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 and the Internal Combustion Engine

Last week, federal regulations banning the retail sale of incandescent light bulbs went into effect (See: Will Boomers Say “Shine On Brightly?” from a decade ago). This phase-out is one of many that have happened in the life of boomers. Whether through shifts in consumer preferences, a cooperative effort of government regulation and public companies, or technological advancements, this is not a rare occurrence in our lives.

Boomers’ grandparents, or in many cases, the parents of boomers, were around when the horse and carriage was being replaced by automobiles powered by internal combustion engines. It was a momentous change that took time, but by the end of the 1930s, most Americans had switched their major source of transportation to vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine (ICE).

The first successful commercial internal combustion engine appeared in 1860, though experiments were conducted on gas-powered engines decades before that date. By the end of WWII and the beginning of the Boomer Generation, the ICE was as commonplace as anything in American culture. As boomers became driving-age teenagers, the ICE played an important role in teenage mobility, and more so for the “motorheads,” mostly male, who customized the speed-demon machines of the 1960s, as their fathers had done creating hot rods, after the War and into the 1950s.

At this particular time in history, however, the viability of the ICE is being weighed against its required use of fossil fuels and the environmental harm it has caused for decades. Like light bulb manufacturers over the past decade, auto companies around the globe are rethinking and retooling to gear up for a future without the ICE. Audi was the first company to announce that no new development would be done on ICE after 2021. Both Ford and Stellantis (the current name of company resulting from the merger between Fiat and Chrysler) have announced their target date of 2030 for eliminating all sales of gas-powered passenger vehicles in Europe. In the U.S., General Motors has announced 2035 as their target date to eliminate the ICE from their vehicles. California has become the first to mandate that all new cars and trucks sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2035. Whether these targets are achievable remain to be seen, but as far as the ICE is concerned, its days appear to be numbered.

The timing of this shift away from ICE to something else, which right now leans heavily toward electric engines powered by batteries, is of great interest to Mister Boomer simply because it may happen within our lifetime. Boomer grandparents and parents witnessed a series of major shifts in all aspects of their lives, and now boomers can assess what has happened within their lifetimes.

Cars were a vital part of Mister Boomer’s early years. In his heyday, Mister B could perform a tune-up, replace spark plugs and do other regular maintenance on the ICE in his cars as needed. It was practically a rite of passage in his area, but also more economical to do it oneself. These days it has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the average person to perform maintenance on their own engines due to the proliferation of chip technology added to the processes. Though these technological improvements have made for a more efficient ICE, it has already changed the way boomers looked at car maintenance.

What modern marvels are boomers still destined to witness? Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is credited with writing that the only thing constant in life is change. He went on to compare change to stepping into a river; you’ll never step into the same water twice.

Do you have an emotional attachment to the internal combustion engine, boomers?