United States Boys' Clothes: The 1960s

Figure 1.--Younger boys in the 1960s commonly wore short pants Eton suits. Slightly older boys, mostly from wealthy families like the Kennedys, would wear short pants suits with regular jackets. The boys that did wear short pants suits mostly wore them with knee socks.

The 1960s for middle class Americans were those now so innocent seeming, yet turbulent years. All elements of American life began "heating up" in the 1960s. And the 60s along with the 20s are the two most remembered decades of the 20th century. Important changes occurred in boys' fashions during the 1960s. The decade set many important fashion trends. It was the last decade in which American boys, except for very young boys, wore short pants suits. Jeans became increasingly common and by the nd of the decade had even began to gain respectability. "T"-shirts were everywhere. The Beatles and the War in Vietnam had a huge impact on fashion. Boys began wearing longer hair. The hippies had replaced the "beatnicks" of the 1950s and had begun to make a fashion statement.

Historical Background

The 1960s for middle class Americans were those now so innocent seeming, yet turbulent years. All elements of American life began "heating up" in the 1960s. And the 60s along with the 20s are the two most remembered decades of the 20th century. Actually much of what is associated with the 60s occurred in the 70s. The decade began so optimistically with the election of President Kennedy. Yet in 1963 we were shocked by his assasination and soon found ourselves faced with the challenge of Civil Rightsand mired in the Viet Nam. We began the decade with our 1950s certainties and soon found events rapidly changing our values and long held assumtions. President Kennedy's assasination is most strongly etched into memory, but other snapshots include the Vietnam War; the Civil Rights movement; Dr. Martin Luther King; hippies, flower power, and the 1967 Summer of Love in 1967; as well as Woodstock and Motown. There is no doubt that America was fundamentally changed by the 60s. It was the decade in which the minorities (racial, women, and gays) began to enter the American mainstream. More difficult to say is just what caused that change. Some might say that it was Viet Nam and the urban riot. We might say it was the combined impact of liberal appoints to the judiciary and the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965).

Fashion Trends

There were major fashion changes during the 1960s. Not the least among all the ferment of the 60s was changing clothing styles. Several of these events of the turbulent 1960s had a direct impact on American fashion. Since the early 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement had been fighting to eliminate oppresive racial segregation and the subjegation of African-Americans. An off shoot of this was an increased interest in Africa and African culture. Feminism got a new lease on life after the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Increasingly the role of women in modern America was question. American women increasingly looked beyond the family for "fullfilment". The impact on our society and children is yet to be fully assessed. Protests erupted against the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s. Hippies held the first "Be-in" during 1967 as they revolted against the values of what they saw as a consumer-oriented society. Some experimented with hallucinogenic drugs for escape. The impact on consumer textiles of each of these events was significant. African-inspired textiles became popular. Blue jeans were ubiquitous, worn morning, noon, and night. Young protesters and hippies adopted blue jeans and incongrously, Army fatigues, as virtual uniforms of the movement and a symbols of solidarity with working people. Psychedelic colors and patterns adorned their tie-dyed and hand-painted garments.

Hippies (1960s)

The Hippy movement developed in America during the 1960s. It was a reaction to the America of the 1950s when the primary focus was on hard work and achieving the American dream. The Hippy movement rejercted what every button-down American embraced. Young men began wearing long hair and growing beards. Young women dressed in peasants dresses. Popular for both of course weretattered jeans. Both took to psychedelic colors. Hippy clothing had a major impact on popular fashions. The Hippies not only dressed differently and sore long hair, they attempted to drop out of society. To many Americans they seemed dirty and disrespectful of their parents and American society as whole. Americans after World War II, thanks to the GI Bill, for the first time had generally open access to university studies and professionsal careers. Hippies rejected the new opportunities. They dropped out of university and instead tried to form rock bands and live in communes. Some of the most adventuresome took often to exotic locations like India and Nepal. They in particular objected to the Vietnam War. The Hippy moveement has been the subject of exhaustive study. There were positive aspects, perhsaps the most important was the relaxed attitudes toward race. And the adoption of non-violence aid the Civil Rights movement. Other aspects are still being debated today, such as relaxed attitudes toward sex. Key to the Hippie life style was drugs. Hippies believed that enlightenment and great music came not through tiresome study, but taking drugs. While initially an American movement, the Hippies gradually influenced other counties as well, especially Europe.

