Young Fashion: Public School Dress Codes of the 1960s and 1970s
Fashion Rules Change Every Decade
In the Midwest during the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, fairly strict dress codes were established and followed in most public and parochial or private schools. During the 1970s, an attempt was made during university orientations to continue to outline and enforce dress codes from the 1950s and 1960s for freshmen students, but these attempts failed. By the 1980s, youth K-12 and college ages were wearing nearly anything they wanted.
In the earlier years, it was mandatory that girls as a whole look different from boys as a group. Everyone was expected to be able to tell the difference in gender by the clothing children and high school students wore.
Videos included in this Hub illustrate school clothing of the 1960s and 1970s compared with the styles from 2010 to 2012. Differences are dramatic.
To Uniform or Not to Uniform
About half the school in the USA have used some type of school uniform among students in order to direct more of their energies toward school work and less toward fashion, beauty, and dating. The reasons for this become clear by the time you reach the last time line video in this presentation.
In my city, the parochial school students show their individuality with colorful and wildly patterned socks with their uniforms.
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. This takes 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 killed for their name-brand street clothing, jackets, and shoes and the uniforms put an end to that completely in the school that chose school uniforms. Many of the other schools opted for an in-school police officer on duty during school hours.
Dress Code for Boys 1960s and 1970s (in my schools)
- Dress trousers or casual slacks like khakis; no jeans.* Some boys wore ties with their shirts, but this was not mandatory.
- Hard shoes like loafers or shined shoes with shoestrings; no sports/running shoes, no sandals; and socks were required. Families used a lot of shoe polish; it was messy and smelled like petroleum.
- Shirts with buttons down the front and collars, short sleeves or long sleeves, but not sleeveless (muscle shirts). Polo-type shirts were OK as well, but no T-shirts.
- Hair was to be cut to the ears or just above, with a cleanly edged neckline. In other words, no mullets, pig tails, "Beatle" cuts, Mohawk cuts, or outsized Afros. However, hair could be shaved short or cut to a crew cut. Boys were not permitted to shave their heads bald. No braids on boys. No letters, numbers, or pictures shaved into short hair. No unnatural colors.
- Jewelry - No earrings for boys. One or two rings per hand were permitted; bracelets and neck chains were discouraged.
- A lot of boys carried pocket knives, as their dads and granddads had.
*Actually, once in a while a boy here or there could wear jeans and go un-reprimanded, because as an agricultural state, many of Ohio's 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 with them - not the girls, though.
A Typical 1960s High School In Pensylvania, USA
Dress Code for Girls, 1960s and 1970s
- Dresses or skirts and blouses only. 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.
- 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 and/or 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 6, skirts were checked regularly by school administrators. Skirts were required to touch the floor when girls kneeled on both knees at once and this was required of several girls every day in the hallways at class changes. Girls with skirts longer than that length also were required to kneel. However, floor-length skirts and dresses were also prohibited. We also could not wear tight skirts or skirts having 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 - Solid construction, closed toe, loafers or shoestring-tied shoes. No tennis or gym shoes and no sandals. Socks were required until high school, when socks or hose could be interchanged.
- Hair - No particular requirements were set for hair other than to keep it clean and out of our eyes so we could see. Unnatural colors were discouraged, however. This is particularly funny to me now, because my mother tried an auburn rinse on my hair without doing a patch test or spot test first, and my entire head of hair turned orange. A couple more washings and it was less orange and nobody seemed to notice the next day.
- Makeup - no makeup was permitted until junior high or high school and then it was to me moderate to light. A couple of the girls wore a lot of black mascara, but teachers let it pass (at least their hair wasn't purple).
- Jewelry - Wearing a lot of jewelry was discouraged, because school could become loud with jangling bracelets and long earrings. Moderation was the rule. One day, a 10th-grade girl with pierced earrings was walking down the hall, a boy walked by and ripped the earrings from her ears, and we saw a lot of blood. Few girls in my school wore earrings at all after that.
The Big Changes - High School 2011 - 2012
Video Credit above: By meganandlizBEAUTY on YouTube.
- Fashion trends in school are drastically different from 1968 and 1978! We were sent home if our skirt did not end at mid-knee level or below. No pants, no shorts, no tight skirts, no skirt slits.
- A hallmark of the new 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?"
Video Credit: By kodyhasdeed on Youtube. These four students from Upper Darby High School organized the 2012 all-school fashion and talent show to raise money for the Senior Class of 2012. Directed by UDHS Senior Amari Ross.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Patty Inglish