American Boys Clothes in the 1970s: A South African Visitor

South African Visitor

I made a new friend in the summer of 1970. My new friend was12 year old Ethan who with his mother, Emily, arrived in our small town. Citizens of South Africa, the two made the long journey to attend a teacher's summit in the neighboring city. They were to reside with my grandmother in her rather large old house for 5 weeks. We both took an immediate liking to each other. Before their first week had passed, my new best friend Ethan and I had convinced our moms and my grandmom to let me stay there too.

The Summer

I was having the greatest summer of my life introducing Ethan to my baseball team, Sunday school class, and our American way of life.

Dress Clothes and Knee Socks

My summer got more complicated the day Ethan attended the conference with his mother. His blue school blazer with fancy crest and blue and gold striped school tie looked sharp. The tan shorts were dressier than my play shorts, but somewhat shorter, hitting well above mid-thigh. I was to learn later that khaki shorts were commonly worn at South African shorts. The black polished shoes were not that different from my dress shoes, but his ribbed, long socks pulled high--just below mid-knee, looked most odd. Dressing up in short pants was rare enough by the 1970s for a boy my age, but boys, except for very little boys, just didn't wear kneesocks any more.

Not wishing to make Ethan feel uncomfortable, I reluctantly followed the lead of my awestruck grandma and complimented his "smart" outfit. I hasten to add if Ethan and I hadn't become fast friends, my tolerance for his outfit would have been sorely tested. My good manners were soon "rewarded" Sunday morning when grandma presented me my almost out-grown, re-worked gray suit. The jacket now bore a crest; but more troubling was the trousers I had outgrown were now short pants.

Unable to protest for fear of hurting Ethan's feelings, I wore the short pants suit, along with the navy blue knee socks to church,various dinners, and even to my 13th birthday party. No one gave me any grief because of my similarly clad visitor, but I did receive quite a few stares as well as numerous compliments from the ladies at church.

The Aftermath

I was sad to see Ethan go, but glad to be out of those clothes. Grandma tried convincing me to dress like Ethan well after his departure, citing my scout and soccer uniforms comprised short pants and knee socks, but I politely and steadfastly declined.

Christopher Wagner

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Last updated: May 25, 1999