Monday, May 31, 2010

Bouffant to Beatnik

What to wear? What to wear? Next weekend my son and wife are having a 1960’s themed party. All guests are requested to dress accordingly and to bring an appetizer in keeping with that decade. Baloney layered with cream cheese, right?

1960’s. A time of rebellion. A step from the past into the many shades that would become the 60’s. A transition from reserved to extreme, from cries of war to cries of peace. Perhaps one of the most turbulent, changing decade in American history. I know. I was there.

My children have never asked me about my life in the 60’s yet they enjoy the freedoms brought forward from that time. From teenager to bride, I saw the many changes those years created. When I was in high school, we wore bubble hairstyles, mohair sweaters and skirts. No jeans or pants were allowed. One of the boys was kicked out of school, because he had long hair. Of course, he wore a leather jacket as well…..obviously, a bad example for the rest of us. Oh, we were fighting the bonds that held us. I went from wearing pleated and straight skirts when I graduated in 1965 to mini-skirts just a few years later.

It was a time of change. We were the change.

In my search for ‘party attire’, I paged through some old Life Magazines I still have from those years. They hold stories of the Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King, blacks allowed in the churches and men walking on the moon. Ads filled the pages: Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Pizza in a box, Chesterfield King, cars that could seat 16 (I exaggerate), Alcoa siding and Mrs. Filberts Margarine were just a few of the ads filling our lungs with cancer, our diets with fat and introducing pizza to our kitchens and cars that would rob our atmosphere. Ah, the good ‘ol days.

What other period in time encompassed such an expansive clothing evolution? It began with the remnants of the 50’s, with little print dresses and sweaters for the women and suits and hats for the men. In an age of beatniks and hippies, of hairstyles changing to natural from teased and clothing from bell bottoms and tie dye to see-through and bra-less. Pencil skirts were replaced with mini-skirts and go-go boots. Pegged jeans turned into frayed jeans covering our feet. Women wore wine-glass heeled shoes as men turned to dress boots. Platform shoes found both sexes. Nehru jackets, fringed vests, ties that changed yearly from thin to extra wide, from plain to flowered gave men new freedom. It was a time of extremes, a time youth finding a voice.

Hair changed as much as the clothing. Afros came into style for whites as well as blacks. I rolled my hair on huge rollers in high school for that straight look later cutting it short in the pixie style that Twiggie made popular. Wigs were in fashion. Every woman I knew had a wig box, a faceless holder and wig to make life easier for the new working woman. I actually got a wig for Christmas in 1969. Make up ranged from carefully applied in the early 60’s to pale and invisible in the mid-60’s. Pierced ears came into fashion. And beads made a statement. Gloves became vintage and non-existent. The youth of America had found their voice in a decade of turmoil in a cry for change.

My granddaughters dress up in old clothes from earlier times. Peasant dresses, old net formals with crinolines beneath, hats once worn by fashionable women. Of course, none of them fit me, so I’m going for a simpler look, one that I discovered one night back in the 60’s. My boyfriend, Gary, and I decided to step out of our comfort zone. These farm kids made their way to Dayton and The Lemon Tree, a coffee house. A man sat at the back of a lit platform playing bongo drums as a woman sat in the spotlight on a stool reciting poetry. At the end of her reading, the audience snapped their fingers in appreciation. It was a new age. We who were raised in the remnants of the conservative ‘50’s were stepping out to sample the changing decade.

I have plenty of black and, even though I cannot grow a goatee, I can be a beatnik. I wish I had the old bongos that my sister June had given me way back then. They were at the farm when we had sale, but somewhere over the years, the skin had been torn. I didn’t know how to skin a goat to repair the damaged bongo so they remained in Ohio.

Our children may not ask, but there is a story in our past, a story that should be passed on.

Where are my sunglasses?


  1. This was a wonderfully written article. I am a beatnik lover and a flower child born in the wrong generation!

  2. Thanks, Michelle. I think perhaps there is a bongo beat in all of us. The older I get the more important it is to hear the beat and smell the flowers.

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