An American Boy in the 1960s


The first time I remember noticing my own clothes was on an Easter Sunday in the early 1960s in New York City. I think I was three and a half. I was very pleased with my outfit, which consisted of shortalls in robin’s egg blue cotton, with a bunch of orange carrots embroidered on the front pocket. I was also wearing a white button shirt with a round, Peter Pan collar. I had on short white socks, and my shoes were those red t-strap sandals with two buckles. I’m sure that I was old enough not to need the diaper changing crotch snaps that shortalls sometimes have. It was a warm day, and I remember feeling very light and summery and loose.

As a little boy I wore shortalls and overalls a lot - the overalls frequently corduroy ones for warmth almost always with real shoulder buttons rather than Oshkosh style fastenings.

I wore shortalls until I was 6 uears old. Where wore them for for playing, maybe to kindergarten. I wore nice ones for dressing up during the spring and summer. I distinctly remember being three and going to a wedding wearing my baby blue shortalls.


My winter shoes were always buster brown style oxfords. It was a big excitement to go to Bloomingdale’s children’s shoe department to get a new pair. You had to climb up some little steps to stand on a kind of stage where the salesman and your parents could see your feet better and feel whether your toes had "room to grow in".

In nice weather I dometimes wore red or blue Keds sneakers--the kind with a big rubber toe cap.

I also wore closed-toe, red colored sandals in the summer. I wore them quite q bit, both for dress occasions ] and play when the weather was nice. When I dressed up in sandals I wore gray knee socks. For play I wore white ankle socks. Some times in summer I would wear my sandals without any socks at all. My best friend also wore red sandals. I know that our mothers frequently compared notes about dressing us. He had blue sandals too that he wore with white socks and a navy blue sailor suit for very grand occasions until he was 5 or 6 years old. I don’t think many of the boys at school wore sandals, certainly not after first grade. I must have been about 7 years old when I got my last pair of red sandals, and I was very sad when I grew out of them. I’ve missed them ever since.

The Holidays

We always had our fanciest and newest clothes at Christmas and Easter--little overalls or shortalls until age 3 or 4 years, then Eton suits with short pants until 6 or 7 years. I think long pants came in earlier for Christmas because of the cold.


I had one brother, but no sister. We were sometimes dressed alike. For a few years we all had matching dark gray Eton Suits for Christmas. We also both wore lederhosen. And for several years we all wore these great Marimekko red and white striped cotton T-shirts--like a kind of family uniform.

Ring Bearer

I was ring bearer for my aunt’s wedding when I was 8 years old. Two of my younger brothers were pages. We all wore our dark gray suits with white Eton collars and big starchy white bows trimmed with lace for neckties. I had to carry a little white lace-trimmed pillow with the rings sewn on it. I remember hating my big bow, and feeling jealous of my little brothers because their suits had short pants, while my pants were long and felt very woolly in the heat of mid-June. I remember there being some discussion about my trousers beforehand. I think that my suit was the only one that had to be bought new because I was the oldest and biggest. It was decided that I would wear long pants because I was already 8 years old and had such an important job. I don’t remember whether I was asked about this or not, but on the day I would have been much happier with shorts and without the big bow. We all wore black oxford shoes, but my little brothers wore white knee socks and looked adorable-- much more adorable than me.

Private School

I started elementary school when I was five – a prestigious New York private school for boys called Buckley. There were no uniforms as such, but we were expected to wear jackets and ties from first grade on. I remember my first school outfits very well. I had several pairs of gray flannel short pants with suspenders attached. The suspenders were made of the same flannel material and crossed in back and buttoned in front at the waist. They were fussy confusing things that always got tangled. Grey wool knee socks, sometimes navy blue.

My shirts were all white cotton, with Eton style rounded collars. The collars were supposed to sit over the collar of my so-called "Eton" jacket – navy blue wool with flat polished brass button and no lapels – like the early Beatles. I’m not sure if the Beatles got the idea from little boys like me, or whether we were supposed to be emulating the Beatles. It was all the same period (mid-sixties). I do know that I had a very Beatles style haircut--short with straight bangs.

My shoes were still brown or black oxfords, with gray knee socks. It was okay to wear t-strap sandals, because they were leather shoes and you could polish them (subject of numerous lectures by our deranged Phys. Ed. Teacher) There were no sneakers. The great accessory to this cunning out fit was the school cap – officially termed the "Buckley Beanie". I recall having to make a special trip downtown with my mother to purchase this cap at the sole supplier--Best & Co., a now vanished temple of conservative children’s clothing. The cap was blue wool with a very abbreviated visor and a red letter "B" embroidered on the crown. For years I was confused to see all kinds of people wearing similar caps, until I realized that for most of them "B" meant the Boston Red Sox.

