Bell Bottoms

Ah, bell bottoms, those monstrously impractical yet completely irresistible flared pants. This fashion statement came straight from the good old U.S. Navy. Supposedly, the reasoning behind them was that the flared opening made the trousers easier to jettison in case you fell overboard. Then, they could be filled with air to make a life preserver.

Whatever. In the 60’s, this look was declared to be cool, and cool it was. I got my first pair when I was nine years old. They were green striped, and instantly transformed me into the coolest thing in school.

The striped pants were a fixture in TV, the movies, and advertisements. But they pretty much disappeared early in the 70’s. But flare-legged jeans rolled on.

Obviously, bell-bottoms were still cool to wear by the later 70’s.

I had a pair of Levi’s Big Bells circa 1976. Man, those monsters completely covered my big feet.

The monstrous-sized bells have become passe, but flares continue to live on. The internet has stores that sell more bell bottoms and flares than you could possibly assimilate. They even teach you how to easily create your own from standard jeans.

Here’s to bell bottoms. Seeing a pair of big bells instantly takes you back at least thirty years.

Timex Watches

Timex watch from the 60’s

Ah the simple, carefree days we enjoyed as kids, when we used the sun, our mom’s yelling out the front door that lunch was ready, or the school bells to tell time.

Our lives were unencumbered by small wrist-worn machines that constantly reminded us that we were late, or that we had something important (and not fun) coming up soon, or that whatever enjoyable activity we were engaged in at the moment was temporary, and sooner of later it would be time to move on to something less enjoyable.

Ergo, many of us received wristwatches while we were kids. And for many of us, that first wristwatch was a wind-up Timex.

For me, it was 1971, when I was eleven years old. I don’t recall exactly when I was able to use the positions of the big hand and the little hand to deduce the time, but I know that I was darned good at it by that age.

My dad handed me a Timex wind-up watch. I was spellbound. Suddenly, I was a man. I now had the ability to know, within a minute or so, what time it was, even if I was in the far reaches of our forty-acre place we lived on at the time.

Sadly, my life would never be the same. That’s because I was also suddenly aware of the need to be somewhere on time.

Why a Timex watch? Several reasons. For one, they were quite affordable. Low price was one of their strong selling points. They were also durable. The watches my dad handed me were always second-hand, generally discovered in a box full of stuff purchased at a farm auction. It was a rare Timex, indeed, that failed to start ticking once it received a fresh windup.

There was another good reason our thrifty Depression-surviving parents and grandparents appreciated the Timex watch.It helped us lick the Kaiser in WWI.

The Waterbury Clock Company had been producing a “Yankee” pocket watch since the turn of the century, but when our boys were sent overseas beginning in 1917, the government commissioned them to produce a miniaturized timepiece that would fit on the wrist of a busy soldier. Once the war was over, the doughboys brought the amazing new devices home, and everybody wanted one.

60’s Timex ad

By the time the Depression hit, Waterbury wristwatches were a very common sight. As the dark economic times wore on, Waterbury introduced a line of watches and clocks bearing a brand-new cartoon character which had caught on in the movie houses: Mickey Mouse. Despite the tight purse strings imposed upon them, a generation of adults managed to purchase over two million Mickey Mouse watches and clocks for their children during the 30’s.

WWII saw the government once again calling upon the corporation to help. Now called the US Time Company, they manufactured watches, of course, but more importantly, thousands of fuses for artillery and bombs which would reliably detonate them at just the right instant for maximum effectiveness.

In 1950, US Time began producing a war-proven wristwatch with serious durability. They called the line Timex. According to the Timex Museum:

Print advertisements featured the new watch strapped to Mickey Mantle’s bat, frozen in an ice cube tray, spun for seven days in a vacuum cleaner, taped to a giant lobster’s claw, or wrapped around a turtle in a tank. Despite these and other extensive live torture tests, the Timex kept ticking. When John Cameron Swayze, the most authoritative newsman of his time, began extolling the Timex watch in live “torture test” commercials of the late 1950s, sales took off. Taped to the propeller of an outboard motor,tumbling over the Grand Coulee Dam, or held fist first by a diver leaping eighty-seven feet from the Acapulco cliffs, the plucky watch that “takes a licking and keeps on ticking®” quickly caught the American imagination. Viewers by the thousands wrote in with their suggestions for future torture tests, like the Air Force sergeant who offered to crash a plane while wearing a Timex. By the end of the 1950s, one out of every three watches bought in the U.S. was a Timex.

