Young Fashion: Public School Dress Codes of the 1960s and 1970s
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.
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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)Helpful 3
© 2012 Patty Inglish MS