Icons of the 1960s

Many of us vividly remember the symbols of the 1960s. Barbie that impossibly long-legged (and clothes hungry) symbol of American girlhood had made her debute in 1959. The early 1960s, however, marked the arrival of her dream-boat chum, Ken. The Ford Mustang was undeniably the "in" car of the 1960s, imortalized by Wilson Pickett's song, Mustang Sally. Bumper stickers sprang up, many with powerful political and social statements, ranging from: "War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things;" "Impeach Earl Warren"; and "America-- Love it or Leave it." Parents decided on all sorts of non trafitiinal names. One observer recalls the son of a friend who named her son Yossarian (after the hero in Joseph Heller's classic Catch 22. One day, at age 8, he came home from school and announced, From now on, I'm Frank. Just plain Frank.


The unifying themes of the protest movements during the 1960s was to question authority. This filtered down to all aspects of our culture and society, not the least was fashion. The primary group participating in the movement was older teenagers and young adults. They were the fashion setters. Younger boys, however, soon followed their lead and the new fashions soon appeared even in elementary schools. Boys and girls rejected the "nice" traditional clothes desired by their parents. The "buttoned-down" look was out. Boys wanted the tie-dyed shirts, fatigues, and jeans worn by the teenagers they emulated. As part of this process, dressy short pants suits began to disapper. This was especially true in America, but the process was also notable in Europe.

The ever-hungry fashion industry constantly sought new ideas and inspirations. It was not long before these symbols of protest had been co-opted by mainstream fashion, with varying results. Blue jeans, of course, are still with us, but the polyester double-knit pantsuit left the fiber with a negative image that polyester producers are still trying to live down. Comediand still use polyester leisure suits as a source of derision. Fashionable psychedelic-printed textiles were worn by men, women, and children in garments ranging from underwear to men's shirts. Mens' and boys' clothing styles also changed radically in the 1960s. Esquire called the newly colorful men's styles "The Peacock Revolution," and men and boys of all ages felt free to grow their hair long and wear colorful prints, leisure suits, and Nehru jackets. Parents and schools at first resisted, but by the end of the decade, long hair for boys had become increasingly common.

The 1960s brought the Peacock Revolution--a phrase popularized in America by George Frazier, a former columnist for Esquire magazine and the Boston Globe. The Peacock Revolution began on Carnaby Street in London and featured a whole array of new looks, including the Nehru jacket and the Edwardian suit. In contrast to the fifties, during which time choices were limited, a wide range of alternatives was now available as the focus moved to youth and protest.

Pierre Cardin

The designer Pierre Cardin even created an American version of the slim-lined European silhouette, which, along with the immense popularity of jeans, led to the acceptance of extreme fittedness in clothing--a far cry from the casual, comfortable elegance of preceding generations.

Ralph Lauren

During this period, the American designer Ralph Lauren was attempting to convince the American male that there was a viable alternative to this high-style clothing. This alternative was a version of the two-button shaped suit with natural shoulders that had been introduced by Paul Stuart in 1954 and briefly popularized by John Kennedy during his presidency. Lauren updated the Stuart suit by using the kind of fabrics usually reserved for custom-made suits and dramatizing the silhouette by enlarging the lapel and giving more shape to the jacket. Laurenís following remained small, however, as most men leaned toward the jazzier Cardin-style suit.