Thus, many a Timex was spotted on adult wrists. And as those adults upgraded to nicer Rolexes and such, the previously-owned Timexes would frequently be presented to juveniles who had recently mastered the art of timekeeping.

Timex is still ticking. As a matter of fact, they have plants in the US operating, producing timepieces. That’s a rarity nowadays.

They are also highly prized among collectors. One of the coolest features of a Timex watch is that you can tell the year of manufacturing. It’s right there, on the bottom of the dial, in tiny numbers.

Thus, many of us Boomers proudly sport Timexes by choice, not by economic necessity. Digital LCD watches can be had for pennies nowadays, keeping time within seconds a day. Yet, many of us choose to sport wind-up or auto-wind Timexes that date from previous decades which require weekly or even daily adjustments in order to stay accurate.

Hey, perhaps we’re slaves to time. But we can choose our master, and some of us prefer an old, familiar, durable, friendly face.

The Wet Head Is Dead

The Dry Look hair spray

The Wet Head is dead. Long live the Dry Look. Even though I now comb my hair with a washrag, circa 1976, I must have bought a can of The Dry Look at least once a month. It took a lot of hairspray to hold my baby-fine blond hair in place.

It was a relief when I finally gave up trying to make my thin locks look like Roger Daltrey’s massive mane and let my growing expanse of baldness shine. Nowadays, I shave my head twice a week, whether it needs it or not.

But jump back to about 1975, and it was a different story.

Hairstyles for men have changed as much as hairstyles for women. Throughout the 60’s, dudes used Vitalis or Lucky Tiger to keep their locks slicked back and looking good. But when the above commercial first appeared in the early 70’s, sales of hair oil dropped precipitously overnight. A little dab’ll do ya? Forget it. The wet head is dead, complete with his own grave stone to prove the point.

Gillette scored one of its biggest advertising coups ever with this campaign. That’s because word had not yet gotten around to the entire nation that slicked hair was passe’. The 60’s saw long, beautiful hair as a sign of rebellion. But as the turbulent decade faded in the rearview mirror, a less confrontational 70’s saw longer, dryer hair as the new standard for the well-groomed guy’s coiffure. And when you watched the aforementioned commercial, it was clear that the wet stuff had to go ASAP.

Dudes with thick hair required only a light spritz of The Dry Look to keep things under control. How I hated them. My fine hair demanded a veritable deluge of chemical spray to keep that middle part nicely elevated and secured.

Two BIG problems: I rode a motorcycle at the time, and a helmet was required. Ergo, my hair would look like crap when I arrived at my destination. Two, in the mid-south, rain is possible 365 days a year. Not only would the rain destroy my hour of blow-dried art, it created a runoff that tasted like, well, the aforementioned crap.

Of course, the sole purpose of the teenaged male is to attract the amorous attention of the teenaged female. So, to no great surprise, the girlfriends I attracted with my heavily-worked-but-physically-lightweight hair didn’t stick around too long. My lifetime love, 24 years now and counting, was bagged when I gave up and just let my balding head shine in its natural glory.

The wet head may have died in the early 70’s, but the skinhead lives on.

The Shoe Store

Vintage shoe store on Main Street

Kids grow fast, and so do their feet. That means that most of us Boomers made frequent trips to the shoe store while we were growing up.

I say MOST of us, because those of us who had an older sibling just ahead of us instead received hand-me-downs.

But that wasn’t the case with me. My older brother was ten years older than me, and it might as well have been a hundred, such was the gap between six and sixteen.

Ergo, I experienced frequent trips to the shoe store on Miami, Oklahoma’s Main Street.

That, of course, was where a kid could obtain P.F. Flyers. That was decidedly cool. But it was also where I would obtain dress shoes for church. Not nearly so cool.

The first thing that you noticed about the show store was the wonderful aroma. It was a heavenly nasal concoction consisting of a combination of leather, rubber, cigarette smoke, the salesman’s cologne, and perhaps some fresh floor wax.

