Boomers Wore Their Winterwear Well

Despite any recent prognostication by a groundhog, the calendar shows there are still plenty of winter days ahead. That got Mister Boomer thinking about the different types of winter coats he has had over the past six decades. Prior to the 1960s, practically all winter clothing was made from natural materials, but the introduction of synthetic fabrics to make winter clothes coincided with the rise of the Boomer Generation.

Well into the 1960s, the majority of men’s winter coats were still made from wool, cotton, leather, suede or sheepskin, with wool being the predominant material in Mister Boomer’s neck of the woods. Stuffing and lining, when present, was either animal fur or down.

The DuPont Corporation developed an acrylic fabric in the 1940s, but it was the 1950s before the first practical acrylic fabrics began being used to make clothing. Its first uses were for linings, such as gloves and boots, and sweaters. Acrylic had advantages over wool in that the clothing was more lightweight and moisture-resistant, while still keeping the wearer warm. It could also mimic real wool, and was soft to the touch. Plus, acrylic fabrics generally held up well to repeated washing, and maintained lightfastness with less fading. As the 1950s became the 1960s, the affordability of acrylic fabrics, especially in versions made to feel like materials such as cashmere, became less expensive for growing boomer families. Besides, a bonus for boomer moms was that acrylic coats were not prone to moth damage once stored in the off-season.

Mister Boomer has vivid memories of most of the winter coats he had from the time he walked to kindergarten with his older brother. From those early days through his elementary school years, Mister B’s coats were made of wool or corduroy (a heavy cotton). Sweaters worn under the coats were made of wool or cotton. As boomers will recall, wool sweaters could be an itchy annoyance throughout the school day. Nonetheless, drafty classrooms and daily outdoor recess required that children wear warm clothing throughout the day.

Once Mister Boomer was in high school, he had an inkling of a fashion sense that was directly influenced by Brother Boomer. A few years older than Mister B, Brother Boomer had his eyes open to 1960s fashion, beginning with a Beatles’ style suit. Nonetheless, Mister Boomer’s father generally dressed quite conservatively, so standard winter coats and jackets remained the order of the day.

Sometime in the late sixties, Brother Boomer bought a synthetic suede bomber-style jacket with an acrylic-fur collar and lining (he had been working part-time by then). Mister B had to have the same one, and somehow his parents agreed. Up until that point, most of his winter coats had been three-quarter length, so now this jacket made an unwelcome difference on colder mornings as well as for outdoor play. After two or three years, he outgrew the jacket and went back to longer coats.

Mister Boomer never had a ski-style jacket in his early days. While these jackets began to appear in the 1950s, Mister B’s family didn’t hop on that bandwagon. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 1970s that Mister B purchased a ski-style jacket, which was entirely made from synthetlc materials.

When did you acquire your first winter clothing made with synthetlc fabrics, boomers?

Boomers Remember the Time Before Title IX

Fifty years ago this past week (June 23, 1972), Title IX of the Education Amendment was enacted by Congress. It was Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana who authored the wording in the bill:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Women’s rights advocates were already marching and protesting the slow plodding of Equal Rights Amendment legislation. In a strategic move to avoid sparking public debate and further protest, the bipartisan committee asked women’s groups to not call attention to Title IX to let the senators do the work. As a result, the bill was passed without much fanfare.

Despite the fact that women had proven themselves more than capable of physical labor during World War II, decades of social mores dictated that sports were “unlady-like” and women should not be permitted to exert themselves in public. In fact, in some circles, it was thought that if women performed sports that required much physical activity, especially during menstruation cycles, they would be putting themselves in hazardous health situations! Still, the first women’s professional baseball league was formed during World War II, but it was dissolved in 1954. In the boomer era, attitudes were changing and feminist activism was calling for all types of equality for women, including in sports. Women could finally play in their own national championships in gymnastics and track and field in 1969; swimming, badminton, volleyball, and lastly, basketball, were added before Title IX became law.

Despite exceptions for certain sports at select schools, prior to this bill, girls and women had few opportunities to participate in organized sports at schools and universities. Schools, from elementary to high school and on to colleges and universities, had little, if any, budget for girls’ sports. According to Forbes, the year before the passage of Title IX (1971), universities dedicated just one percent of their athletic budgets to women’s sports. Title IX required them to match the funding of what was available to boys. Reports indicate just 15 percent of college women participated in sports in 1972, prior to the bill’s passage. Many universities did not sponsor a women’s basketball team at all before Title IX.

Coaching was another example of disparities based on sex in sports before Title IX. Reports indicate 90% of coaches for the women’s sports that did exist were male. It would be another 20 years before women made a significant mark in the coaching of women’s sports, but to this day, women still coach less than half of the women’s sports teams. Teachers and coaches recall that in that era, locker rooms were also a point of contention, as many venues built only male locker rooms. Since there were few women’s sports, there was (in their eyes), not a need for female locker rooms. Demand for equal locker room facilities were an ongoing project that would take another 20 years.

What sports were offered to women, prior to Title IX? Mister Boomer recalls that in his elementary school, there was no gym, and no organized sports. The local high school did have boys’ baseball, football and basketball teams, in addition to track and field and swimming. Girls could swim or join track and field.

It was President Eisenhower who first established the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. With memories of World War II readiness still in his mind, he became concerned that Americans would grow complacent and less physically fit in the boom-time after the War. Nonetheless, for various reasons, no programs of note were able to get off the ground during his presidency. President Kennedy “picked up the ball” and attempted to address the physical fitness of students. However, there was not a direct correlation drawn between physical fitness and sports, so the program — which concentrated mostly on exercise — had a moderate effect on health, but did not disrupt the status quo of the disparities between boys’ and girls’ sports.

What do you recall about the sports opportunities that were available to you, boomers?