Ms. Inglish has taught fourth through twelfth grade for 12 years, coached sports for 35 years, and witnessed the results of uniforms.
Fashion Rules Change Every Decade
Were any of you in grades K–12 during the 1960s or 1970s? Do you remember what you wore to school? The East and West Coasts were probably more fashionable and relaxed in their rules in those days, but some of the Midwest was still very conservative. Some of the finer points of the dress codes back then make me laugh today!
In the Midwest, during the '60s and '70s, fairly strict dress codes were established and followed in most public, parochial, and private schools. During the '70s, some universities attempted to outline and enforce dress codes from the '50s and '60s, but these attempts failed. By the 1980s, youth from kindergarten to college were wearing nearly anything they wanted.
In the past, it was mandatory that girls look different from boys. Everyone was expected to be able to tell the difference between genders by the clothing students wore. Those standards have fortunately died out over the years.
Dress Code for Boys: 1960s and 1970s
Shirts had to button down the front and have collars. Both short sleeves and long sleeves were allowed, but not sleeveless (muscle shirts). Polo-type shirts were okay as well, but T-shirts were not. Some boys wore ties with their shirts, but it was not mandatory.
Pants had to be dress trousers or casual slacks like khakis. Jeans were not allowed*.
Hard shoes like loafers or shined shoes with shoestrings and socks were required. Athletic shoes and sandals were not allowed. Families used a lot of shoe polish—it was messy and smelled like petroleum.
*Once in a while a boy here or there could wear jeans and go without reprimand. I lived in an agricultural state where many of the residents worked on farms and wore jeans.
If I remember correctly, allowing jeans for all the boys was the first step in relaxing the school dress code in my area, followed by permission to wear tennis shoes for boys only. Girls were still not permitted to wear tennis shoes at that time.
Hair was to be cut to the ears or just above, with a cleanly edged neckline—hair shaved short or in a crew cut was fine. In other words, no mullets, pigtails, "Beatle" cuts, mohawks, or large Afros. Boys were not permitted to shave their heads bald. For boys, braids, designs shaved into the sides of the head, and unnatural colors were also not allowed.
Boys were not permitted to wear earrings. One or two rings per hand were permitted, but bracelets and neck chains were discouraged.
A lot of boys carried pocket knives, just as their dads and granddads had when they were young.
Dress Code for Girls: 1960s and 1970s
Girls could only wear dresses or skirts with blouses—no trousers or slacks of any kind. In fact, it was the early- to mid-1970s before female office workers were permitted to wear pantsuits in the workplace in my city—and they had to be a matching jacket and slacks set.
Blouses or dresses could be either long- or short-sleeved but were required to be opaque. If sleeveless, armholes had to fit closely enough so that no part of the bra, slip, or straps could be seen. No low-cut or backless dresses or blouses were permitted. No black bras under white blouses, because the bras showed through. No short or bare-midriff blouses were allowed, but blouses could be tucked in or worn outside the waistband of a skirt.
The length of skirts was not much of a problem in elementary school, but after grade six, skirts were checked regularly by school administrators. Skirts were required to touch the floor when girls kneeled on both knees at once. This test was required of several girls every day in the hallways at class changes.
Girls with skirts longer than knee length also were required to kneel. Floor-length skirts and dresses were also prohibited. We also could not wear tight skirts or skirts with slits. Mini skirts began appearing about the mid-1970s, but many schools instituted length requirements for those, and some teachers carried yardsticks to measure them.
Shoes had to be of solid construction, closed-toe, loafers or shoestring-tied shoes. Athletic shoes and sandals were not allowed. Socks were required until high school when socks or hose could be interchanged.
There were no particular requirements for hairstyles other than to keep it clean and out of our eyes so we could see. Dying your hair unnatural colors was discouraged. This is particularly funny to me now, because my mother tried an auburn rinse on my hair without doing a spot test first, and my hair turned orange. A couple more washings and it was less orange, and nobody seemed to notice the next day.
Makeup was not permitted until junior high or high school, and then it was to be moderate to light. A couple of the girls wore a lot of black mascara, but teachers let it pass.
Wearing a lot of jewelry was discouraged because jangling bracelets and long earrings could become loud and disruptive. Moderation was the rule. One day, a 10th-grade girl with pierced earrings was walking down the hall, and a boy walked by and ripped the earrings from her ears. We saw a lot of blood. Very few girls in my school wore earrings after that.
Are Uniforms the Answer?
About half the schools in the US have implemented some type of school uniform. They argue that this directs more of the student's energies toward schoolwork and less toward fashion, beauty, and dating.
The most successful public school uniforms are just regular clothing in black and white. Kids can wear white shirts, blouses, or T-shirts with black slacks, skirts, or shorts (not short shorts), and black shoes. White socks are encouraged, but they can wear any color. In my city, the parochial school students show their individuality with colorful and wildly patterned socks with their uniforms.
Uniforms take a lot of financial pressure off middle- and lower-income families, especially those with multiple children. Some schools use tan slacks and skirts instead of black. Our local department stores ensure that these items are reduced in price each autumn for back-to-school sales and sometimes eliminate sales tax as well.
Kids in my city have been attacked for their name-brand street clothing, jackets, and shoes. Adopting uniforms has helped reduce clothing-related violence in the schools in my city that switched to school uniforms.
Modern Fashion Trends
Fashion trends in schools are drastically different now from what they were in 1968 and 1978! We were sent home if our skirt did not end at the mid-knee level or below—no pants, no shorts, no tight skirts, no skirts with slits, etc.