The first thing the salesman would do is have me sit down so he could measure my feet.

Brannock Device

I never had a clue what the hoogus was called that he would use to calculate the exact size that my sock-clad foot required. In researching this column I learned that it’s known as a Brannock Device, and it is still proudly made in the USA.

Anyhow, the tool was slightly scary to me when I was very young, but I soon learned to relax, as there was absolutely no pain involved in its use. Instead, it came to feel reassuring to have the familiar device, well-worn from years of use, applied firmly against the bottom of my foot. It meant that in the topsy-turvy world in which I lived, one thing could absolutely be counted on: my shoes fitting perfectly. Of course, that took into account the leaving of an extra inch of growing room in the toes.

The Brannock tool was fun to play with while my mom shopped for a pair of shoes for herself, which always took a lot longer than it did to select mine. More entertainment was provided by the angled mirrors that were designed to show a customer just what their potential new shoes looked like from the side. And the little bench the salesman sat on had wire runners for legs that made it perfect to push one’s self around on the carpeted floor of the sales area, pretending to ride a sleigh.

Despite the Brannock tool having been around for ages, my elder brothers might possibly have gone through a more accurate, if not dangerous fitting procedure.

X-ray machine found in 1950’s shoe stores

Beginning in the 1930’s, portable fluoroscopes began showing up in shoe stores. The devices would bombard customers’ feet with a twenty second or longer exposure to pure X-rays!

The fluoroscopes grew in popularity over the years, and many of the more senior members of the Boomer generation can recall getting their feet X-rayed at the shoe store on a regular basis.

Many of the devices had three settings for men, women, and children. You would put your feet into a slot on the front of the machine while standing, and the exposure would begin. You could then peer through the viewer (there were three, one for you, one for the salesman, and one for mom) and see your feet’s bones on a green screen, ghostily surrounded by the shoes.

By the 60’s, the devices had fallen out of favor, so no exposure to X-rays at the shoe store for me.

Nowadays, visiting the shoe store is still a pleasant experience. That great aroma is still there, minus the cigarette smoke. Those angled mirrors still do the trick for side views. And some stores even have a Brannock tool for me to play with while my wife takes her own sweet time to pick out the perfect pair of shoes.

The Miniskirt

60’s girl in a mini skirt

In the 1960’s, America turned its eyes east for inspiration.

Specifically, we looked to England.

We were very impressed indeed with what the British had to offer. There was the British Invasion in music, there was the suave and immensely popular James Bond, and there was also the fashion world.

Carnaby Street was considered the hottest fashion center in the world circa 1965. When the trendy shoppes of the district would make fashion statements, the rest of the world, particularly the USA, would listen.

Mary Quant was a mover and shaker in the London fashion scene, and her Bazaar, opened in 1955, was a popular browsing spot for the trendiest of the trendy.

Ten years later, she released a shockingly short skirt to the masses, named after her favorite car. Thus was born the miniskirt.

The result was an instantaneous change in the way the western world’s females dressed, much to the delight of the western world’s men.

Soon, miniskirts were seen on TV, in the movies, in magazines, and in Hometown, USA.

Elizabeth Montgomery was seen sporting one on Bewitched. Anne-Margaret entertained the Vietnam troops whilst donning one. Goldie Hawn danced on Laugh-In covered (just barely) in a miniskirt and painted slogans. Nancy Sinatra festooned her album covers with her perfect legs exposed to the world, thanks to the immensely popular shockingly short skirt.

The sky was the limit. Well, not REALLY, in the case of the skirt itself, but images of the swinging 60’s are replete with women wearing skirts that went as high as one dared.

Twiggy modeling a mini skirt

One model in particular who cemented the short dress’s place in 60’s fashion was Lesley Hornby, aka Twiggy. The slightly-built girl who defined the Mod look was frequently seen wearing a miniskirt and leaning against many a London lamppost. She looked so great with her skinny little legs that, for better or (largely) worse, more traditionally-built females began going on starvation diets in an attempt to gain the same waif-like look.

