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1960s – The Clothing We Wore

November 20th, 2015

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

I recently took a fun bus trip to Bethel Wood Center for the Arts, home of the Museum at Bethel Woods. The complex is built on the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair and the museum not only tells the story of Woodstock, but also tells the story of the 1960s.  Our guide had attended Woodstock and still had his tickets to prove it.  He did a terrific job of bringing the events of the 1960s to life.  He mentioned the Cuban Missile Crisis and the duck and cover drills we had in school. Some of the drills necessitated going into the hall and standing away from any windows. If I recall correctly we faced the walls with our heads tucked to our chests and covered with our arms.  There were also the drills that called for you to get under your desk and cover your head.  These were strange and difficult days for many of us.

Image from a catalog of three young ladies. Two are wearing dress and one is wearing a skirt and blouse.As a young person between the ages of 11 and 22 in the years between 1963 and 1974, the years said to be the “cultural decade” of the 1960s, I don’t remember being as concerned about the “BOMB” as I was about the draft and the lives of young men who were my friends. Actually, during the years 1966 to 1970 I was more concerned what clothes I could afford to purchase with my $5 per week allowance.  This money, which seemed a much larger sum in the late 1960s, was used to purchase whatever clothing I needed, books, records, art supplies and such so to say I became a serious bargain hunter was putting it mildly.

Image from a catalog of two young women wearing pants.My girlfriends and I haunted the bargain basements of the big department stores in Rochester constantly looking for the latest fashions that had been marked down to an affordable price.  Some of our more important purchases were Levi’s jeans.  We used to purchase them for about $8 to $10 and they came in unwashed denim blue and were really STIFF.  No prewashed denim for us.  If we were going to pay that kind of money we would “break them in” ourselves.  If we had found a hole in them we would have tried to get a discount on the price!

Image from a catalog of two young ladies wearing dresses.I remember the change in clothing styles between 1965 and 1970 was quick and distinctive.  One day we were wearing A Line or pleated skirts down to our knees and 12 months later Twiggy appeared with skirts ABOVE the knees!  Some of us had been imitating our mothers, mainly because they bought our clothing and had veto over spending money on certain styles, wearing the blouses and skirts that were in during the Kennedy administration and when the new styles popped up, Wow!  We were enthused, but our moms… not so much!  Many of us, myself included, left the house with our skirts demurely at knee length and went immediately to the school bathroom to roll up the waist band of the skirt, creating an immediate alteration of the hemline to at least a couple inches above our knees.

Image from a catalog of young woman wearing pants.When I was a senior in High School, the girls began to campaign to wear pants or slacks to school.  If I recall there was a lot of discussion on the topic, with many of the teenage boys in our class not favoring the change and many of the teachers being in favor.  I think the boys were against it because of the loss of legs to look at and the teachers were in favor because they would not have to avert their eyes so much when the girls bent over.  Whatever the reason eventually we were allowed to wear pants, but not blue jeans, to school!

There were more changes in 1960’s clothing styles than I can begin to talk about here.  I was a relatively conservative dresser, in part because my folks exercised control over my choices, and my friends were also pretty conservative so there was not much peer pressure to deal with.  Still I remember it as a time of change in styles, rebellion demonstrated through clothing….or sometimes lack of it, and learning to make choices that were good for me.  I think the 1960s will remain a vivid memory for many of us.

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