Mister B wore the dickeys, though by the turn of the decade, he wore them almost exclusively with flannel shirts. Somewhere around the time Mister B entered college in 1971, his dickey wearing days were behind him. Fashions had changed, to be sure, but Mister B was never a slave to fashion. The dickey fell from favor by that time, so continued wearing of the accessory would — like wearing a thin tie — be thought of as a throwback to earlier days, and man, that would be a drag to us modern college art students.

Howard Wolowitz, a character on TV’s The Big Bang Theory, often sports dickeys under his fashionably sixties and seventies shirts.

Today Mister B no longer owns any dickeys, though they seem to be readily available for purchase for both men and women in more styles than ever before. They say what goes around comes around in fashion, so it appears we haven’t seen the last of the dickey … but will it ever regain its cool status that it once had in the 1950s and ’60s now that it’s been relegated to the same category as pocket protectors?

What memories of wearing dickeys can you recall, boomers?

Boomer Proms: A White Sport Coat and A Pink Carnation

The list of things that are different between our boomer years and today’s youth is long and growing all the time. A case in point is that age-old rite of passage, the prom. It’s that season again, and it got Mister Boomer thinking about the contrasts between the generations.

For starters, more often than not, boomers drove themselves to the dance. Two or three couples would travel together. Either one of the guys had their own car by then, or a parental vehicle was procured. In a worst case scenario, the parent of one of the troupe would act as chauffeur. Today’s kids? While they still travel in groups, they prefer riding in limousines.

Our mode of dress also exhibited contrasts. For most of us, the prom was our introduction to formal wear. Boys wore tuxedos while the girls could either take a page out of the fashionably stylish looks of Peggy Sue Got Married or the traditional excess of Gone With the Wind. Today it seems practically anything goes. The ultra-casual manner of daily school dress is supplanted by “dressier” styles for the prom, but guys often wear suits instead of formal wear, with regular shirts and ties. In some ways, girls embrace the late sixties in that skin is in and practically no style is verboten, as long as it passes school rules.

Prom fashions from advertising in 1961.

Music was another category that illustrates our differences. Depending on how prohibitive the school district was in our respective region, the music played at our proms could be everything from “grown-up” orchestral arrangements to rock ‘n roll. No matter what it was, however, it would be played by a live band. Unlike sock-hops, though, proms were occasions when boys looked forward to the slow numbers, so they had a reason to dance close. Then it was time to break out the Twist, Pony or Frug. Today’s kids have DJs playing the stuff they listen to. Despite the fidelity advances of today’s sound systems, they are missing the experience of live music. And it is unclear to Mister B how boys and girls can dance to rap at all, let alone get close.

Marty Robbins had a hit with A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation in 1957.

Mister Boomer went to two proms: the first one he was asked to attend by a friend. (How’s that for the beginnings of Women’s Liberation?) The second was his own school’s prom. For both proms, Mister B borrowed his father’s car and drove with his date.

For prom number one, Mister B’s date told him about the yellow dress her mother was making for her, so suggested a brown color. He picked up a sporty double-breasted, dark chocolate tux and paired it with a ruffled yellow shirt and bow tie. The couple had an era-appropriate Polynesian dinner before the dance — complete with drinks in pineapples (non-alcoholic, of course), and all in all, shared a good evening.

A few weeks later, he attended his own prom. This time his date wore light blue, so Mister B opted for a white brocade tuxedo jacket with black lapels, black tux pants, a light blue ruffled shirt and black bow tie. Unfortunately, color rules dictated that he had to settle for a white carnation instead of pink.

What was your prom experience like, boomers? Did you make your children come back to your house with their respective dates so you could photograph them in their sartorial splendor? Have they seen your prom pictures?