For a fashion fad, the miniskirt enjoyed an amazingly long run, popularity-wise. They appeared in American culture from 1965 all the way through the mid 1970’s. At first linked to London’s Mod movement, they took on a life of their own. Perhaps nothing epitomized this more than country music stars like Jeannie C. Reilly and Dolly Parton performing and being photographed wearing the teeny little dresses. Additionally, even First Daughters Tricia and Julie Nixon were photographed in miniskirts. By the late 60’s, the short dress was considered mainstream enough for even the offspring of a notoriously conservative President to be seen wearing.

The miniskirt’s popularity waned, but it never went away. In fact, it has made comebacks from time to time. For instance, in the 90’s, Ally McBeal brought back the Twiggy look of skinny legs displayed via a miniskirt.

Even in this 21st century, the 60’s-spawned fashion trend is popular. Retro has been hot since it wasn’t yet retro, and miniskirts have the added benefit of displaying the female anatomy in a way that is quite pleasing to members of the opposite sex. Ergo, ANY miniskirt revival is going to be heeded as wonderful news by half of the world’s population.

Paisley bell-bottoms are long gone. Tie-dye is sometimes seen, but invariably in the context of parody of 60’s fashion. But the miniskirt, born in a more carefree time, soldiers on.

I guess the same could be said of us.

The Decade of the Blow Dryer

Blow dryers for guys

Ah, the 70’s. The Me Decade. The Polyester Era. The Disco Era. I think one more moniker should be added to the list. The Decade of the Blow Dryer.

During the 1970’s, sales of hair dryers shot upwards, perhaps doubling. Why? Because MEN needed them now.

I mean think about it. Women have always had a need for hair dryers, but prior to the 70’s, what the heck would a guy use one for? Yeesh, imagine a guy putting one of those plastic bubble dryers on his head like my mom used.

But then, along came The Dry Look. Suddenly, men who had dried their hair with a bath towel were sheepishly purchasing hair dryers. Only they weren’t hair dryers. They were, you know, hot combs!

Soon, guys were spending as long as an hour on their hair. And they learned the most effective ways to run a blow dryer.

You could really screw up your locks if you dried them the wrong way. That would mean rewetting your hair and doing it again.

So, all guys soon had blow dryers in their bathrooms. And sometimes guy talk would even consist of discussing what brand of blow dryer was the best for the price, and what brand of hair spray was most effective.

What had the world come to?

As hair got big and Charlie’s-Angelish, blow dryer sales continued to skyrocket. Untold millions of hours were spent by Boomers all over the country in front of mirrors accompanied by a noisy blow dryer.

Charlie’s Angels

The average life of a 70’s era blow dryer was perhaps six months. Then it would either stop working cold, or would fry itself in a rank-smelling cloud of internally burning plastic. I’m not sure how long they last today, seeing how my hair care implements currently consist of Edge shaving gel and a Gillette Mach 3 razor.

Off topic, but I will share this money-saving tidbit with you. I get six months of twice-weekly shaves from the expensive Mach 3 blades by rinsing them in cold water when I’m finished, then dipping them in rubbing alcohol. Believe it or not, it works.

So, male or female, when you look at pictures of yourself circa 1976 with mounds of immaculately styled hair, think back longingly to the Decade of the Blow Dryer.

I think that might just catch on. You heard it here first!

The Bikini

Bikinis from ancient Rome

Boomer ladies, I’m sure that if I cross the chauvinistic line in today’s piece, you’ll be more than happy to let me know.

What would a beach party movie be without Annette Funicello in her bikini? Fortunately, the world of the 60’s didn’t have to find out. That’s because the two-piece bathing suit, once considered so risqué that ladies who sported one risked arrest, was a commonplace sight on American beaches of the 1960’s, much to the delight of all of us who possess a Y chromosome.

The bikini’s history is a venerable one. 4th century CE artwork discovered in Sicily depicts Roman ladies exercising while wearing what today would be considered bikinis.

But the Dark Ages, the Victorian Era, and predominant social mores kept the two-piece outfit that was intended to be worn in public by members of the fairer sex pretty much out of circulation until 1946. It was in that year that Frenchmen Jacques Heim and Louis Reard designed and released what was called for the first time the bikini. The diminutive swimsuit was named after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, the site of the much hailed (at the time) atomic bomb tests which began taking place that same year.

