America: Hated Styles, 1970s and 80s

I hated most of the clothes I had to wear growing up in the 1970's and 80's. My family was poor and we had to make do with whatever hand-me-downs and giveaways we could get our hands on, and in most cases they were ghastly.



I hated worst of all the weird-looking pants made from some horrendous synthetic fibre and printed with nausea-inducing patterns of checkerboards and plaid... I remember that when I'd fall on the blacktopped playground at school these pants didn't just rip, they also melted with the friction. For a while, this resulted in those pants being thrown away, but I think my mother began to catch on. She started sewing patches into the pants or cutting them into shorts. I could no longer escape from them that way.


Second to the checkerboard pants in hatefulness were courderoy pants... I'd walk through the school building listening to the zipping sounds of my legs rubbing together as I walked, certain that everyone was staring at me and giggling. I also hated bell-bottomed pants- the bell-bottoms I ended up having to wear were immense, and I did get laughed at a lot over them. A similar reaction would come from "fly-away collars" on the shirts, usually a weird, ghastly plaid patter in bright red or blue if I were unlucky, and in other, more indescribable colors if I were worse than unlucky. The collars on these things were so big the tips would touch my shoulders... I usually had to wear some sort of pull-over v-necked vest with them in a similar color. I didn't mind the cut-off shorts my mother made from the jeans that I'd rip the knees up in while playing. I hated "tank-top" tee-shirts, the kind with no sleeves and long, skinny shoulder straps- the sort of thing used in basketball uniforms at the time.


To complete the clown outfits, there were those stupid brown shoes... these things were made of a soft, heavy leather and were always ugly. I either wore those things, or worse still penny loafers--threatened with a new pair of penny loafers, I enventually had to settle for the brown shoes.

Jeans and Sweatshirts

It was sometime in the Reagan years that things got a bit more comfortable for us, and that I began to have more of a voice in what I got to wear. I liked wearing blue-jeans, and liked them to be as faded as I could get them- this was where the hand-me-downs were actually something I could appreciate, because you couldn't buy pre-faded jeans then the way you can as I write this right now. It wasn't exactly fashionable, and I remember all the more popular kids wore new, un-faded jeans. I wore these with grey sweat shirts; my mother cut the sleeves from some of these so I could wear them in the summer, but I hated that.

MTV and Fashion

The birth of MTV really had a big impact on the way I wanted to dress. Fortunately, I never could talk my parents into buying me a "Michael Jackson Jacket"- a shiny red plastic kind of thing covered in about 100 zippers. It looked so cool back then, but now that I can look back at it, it certainly looked about as ridiculous as a jacket could look. I was similarly unsuccessful on the "parachute pants", grey plastic pants with lots of extra pockets all over the legs. Again, those things look silly as I look back on it. Hopefully, plastic clothes is a fashion-threat that will never again rear its ugly head, but deep inside I know I hope in vain.

Sadly, my parents DID buy me the "moon boots". I loved those boots to death for up to a month after everyone stopped wearing them, and they were the only shoes I could wear: they soon inspired laughter from the other kids (even those who'd been wearing them such a short time before), and justifiably so. I'll see if I can describe them in a way that does those things justice: these boots did look vaguely like an astronaut's boots, but were made out of foam rubber wrapped in some sort of bright blue rubbery material joined to a heavy sole that vaguely reminds me of clogs, and less vaguely makes me think of the Frankenstein Monster. This was the age of the Space Shuttle, which might explain this horrendous fad and why I felt I HAD to have those awful boots.

Kangaroo Shoes

A brief fad that I think has been largely forgotten, and one that I don't feel so badly about was the Kangaroo Shoes. This was a name brand for a shoe that had a pocket on it, a pocket that performed no practical purpose (except that maybe you could put some change in them. I don't know why you'd do this, but you could). The pocket was fastened with a zipper at first, and then by velcro when velcro took off. It seems to me that the Kangaroos were the first shoes I ever saw that were fastened with velcro straps. Those shoes didn't really look too bad from what I remember of them, and I really liked those shoes even after they went out of fashion.

Kentucky and High School

Toward the middle of the 80's, we moved from Ohio to Kentucky. The kids there wore only tee-shirts and jeans, and the clothes I wore really made me stand out like a sore thumb for the first year of school. I eventually got the tee-shirts, jerseys, and baseball caps like the other kids were wearing there- again, it was really weird how two states so close together geographically are so different in the way people dress.

Toward the end of the 80's I wore white high-top sports shoes with the laces untied, pants with holes cut in them (I was probably the first person to deliberately do this- it was fashionable a year or two later), a denim jacket (I still have that jacket, I think), tee-shirts. Later on, white button-down dress shirts worn outside the pants, instead of tee-shirts. Many of those t-shirts were terrible: orange, with the words "only visiting this planet", for example, or "I'm with stupid". My aunt kept sending those things when my cousins outgrew them.

In high school, tye-dye made its first re-appearence as a popular fashion statement; I was the first person in my entire high-school to start wearing it, and the first to stop. Same with ripped jeans- when it got popular, I stopped wearing them. For that brief time, I think I can safely pat myself on the back for being way ahead of the in-crowd. It still didn't make me particularly popular, though. I think there's a lesson in that somewhere. Something that didn't seem to go anywhere was when I painted the of the legs of my jeans with thinned-down white paint. It actually looked interesting and stood out from what everyone else was wearing, but I didn't carry enough weight by myself to make it stick. I consider that to be the last notable thing I wore as a kid, unless you count the black heavy-metal t-shirts I wore early in college in the 90's, still with faded jeans, white unlaced high-top sneakers, and a denim jacket in cooler weather.


The contribution about least favorite clothes from the '70's was an interesting account. Each generation seems to look back with regrets at the fads and passing fashions captured for posterity in aging high school and college yearbooks' photos! Most of us want to "fit in" and adopt the "latest" to some extent. I'm with the contributor, however, on remembering how awful and ridiculous (in our opinions, anyway!) some of the styles described seemed, even back then when they were the rage. Everything seems to come back to "classic" styles eventually, after fashions have had a short-lived and unconventional fling.

Christopher Wagner

Related Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s]
[The 1980s] [The 1990s]

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Created: August 5, 2000
Last updated: August 5, 2000