United States Boys' Clothes: The 1970s


Figure 1.--Fashion designers experimented with many new styles during the 1970s. Some younger boys still had short pants suits, but they were becoming much less common.

The 1960s was the decade of the Hippies in America. In the 1970s the hippies put polyester. Major changed occurred in boys clothing in the 1970s. Probably more bizzare chldren's and teen fashions emerged during the 1970s than in any other decade. Bell-bottom jeans were thein thing. While polyester ruled, jeans began to move into the cutural mainstream and became fashionable. The move since the 1920s had been to casual clothing. Casual clothing by the 1970s finally became increasingly acceptable in a variety of social occasions that one required more formal dress. All kinds of jeans were worn and they emerged as fashion statements. Children eventually demanded designer jeans. Other insisted on buying jeans that looked worn or even torn. The "T" shirt emerged as a major fashion, especially ones with statesments, logos, or athletic or music group images. Boys in the 1970s, no longer dressed up in short pants and kneesocks, except for the very youngest and even younger boys wanted longs by the 1980s. While boys didn't want to dress up in short pants, they increasingly wanted to wear shorts for casual wear. Many differnt kinds of shorts appeared, cutoffs, runnng shorts, OPs, camp shorts and others. Many boys wore cutoffs that would not wear any other type of shorts. Not only were more boys wearing shorts, but the Bermudas of the 1960s gave way to a popular shorter length.

Designer Clothes

The 1970s were the era of the designer. Teen agers no longer wanted just jeans, they demanded designer jeans. The 70s were also a time of intense fashion experimentation, coming at a point when the largest growth in the number of people buying fashions occurred and manufacturers tried desperately to capture the one-third of the Americanm buying public that was spending two-thirds of the fashion money. Toward the end of the decade, after years of following the tightly fitted clothing styles of Milan and Paris, there was a dramatic turnaround as a number of European designers and manufacturers began biting off pieces of the American style of dress. Brooks Brothers’ baggy garments and button-down shirts, both indigenously American, began to be produced in European versions, for Europeans had suddenly become attracted to the looser, more comfortable style of dress and were eschewing the tight-fitting silhouette they had embraced in the past.

Material

The 1960s was the decade of the Hippies in America. It was in the 1970s that the aging hippies put on polyester. f you could go back in fashion history to erase the creation of the polyester suit, you'd have to time-trip to the '50s. But how can you blame clothing manufacturers for loving a wrinkle-free fabric? Add to that the radical free expression of fashion in the hippie '60s and voil'e! You have man-made, politically aware, easy-care style for the masses.

Stylistic Changes

Major changed occurred in boys clothing in the 1970s. Probably more bizzare chldren's and teen fashions emerged during the 1970s than in any other decade. Bell-bottom jeans were thein thing. While polyester ruled, jeans began to move into the cutural mainstream and became fashionable. The move since the 1920s had been to casual clothing. Casual clothing by the 1970s finally became increasingly acceptable in a variety of social occasions that one required more formal dress.

Overall Fashion Trends

The trend toward casual clothing since World War I more or less reached it's end point in the 1970s. Mini skirts, bell-bottoms, and the androgynous hippie look that azppeared in the late-1960s were still all the rage in the early-70s. We see boys wearing casual clothing for all but the most formal occassions, including many occassions that formerly involved dressing up. Some styles like platform shoes did not affect younger boys, but we do see teenagers wearing them. Other trends like flared pants did become popular with children and teengers of all ages. Except for flares, the Disco look largely missed most boys. Another major trend was designer jeans. Jeans became a major fashion statement and secondary schools stopped banning them. We see short pants becoming increasingly popular, especially atletic styles. And shorts become shorter during the decade wih very short styles popular by the end of the decade. The short-cut shorts for girls were called 'hot pants'. Shorts were often worn with tube ocks that had bright colored bands. Tube socks were most popula with boys, but girls might also wear them. Many young people adopted the grunge look. An interesting counter trend was some public schools began adopting uniforms, formerly more associated with private schgools. As unpopular as the Vietnam War was, we see a lot of hippies and youngb people began wearing uniform iyems, especial Army jackets. President Nixon set Détente in motion which finlly led to recognizing Mainland China (1979). Chinese influences appeared in a wide range of apparel and probably led to the fashionability of down or polyester fiber-filled jackets and coats. The energy crisis of 1979 brought long lines at gas pumps and lower temperatures in government offices. Jackets and sweaters helped affected workers to adapt. Consumer magazines contrasted the energy required to manufacture and care for 100 percent cotton shirts versus polyester and cotton blends. Even though these analyses showed that blends used less energy over their lifetimes, consumers tended to think of cotton as more environmentally friendly.

Garments

American fashions in the 1970s had generally approached the culmination of the trend for casual clothing began in the early 20th century. Boys no longer commonly wore suits. By the end of the decade suits were no longer very common except for the more formal occassions. Some boys did not even have proper suits. Rather casual clothes are what most boys wore for both school and everyday wear. Virtually the only headwear was baseball caps, although we see other headwear during the winter, especially in the north. We see boys increasingly wearing shirts without collars, such as T-shirts. For some boys, a collared shirt was their idea of dressing up. Polo shirts and rugby shiets were very popular. We notice both buttioned-down and regular collars. We also notice turtle-necks. A range of sweaters and jackets were popular. Boys mostly wore long pants. Jeans became increasingly accepted for school and semi-casual wear. Designer jeans became the height of fashion. Short pants became mostly casual summer wear. OP corduroy shorts were popular as well as other shoets with sports styles. A factor here was the growing popularity of basketball and soccer. This in part explains the popularitry of athletic tube socks with colored bands. Sneakers became a majir fashion item for the firsr time.

