Did We Really Look Like That?


Looking at the imagery of a bygone age is deceptive. I have been running the YouTube videos made by the American philosopher Benjamin Franklin in the 1750’s and I think a great deal of what we see has been faked up for the camera. For a start, he is wearing a feed cap backwards in some of the scenes, and oil paintings of the period show him with a head that is bald on the top and at most a small fur cap.

Likewise some of the people pictures of the 1950’s and 1960’s – I’m seeing clothes and hair styles that might appear on ” Happy Days” but were never seen in real life. At least not real life as it was lived in the suburbs of Calgary.

Admittedly I was a sub-teen for the 50’s and a geek for most of the 60’s – before that was a term of respect or endearment – so my fashion sense was flawed. But I did observe pretty well, and have noted the following for the retro enthusiasts who grace the pinup, hot rod, and dance scene:

1: Your hair was styled elaborately – except if your mother was having none of that nonsense – and then it was cut regularly and combed neatly. Ducktails, quiffs, and the like may have been seen in the movies but they were pretty damn thin on the ground out in real life. Butch haircuts were acceptable and crewcuts all the way down to Parris Island length were seen in the high schools. No mullets.

Girls hair was indeed elaborate, because they were girls – not always good looking hair and sometimes as stiff as an English judge’s wig – but teased up or beehived or swooped down as the fashions changed. You could predict what was going to hit town next from the movie magazines. Bridal hair seems to have been a separate division of frightening.

2: Adult tee shirts were white. Not black. Not with logos painted on. Singlets were worn on the stoops of tenement houses in New York and nowhere else. Sort of like North American Jackie Howe but alwasy in white and never to good effect.

Kids tee shirts could have red or blue thin horizontal stripes but as soon as your friends pointed out you were in a little kid shirt you took it off and never wore it again. I took mine off when I was 17.

The closest thing to a girl’s tee shirt was a loose summer top. I liked loose tops, for a couple of reasons.

3. Trousers were pegged and cuffed. Jeans had cuffs. When they were dirty, your mother washed them, and if you got them dirty too often she made you stay inside until they were dry. Chinos came in the 60’s and were the coolest thing out, until you dropped a chocolate bar on them and it looked like you had pooped your pants. I was able to use that excuse for years. Note – when jeans were ripped, they were thrown out.

4. You wore belts. Semi-elaborate buckles were in  for a while and then settled down. Beaded belts were also in – these are rarely seen in the retro world but they were very big in the 50’s – even men who had no connection the the cowboy business wore them.

5. No tattoos – except if you had been in the Navy. No tatts on girls. That’s a modern affectation. Good, if you want it, and ink yourself to a fare-thee-well but remember that is now, not then.

6. Don’t be fooled by the advertisements showing men in red trousers or weird ascot ties. Unless you were in an Arkansas guitar band or played in a bar in Laredo, you didn’t wear cowboy gear around the town – the one exception was Stampede Week in Calgary when every water pump salesman sported a white Stetson. We kids celebrated with string ties.

All this having been said, we can easily internet back to the show girls and movie stars and art magazines of the period and see the excesses of the day. We all wished the girls looked and dressed like Betty Page but they didn’t. Wish they would now.




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