Preppy look

One of the enduring American fashions from the 1960s is the "preppy" buttoned-down style. Preppy standards included blue blazers, button-down shirts, stripped ties, khaki pants, and penny loafers. The yuppies of the late 1980s got their clean-cut starts as the preppies of the early '80s. How to spot a prep in action? Look for cotton Izod shirts with the collars turned up, tassled loafers, crew neck sweaters worn over neat turtlenecks and the casual sweater slung over the shoulders with the sleeve ends cuffed over one another. The much-satorized, but enduring preppy look is an aspirational style based on the crisp sartorial codes of the Eastern White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) upper-middle class. (The term itself derives from expensive precollege "prep" or preparatory schools. This refers to American secondary-level preparatory schools.) The height of preppy era was the early '80s, when Lisa Birnbach's WASPish The Official Preppy Handbook sat astride best-seller lists and America was merry on the heady draft of Reaganism. Along with many other '80s excesses, the trend faded, but it had something of a renaissance in 1993-94. This time, preppy style was both a sardonic statement by B-Boys (Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, ect.) and an ironic talisman for non-aspirational whites. The Beastie Boy/Sonic Youth-linked X-Girl clothing line concisely expressed this latter strain with a T-shirt bearing the words "X-Girl Prep"; inlaid into the shirt's faux-heraldic crest was the word "snooty."

Clothing Types

The 1960s were a a time of enormous cultural change. And this including changing fashion trends. The fashion changes were an expression of the wider cultural changes. We see increasingly sharp destinctions between dress clirhing and casual clothing in the 1960s. This was aprocess that negan earlier. Boys exceot for the well-to-do tended to have reaktively small wardpbes in the early-20th century. There was not all that much difference between dress up and play clothes. Most boys wore their older more worn clothes for play and had a new outfit for best. Gradually as incomes rose more and more specialized casual styles appeared and became an increasinly important and wardrobes grew as more amnd more families led incread]singly prosperous lifestyles. Even so, th proprtiin of a ]famoly budget devoted to clothing declined. There were a range of interesting trends assiciated with both dresswear and casual clithing in th 60s. Until the 60s dresswear was a very important part of a boy's wardobe. It was in the 1960s that casual clothing became the more mportant part of a boy's wardrobe and the point wherevthey increasing began to be worn in situations for which dressy clothes were formerly more common.



Boys in the 1950s no longer wore caps as much as they used to. Other than for cold weather wear, the cap became less common. Baseball caps, however, were becoming increasingly popular.


Shirts were often made of cotton broadcloth. Button-down collars were very popular. Polo shirts introduced in the 1950s became increasingly popular. Striped Rugby style shirts were also poular in the late 1960s. ittle boys had a variety of special styles. Boys wearing Eton suits, for example, would often wear them with Peter Pan collars. "T" shirts continued to be very popular. Styles were more varied than in the 1950s when boys wore mostly bold horizontal stripes. HBC reader asks about a shirt/jacket worn in the mid-1960s. It was a wool (or acrylic?) shirt/jacket called a "horse blanket". It had a collar with a "V"-neck which came part way down the front, (might have laced up at the throat) and the bottom in the front and back came to a "v" also. They were loud plaids and were almost but not quite ponchos. They were worn over a long sleeve shirt in the autumn as a pullover. They looked something like a Baha Shirt, but no hood and were tighter fitting.

Figure 2.--By the end of the decade, mostly younger American boys were still wearing dessy short pants and kneesocks.


American boys in the 1960s began to wear play shorts more commonly than in the 1950s. Most boys in the 1950s played in jeans. A few would have a dress short pants suit, but would put on jeans to play. As the 1960s progressed, boys woild increasingly wear play shorts. The simple boxer-style shorts with elastic waists were still worn by younger boys, but new styles were appearing for older boys. The growing popularity of play or casual short pants during the summer could have been do in part to the appearance of Bermuda shorts on college campuses and the gradual filtering down to younger boys. Other styles such as "cut-offs" appeared, especially in California. Some clothing designers attempted to introduce "clam diggers"--rather like the long shorts of the 1990s, but few boys in the 1960s wanted anything to do with them. Short pants were increasingly being seen as purely summer wear. Boys would generally not wear shorts when it was chilly enough for a sweater. There were a number of special styles for younger boys. The most popular style was shortalls a one piece short pants outfit with a combined top. It could be worn without a shirt for play or with a Peter Pan collar blouse for a more dressy look. Dressy shorts for little boys were often suspender shorts. This was especially true of dress shots, such as the ones worn with Eton suits. The preferred all purpose pants for the American boy were jeans. Secondary school authorities did their best to discourage them at the beginning of the decade, but by the end of the decade the battle was all but lost and the lowly jean was on its way to become a fashion tatement.


