Young Fashion: Public School Dress Codes of the 1960s and 1970s

Rules Change

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.

The 1960s
The 1960s | Source
The 1970s
The 1970s | Source

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.

High School Fashion in 1965

Patty Duke on her "Patty Duke Show" about identical cousins and high school mates Patty and Cathy. Here, Patty is with Jeremy Clyde of the popular duo Chad and Jeremy in July, 1965.
Patty Duke on her "Patty Duke Show" about identical cousins and high school mates Patty and Cathy. Here, Patty is with Jeremy Clyde of the popular duo Chad and Jeremy in July, 1965. | Source

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.

Troy, Ohio High School in 1978

The Big Changes - High School 2011 - 2012

>> Video Credit: 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?"

Pennsylvania High School Fashion Show 2012 Trailer

>> 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.

© 2012 Patty Inglish

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Comments 11 comments

Allen Williams profile image

Allen Williams 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

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.

DonnaCosmato profile image

DonnaCosmato 4 years ago from USA

Nice trip down the memory lane of fashion. How times have changed!

ljsmarketing profile image

ljsmarketing 4 years ago from Google

Great hub!

DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa

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.

TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

TIMETRAVELER2 4 years ago

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!!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States

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.

Sunilkath profile image

Sunilkath 4 years ago from Gurgaon

Nice hub remembering me, my school dress code some boring butt cool.

2patricias profile image

2patricias 4 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

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.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

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.

KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 4 years ago from Sunny Florida

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.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

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.

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    Patty Inglish (Patty Inglish, MS)6,756 Followers
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