A hallmark of modern teen fashion seems to be skin-tight jeans. It reminds me of an old Star Trek: The Original Series episode in which Kirk and Spock time travel to the old west, and a resident looks at their clingy tunics and stretch pants and asks, "Are you folks with the circus?"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: How can I cite this article?
Answer: Thanks for asking! I'd like the citation to be this:
Young Fashion: Public School Dress Codes of the 1960s and 1970s by Patty Inglish; April 27, 2012. https://bellatory.com/clothing/Public-School-Dress... Retrieved on (add the date you post the citation somewhere)
© 2012 Patty Inglish MS
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 10, 2019:
Hi Zoe! -- I'm happy this article has been useful for your studies! Thanks very much for your comment. Much success to you!
Zoe on October 10, 2019:
I am a student using this for National History Day club this was so helpful
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 04, 2019:
Hi Jim! -- I think the only hairstyles I recall for girls are the flip, reverse flip, page boy, beehive, and pixie for the 1960s and 1970s. For guys - buzz, crew cut, pompadour, and duck tail. Good luck with your book!
Jim Davis from Los Angeles on January 04, 2019:
I found this article while researching content for a new song I am working on titled "I Remember Sixty Five" the year I graduated from high school. The song is about high school and life in a small Southern town. While I remember the time and events vividly, I did not remember the names of hairstyles, etc. This article was very helpful. Thank you.
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 16, 2012:
Hey, Everybody! - Clothing certainly has changed. The only thing I wanted to change when we were in high school was the rule against slacks. We were really tired of kneeling down in hallways to see if our skirts touched the floor. In the middle-to-end of the Viet Nam War, there were more important things to attend.
While teaching GED classes for over a decade, we encouraged Bermuda (or a little shorter) shorts in spring and summer, but women with bikini bathing suit tops were sent home. Baggy saggy pants and underwear showing are pretty silly attention-getters, which also were sent home. Then one summer some women came to class with sleeveless shirts with huge armholes - and no bras - home again, home again, lickety split.
Susan Hazelton from Sunny Florida on July 15, 2012:
Boy, this is a blast from the past. My schools dress code looked like the one you published in your hub. I can remember having to wear dresses or skirts and blouses. The hem had to be at about the knee. There was no wandering into school wearing slippers instead of shoes, hair looking like you hadn't combed it in a week, or skimpy tops that showed your belly or your cleavage. And there certainly were no boys running around showing their boxers. Up, awesome and interesting.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2012:
Great hub Patty. Sorry it took me so long to find it. You and I must be from the same era. Shirts were mid knee and actually measured sometimes. Boys hair could not touch their collars. You brought back many memories of mine with this hub of yours. Overall, I'm glad that those rules prevailed over the "anything goes" rules (what rules?) of today. At least kids were not killed for their shoes or jewelry, etc! Voted up, interesting and sharing.
2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on April 28, 2012:
We both remember the days when boys dressed like boys, and girls like girls. Then, there was a time when everybody dressed the same.
Now, buying baby/toddler clothes for grandchildren, we both notice that here in England there is a very strict divide. It is almost impossible to buy "neutral" baby clothes. Right from birth size there is a pink/blue division. Rather sad.
This is an interesting Hub - voted up and interesting.
Sunilkath from Gurgaon on April 27, 2012:
Nice hub remembering me, my school dress code some boring butt cool.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 27, 2012:
This hub brought back memories as those were my school years. In 9th grade about the time school was ending for the year a bunch of us girls decided we would wear bermuda shorts to school. Our reasoning was if enough of us did it they would let it pass and it was hot outside. Well, we all got sent home to change into appropriate clothing. I hadn't thought about that in a long time. Very interesting hub.
Sondra Rochelle from USA on April 27, 2012:
Great Hub! I went to school in the 50's, so you can imagine what WE wore...poodle skirts, pony tails, DA haircuts, Ivy league shirts and hats, knee socks...everybody dressed for success LOL!!
Deborah Neyens from Iowa on April 27, 2012:
I had to click on this hub. I went to Catholic grade school in the 70s and we had to wear plaid skirts with white blouses. No pants. Girls would bring pants to pull on under our skirts to go outside for recess in winter. But I was quite the elementary school activist. When I was in third grade I started a petition to allow girls to wear pants in winter and got every girl in school (and most of their mothers) to sign it. After that, we were allowed to wear pants during the winter months, but they had to be one of the colors in the plaid skirts - red, blue, or green. And no jeans, of course.
The rest of my time in that school was spent finding ways to break the dress code, by wearing the wrong color socks or a different shirt over my white blouse, etc. I spent many a noon hour in the principal's office writing out "I will not break the dress code uniform" 500 times. (They had to throw that extra "uniform" in at the end of the sentence to make it all that much longer.) I guess I wasn't cut out for Catholic school. I got to transfer to the public school for high school.
Linda J Smith from Google on April 27, 2012:
Donna Cosmato from USA on April 27, 2012:
Nice trip down the memory lane of fashion. How times have changed!
Allen Williams from Pennsylvania on April 27, 2012:
I remember quite well in the 1960s the girls were not permitted to wear pants. They had to wear a dress or a skirt. My sisters and other girls always complained that their legs were cold in the winter when we walked to school. That rule was changed in the late 1960s when the girls could wear pants on cold days.
I also remember my cousin getting his hair cut in class because it was past his ears and the teacher warned him to get it cut. The teacher tied him to the chair at his desk and cut his hair with a scissor.
Good hub. I voted up and awesome.