Suits were less commonly worn as casual styles became increasingly accepted as the suburbs became increasingly dominate in America. Suits and sports jackets were worn with very narrow collars, a sharp change from the 1950s. A few mostly wealthy boys still wore short pants suits which were still available in sizes up to about 10 years old, but most boys by that age were wearing long pants suits. Even young boys wearing short pants could be teased by other boys wearing long pants. Short pants suits could be acceptable in wealthu northeastern communities where boys attended private school, but were nt common among more average income groups. The Eton suit for little boys which first appeared in the 1920s was the standard dress wear for little boys. The Eton jacket worn by American boys was a short, collarless jacket, in various materials. It was usually worn with short grey pants. It was no longer mostly worn by boys from affluent families, but rather a widely accepted style. The better made Eton suits generally had suspender shorts. The shorts worns with American Eton suits tended to be cut shorter than those for a regular short pants suit for an older boy.


Aerican boys no longer wore kneesocks, except for the minority of boys who still wore short pants suits. Imterestingly in the 1940s and early 50s, boys commonly wore short pants suits with ankle socks. While fewer boys wore short pants suits in the 1960s, the boys that did generally wore then with kneesocks. The kneesocks with the patterened tops had disappeared and boys only wore solid color kneesocks. American boys in the 1960s no longer commonly wore kneesocks for play or school, although there were still a few private schools that had uniforms of short pants suits with kneesocks.


American boys mostly wore oxford leather shoes. Leather shoes were worn much more commonly than is the case today. Some specialized styles were worn. Until the late 1960s, boys in highschool might wear saddle shoes. Loafers were also popular, both pennt loafters and barrel loafers. Very young boys might wear closed-toe sandals, but unlike England they were not common. School age boys, however, did not wear them. The canvas shoes which appeared in the 1920s grew in popularity. Boys liked to wear sneakers and the ubiquitos Keds of the 1950s gave way in in the 1950s to more varied styles. Many popular new brands appeared such as Converse. Keds no longer dominated thevmarket and were in fact began to be looked down on by many boys. White sneakers were now in style.


Almost all fabrics we know of today were available. Day dresses and suit sets were of light- to mediumweight, usually in natural or natural-look fabrics. Congress passed the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act (TFPIA) in 1960. The proliferation of manufactured fibers proved confusing. When only natural fibers and rayon were in use, it was relatively easy to tell one type of fabric from another. With manufactured fibers, and especially with blends, it was virtually impossible to know just which fibers one was dealing with. TFPIA simplified matters by requiring that apparel be labeled as to fiber content.


Magazine advertisements and catalogs provide a useful inventory of developing boys clothing styles. During the decade, short pants suits and kneesocks become increasingly less common and casual styles, including casual shorts become increasingly more common. Few decades experienced such major changes in clothing styles. Many boys entered the decade wearing short pants suits or penny loafers and nice sweaters and ended it wearing peace-symbol T-shirts and patched jeans. Hair styles changes even more. Most boys started the decade with short hair which in many cases was shoulder length by the end of the decade. Flat tops, jeans and penny loafers were tops with many guys. The girls favored ponytails, penny loafers and skirts. Shorts weren't generally worn to school, even by boys, although boys at some exclusive private schools still wore them. And this was an era when few schools had air conditioning and school rooms could be really hot. Pedal pushers appeared and achieved some popularity with girls. Few boys, however, would wear them. Madras shirts, belts with two buckles and Levi jeans were popular. School dress codes forbid jeans, shorts and sneakers, so slacks and button down shirts, and loafers were the ensemble of choice. Slacks for some reason often had a totally useless buckle sewed on at the back.

