An American Boy during the 1960s

Note: This fascinating American account prepared by Bruce McPherson is especially interesting because the author also lived in France, providing details on both American and French boys' clothes.

The strongest memories that I have about the clothes I wore as a boy was the short pants I wore. I grew up in short pants. Well, that it isn't quite true. Unlike Japanese, Australian, or English contemporaries, I didn't spend my entire boyhood in short pants -- not that my parents wouldn't have been delighted if I had and not that I didn't secretly want to. But I did wear short pants a great deal more than was common in the early 1960s; the teasing I endured (and compliments I got!) may have been unique to an age when short pants for dress-up wear were still fairly common but were becoming victims of changing notions about appropriate boyswear. And since, thanks to my father's wanderlust, we moved around quite a bit--five cities in eight years, including Paris --my experiences may shed a bit of light on regional variations too. This HBC website has a lot of fantastic information on different national styles, but back 30 years ago, styles differed across the States as well. It's not like today where boys from San Diego to Bangor all wear the identical oversize T-shirts and baggy gym shorts. Back in 1960, a boy could head for an elite, private East Coast school in a navy blue blazer, bowtie, gray flannel short pants, and navy blue knee socks and provoke no reaction--or at least nothing that registered in his memory. That same boy in that same outfit a year later would cause a minor riot on the streets of a small Western town.

My experiences in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Hawaii, France, elsewhere in Europe, and other places provide some insights on different styles of boys clothes worn during the 1960s. Please click on the headings for details:

Family background: My parents cme from families with considerable social status. We didn't have a lot of money, but they thought that boys from nice families wore short pants. So I wore shorts regardless of what the other boys wore.

Private School in Washington, D.C.: My parents were political liberals but "lifestyle" conservatives. When they went out in public, they dressed nicely, and they dressed their son nicely too. That meant shortpants suits or blazer-and-shorts; ankle socks in the summer; knee socks in the winter. When it came time to enroll me in school.

Public school in Colorado: Boulder, Colorado was not a place in 1960 where you could wear short pants to school and not expect to provoke a reaction. My parents hoped to get me into the University School (where students in the college of education did their practice teaching under seasoned veterans), but it was full and we would have to wait for a vacancy. In the meantime, I was packed off to the local public school down the block to begin 2nd grade. Well, when I showed up in my shortpants suit, a minor riot ensued.

Scouts: I wanted to be Cub Scout, but my parents didn't like the idea. Interestingly Cub Scouts, at least where I lived, didn't wear short pants and knee socks like Cubs in most other countries. Scouts by the 1960s, however, were beginning to wear shorts much more than in the past.

Heading for the Tropics: My father accepted a Visiting Professorship at the University of Hawaii; I went to 6th grade at a school not too far from the University. My principal, my teacher, and more than half my classmates were ethnically pure Japanese. The rest were a mixture of Chinese, Korean, children of mixed marriages. Oddly enough, given the year-round warm weather, shorts were never worn to school. Standards of neatness, however, were considerably higher than they had been in Laramie.

Touring Europe: We spent the summer of 1964 touring Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and the British Isles before settling down in Paris. Every where we went, I saw European boys in short pants--often strikingly short, sometimes with knee socks, neckties and jackets. When my parents saw the way European boys were dressing, I was instantly put back into shorts.

School in France: When we finally got to Paris, my parents put me into a public boys' school near our apartment. The French system differs from the American in many respects; one of those is that kids do not all advance in lock step. Given my nearly non-existent French, the school thought it best if I went into the equivalent of 6th rather than 7th grade, but boys in my class ranged from 9 to 13. On the first day of classes, it was almost the reverse of the situation back in Laramie--I was one of the few boys in long trousers. My parents had relented when I said I wanted to start school in long pants until we found out what the style of dress in school was for boys my age; I had enough going against me, hardly speaking the language, and I didn't need to stand out by being oddly dressed. Long pants in a boy my age and height were not all that odd, but I was in a distinct minority. So back into shorts I went.

Postscript and Teen Years: After the year in Paris, we moved to Albuquerque, where I attended 8th-12th grades. Shorts were never worn to school, except for a special "Bermuda shorts day" held one spring as part of a fund raiser. I remember musing in the non-descript, mediocre junior high where I went to 8th grade what kind of reaction I would provoke if I showed up dressed the way I had the previous spring.

Author: Bruce McPherson

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Last updated: October 12, 1998