Hair Styles

Hair styles had begun to change in the mid-1960s. Short styles declined in popularity and many boys began to wear longer styles. Popular hair styles were quite long and stayed that way until the early 80s. Some of the styles were spectacularly outlandish. The rebels of the 70s and early 80s may remember their glory days in metal-studded collars and spiky, fluorescent hair. For those who missed out, just get the Vaseline ready for styling your Mohawk, mix a faux fur top with a black leather mini and ripped fishnets. Add a row of studs and earrings and you're ready for the punk ball. Many remember feathered hair. Most boys wore less elaborate styles, but longish cuts were very common. Most but not all noys wore their hair down to their ears or even over the ears. Quite a number of boys wore shoulder length hair. Their parents and school administrators were not at all pleased. Boys in primary school tended not to have the longer cuts because their parents were still in control. Tennagers were another matter nd their were constnt test of will between them and their parents and school administrators.

Schoolwear

We see children wearing just about anything to school. High schools had dress codes, but they only xcluded the most outlanding dress. Toughskin jeans and cut-offs sold by Sears were popular for elementary school kids. Until the 1970s only private schools had uniforms. Parochina; schools began adopting basic uniforms in the 50s. We see many elemmtar (private) schools beginning to adopt uniforms. This was mostly in the inner city schools.

Change of Attitude

The popularity of short pants changed markedly in the 1970s. Boys in the 1970s, no longer dressed up in short pants and kneesocks, except for the very youngest and even younger boys wanted longs by the 1980s. While boys didn't want to dress up in short pants, they increasingly wanted to wear shorts for casual wear. The change was particularly marked in the northeast, but it was notable throughout the country. A HBC reader in New York ewports that in 1970 none but very small kids wore shorts even in summer. By 1975 they were almost universal in summer for boys through their teens with some kids wearing them as soon as the weather became even slightly warm and keeping them as long as possible. Interesting that a generation (25 years) after boys emphaticaly rejected short pants circa 1950, shorts returned in triumph. The same thing happened with the crew cut a generation after the hair wars of the early 1960s.

Girls

There were major changes in girls clothes durung the 1970s. The changes which began in the laye-1960s became well established during the 1970s. Hippies and feminists had a major impct on the 70s. There were other factors at play. The War in Vietnam, industrial decline, increasing costs for gaslone, as well as seemingly unrelated matters such as central heating and air conditioning all affected clothing and fashion. This was the decde in which the Hippies which appeared in the 1960s had the greatest impact. The Hippies of the 1960s were mostly older teenagers anf college students. Hippy-influenced fashions reached primary-age gorls in the 70s. Perhaps the most notable development for girls was a kind of unprecedented fashion freedom that girls had never enjoyed before. Until the mid-1960s, girls had worn dreses. There were exceptions. During the summer girls might wear short pants or for caual wear they might even wear jeans, but most girls most of the time wore dresses and skirts. We can see that in school portraits. The most notable change for girls was they more and more girls wore boys' styles. Notably this same freedom did not extend to boys, other than long hair. Boys wanted no part of girls' clothes. The most important of those garments were of course pants, usully jeans and not just for plsy. We see girls going to school in all kinds of jeans and other colorful pants. Gurls like to decorate their jeans. Bell-bottoms were popular and ialso jeans thst looked well worn. Girls till wore dresses, but from the 70s it was a matter of choice. We notice many popular trends. One was the bell-shaped flared skirt. A popular fad was the kaftan.

Cultural Overview

The 1970s is known as the "Me Decade". The 70s for most of us, however, generally lack the cultural identity situated between the turbulent cultural change and the 1960s of the 1960s and the Regan and a cultural shift to consevatism of the 1980s. There was no defining political leader nor was there the kind of deep socialmhange experuenced in the 60s. The 70s in many wausas a transitional decade. It was in the 1970s after the fiasco of Vietnam that America began to question itself. Gas lines and a flood of Japanese imports led many to wonder about the American economy. Kids of the 1970s will remember the Dukes of Hazard lunch boxes and the Fonz on "Happy Days". Adults will remember "All in the Family". Some look down on television, but for most Americans, many images of the 70s that are best remembered come from television. 70s are noted for the rise of the "unmeltable ethnics" and the Sun Belt. [Schukman]

Theatricals

One important source of information on the 1970s are theatrical performances, especially movies and television. Here no single program better depicted 1970s styles than "The Brady Bunch" television program showing the children wearing poluester, flared pants, short skirts, and other impotamt 1970s syles. One curious cosuming decission was that the boys almost lways wore long pants. This was despite the fact that many Americn boys by the 1970s were weaing short pants for casual wear, often with tube socks. This was especially true in California.

Sources

Carroll, Peter. It Seemed Like Nothing Happenes (1982).

Frum, David. How We Got Here: The 70s--The Decade That Brought You Modern Life, for Better or Worse (2000).

Lemann, Nicholas. "How the seventies changed America".

Schukman, Bruce J. The Secenties: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society and Politics (Free Press), 334p.

Wolfe, Tom. "The me decade and the third great awakening".






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Created: April 9, 2001
Last updated: 1:07 AM 6/16/2014