Vietnam War (1965-73)

The Vietnam War had a remendous impact on boys' clothing in America. The associated youth movement and the resistance to the War resulted in a rebellion of the young against all things related to the establishment. Established social conventions such as neat dress and short hair were primart targets of youthful protestors. The values and styles at first adopted by college students were in turn adopted by high school boys and in turn primary school boys. Especially in America, with the cultural revolution, media everywhere, music and television taking its hold over the young, not to mention the Vietnam War. With the Women's Liberation movement, families suffered, and any vestiges of tradition were buried with the nuclear family of the 50's. For mother's often bore the responsibility for tradition than the fathers, who took less time with their children who increasingly were entrusted to day care.

Fashion Extremes

Two contrasting fashion extremes appeared in America during the 1960s. G\For both jeans were an fashion icon.

Counter culture

The cult clothing styles of the non-conformist young people were basically put together by the young people themselves; there were no designers who catered specifically to their preferences. The Mod movement of the early 1960s originated as such a youth subculture. However, by the mid-1960s it had evolved into a more generalized yet at the same time more outrageous form of fashion. It led to an explosion of the youth culture which gave all teenagers a style of dress they could call their own. This style was very revolutionary but it eventually influenced the fashions of the entire decade for people of all ages, changing fashion from mass-market clothes all the way up to the haute couture industry. Parents were initially better able to decide on the clothes of their younger children. It was not long, however, before these styles were affecting even the clothes of young boys.

Designer clothes

Designer clothes were just beginning to make their appearance. There was lost of denim which became increasingly accepted as a fashion statement as the decade progressed. One of the most important development was bell bottom trousers. For that fashion faux pas we can thank Esquire which hailed bell bottoms "as a vital addition to every modern guy's wardrobe." Then there were the "groovy" Nehru jackets which fortunately was a fad that came and quickly departed in 1967-68. T-shirts made a major metamoprphisis. They were no longer plain white creations that brought to mind Marlon Brando rolled up sleaves in A Streetcar Named Desire. You could make a personal statement with your T-shirt like "U.S. Out of Vietnam;" "Legalize marijuana." The modern often profane versions, however, had not yet appeared.

Hair Styles

There were major boys' changes in hair stuling during the 1960s. Most boys in the early 1960s wore short hair as was common in the 1950s. Crew cuts were still popular. Some teenagers might wear sideburns, but they were declining in popularity. Gradually long hair became more popular. John. F. Kennedy Jr. helped to poularize bangs, rather shaggy bangs, fir younger boys rather than buzz cuts. Of cputse the Beattles helped pioularize longer hair styles for older boys, especially teenagers. These longer styles became more pronounced by the end of the decade. Even so thefre was considerable variation during the 1960s. Many Americam boys still wire short hair even in the late 1960s.

Theatrical Productions

Interesting details on boys' clothing styles can often be seen in old movies and television shows or shows with period settings.


As in the later 1950s, the boys pictured on American television never wore short pants. Certainly not for dressy occasions, but not even for play. TV shows included: Lassie (1954-71), My Three Sons (1960-72), Dennis the Menace (1959-63), The Munsters (1964-66). All the boys in these shows wore long pants--often jeans. The only exception of course was Eddie Munster, but ALL his friends wore long pants.



A HBC reader has acked about the types of clothes worn in the mid-60s by teenagers, especially city types that had not evolved into the Beatle mania fads--like "the greasers in the Outsiders". This is not a topic which HBC has addressed yet, but we would be interested in any information or insights that HBC readers might have.

Additional information

Traveling in Europe: 1960s: A fashion writer advises American
Traveling in Europe: An American boys experiences with his French grandmother
The Beautiful People: Another America fashion writer advises on how to dress boys

Personal Experiences

A variety of personal accounts are available and articles are available on this period.
The 1940s-50s: Sneakers and jeans
The 1950s: Beaver Goes Shopping
The 1950s: Jeans, Jeans, Jeans
The 1960s: Traveling in Europe
The 1960s: Shorts, jeans, and France
The 1960s: The Beautiful People
The 1960s: Mothers Buy Clothes


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Created: November 22, 1998
Last updated: 9:02 PM 1/3/2011