Best’s was also a good place to get the correct woolen overcoat to wear to school-- again in the universal navy blue, with ornate brass buttons and impressive eagles embroidered in red on the shoulders for some reason. The overcoats were long enough to reach below your shorts, which kept your legs a little warmer, but made it look as though you might have no pants on at all. In fact our short pants were pretty short. Think of the pictures of John-John Kennedy, my exact contemporary. One of the things this allowed you to do was to grab the hems of your pants in your hands if you were so inclined, which a lot of my classmates did while standing in line or waiting. The effect was odd, because this would cause your shorts to bunch up, but it was apparently an easy habit to fall into.

Neckties were another big topic. It was very difficult for little boys to learn how to tie them. First and second graders often resorted to fake pre-tied ones that easily inserted into your collar with plastic spreaders. These were hazardous because they could just as easily be pulled out. Of course in a fight they were probably safer than real neckties, which were often used for throttling and choking. After gym, when you changed back into your school clothes for the trip home, you were of course expected to put your tie back on. If you didn’t, it was a dead give-away that you didn’t know how to tie your own tie and that your mother or nanny was still getting you dressed in the morning. There were a lot of tears about ties.

The final accessory was the briefcase. As soon as we had anything to put in them, if not sooner, we all had little businessman-style leather briefcases. They were good to swing and, having sharp corners, made excellent weapons. Backpacks were unheard of. I remember a friend causing a sensation when he got the first one in 4th or 5th grade. He lived on the Upper West Side, however, and had bohemian tendencies.

As I grew older, my school clothes began to lose their little boy characteristics. By 3rd grade my jackets had grown lapels, and my collars had grown points. Shorts were common enough until age 8 or 9 years, but when a 4th-grade classmate wore plaid Bermudas one warm day after spring vacation, he got a lot of ribbing. He was also the one kid who always wore bow ties--definitely an iconoclast. I remember thinking that his shorts looked funny with his loafers. We all wore loafers by that point. I was mortified when the orthopedist recommended going back to tie shoes for a while after I broke a toe.

Older Boy

I don’t remember ever being singled out for my clothes as a little boy. After third grade (9 years old) my classmates and I became more clothes conscious and conformist. I remember feeling insecure about some of the things I wore because they weren’t exactly the same as everyone else’s. A particular pair of sky blue long pants comes to mind, though I loved them and wore them constantly. My shirts all had straight collars too, where the other boys’ collars were button-down. Years later I realized that one reason for these differences was that my mother bought my clothes at Bloomingdale’s or Saks. All the other boys’ clothes seemed to come from Brooks Brothers.

After school the influence of the swinging sixties began to take hold. I had some amazing jeans with vertical stripes, and various bell-bottom corduroys, turtlenecks, velour jumpers, and other stylish items. Shorts had babyish connotations, and I kind of gave them up for anything but very hot weather.

I do remember one summer my three little brothers all got very appealing little one-piece short rompers made of green terrycloth with zippers up the front and on the pockets. I thought they looked great, and I asked my mother if I could have one too. I think she made me one because at age 11 I was too big for the ones from the store, but it looked funny, and I felt embarrassed wearing it.

For several years all of us boys did wear Austrian lederhosen a lot during the summer, the kind with short pants and suspenders, usually with striped t-shirts and the ubiquitous Keds. They were great. You never had to wash them and they quickly became stiff and shiny from dirt.


We always wore pajamas at night. The first ones I remember were yellow flannel with feet attached. They had a top and bottom that snapped together at the waist. In winter as a little boy I wore blanket sleepers – one piece affairs with zippers up the front that were deliciously warm and had great vinyl backed feet – good for sliding down hallways. But footed pajamas went the same way that short pants had. My last pair were probably before I turned 8 years old.

Figure 1.--.

My clothes were perhaps affected somewhat because my family had a more European orientation than most of the other boys. My grandmother lived in Italy part of the year, and I remember visiting her one summer when I was eleven. I had to get dressed up for some event, but I hadn’t packed any good clothes. She took me out to buy something to wear and found a nice seersucker cotton jacket--very fine stripes, not like the fat, familiar Brooks Brothers seersucker stripes. That was fine with me. I was mortified, however, to see that the jacket came with matching short pants-- fussy Italian looking ones with two little buttons on the outside seam just above the knee. I hardly ever wore shorts at that point, and I protested about wearing this suit. My grandmother eventually talked me into it, just for the once. It seemed all right because we were in Italy, and I noticed that the Italian children were dressed up in a much more juvenile way than I was used to. For example, while I wore loafers and white socks with my new suit, I was amazed to see a similarly dressed boy about my age wearing t-strap sandals--white ones no less. What was not all right was later being sent home on the plane wearing that short pants suit. I quickly took off the jacket so that people would think that I was just an American boy who happened to be wearing odd shorts. Somehow I managed to get home without dying of shame. I wore the Italian jacket often enough over the next couple of years until I grew out of it at 14. But the short pants stayed on their hanger in my closet.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: March 20, 1999
Last updated: March 20, 1999