However, bikinis were still rarely spotted on US beaches for several years afterwards. It was Brigitte Bardot’s performance in Roger Vadim’s scandalous And God Created Woman in 1956 (but not released in the US until the next year) that opened the floodgates.

Brigitte Bardot filling a bikini beautifully

To the horror of the generation that raised our Depression-era parents, bikinis began appearing en force on beaches from Daytona to Oahu, and everywhere in between. Girls loved the freedom experienced from wearing a suit that allowed so much skin to see the sun and, well, I think you know why boys loved them.

Of course, it was only the most nubile of female bodies that were equipped with bikinis, but since the most nubile bodies were the ones photographed to appear on TV, in movies, and on the pages of magazines, it did indeed appear that the world had been taken over by bikinis.

As if the craze didn’t have enough momentum, in 1960 Brian Hyland released Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, considered scandalous in its own right. The song hit #1, despite the fact that some radio stations refused to play it.

In 1964, Sports Illustrated began a much-loved, much-reviled tradition by depicting on its March cover an image of a young lady wearing a bikini.

Annette Funicello, also filling a bikini nicely

The aforementioned Ms. Funicello was also a driving force behind the popularity of the bikini, seeing how perfectly it fit her form in the wildly popular surf movies.

Thus, the beaches we recall from the 60’s had lots of bikinis, much to the horror of our puritanical grandparents. But it could have been worse. In 1964, Austrian designer Rudi Gernreich released the monokini, which allowed the breasts the ultimate in freedom. It was one of the very few things a little too wild for the 60’s, and died a quiet death.

The birth of the 70’s saw the bikini take yet another scandalous turn. Way down south in Rio, bikinis began appearing that exposed the buttocks. In other words, the thong was born. Popular on the more footloose Brazilian beaches, it took several years before they began appearing here in the US.

Such is the history of the bikini. And here’s to Boomer ladies like my wife, who have worked hard to stay in shape so that they still look stunning in the once-considered-risqué beachwear.

Platform Shoes

70’s vintage platform boots

One thing about the good old human race. They’re not afraid to cripple themselves in the name of fashion. Victorian ladies would deform their bodies with corsets that would tighten their waistlines down to an extreme degree. African ladies of culture still shove their shoulders down several inches with brass rings in order to achieve their epitome of beauty: a long looking neck. And, circa 1975, hip youths of both genders in the US and Europe strapped guaranteed ankle-breakers onto their ever-boogieing feet: platform shoes.

Platform shoes have actually been with mankind since at least the Roman Empire. Actors would wear platform-soled-shoes an inch thick or so while performing plays. In the late 1400’s, fashionable women of Venice were spotted wearing chopines, raised overshoes that slipped over more dainty shoes, protecting them from mud in the ever-sinking city.

The chopine disappeared by the 1600’s, much as Venice continues to do little by little. But in the 1930’s, platform shoes reappeared in both continents, in very art deco styles. As WWII began raging, shoes were produced with cork and leather soles, as rubber was limited to wartime usage.

Then, during the 40’s, platform soles once again vanished from sight. Enter the free-wheeling late 60’s.

As bell bottoms began showing up on the legs of America’s youth, it was a natural sight to see thick platform-soled shoes accompanying them, at least on the ladies. As we wended our way into the 70’s, bells got bigger, platforms got higher, and men joined in on the fun with their own platform heels.

Elton John rocking platform shoes

I remember owning some dress shoes circa 1975 with three-inch heels. That was as extreme as I ever got. But I loved being nearly six feet tall when i wore them!

Of course, the extremes were pushed much higher than that. ABBA was known for all four its Swedish members wearing platforms in various heights, the girls generally higher than the boys.

But the undisputed king of outrageous platform altitude was the diminutive Brit Elton John. Sir Elton would appear onstage decked out in fluorescent finery and perched upon a pair of platform soles that might measure a foot or more in height.

The extremes of 1970’s fashion disappeared almost overnight when the decade came to an end. Platform shoes went the way of the leisure suit. But unlike the san-necktie polyester abomination, platform shoes have had modest comebacks, at least among the fairer sex.

In the early 1990’s, platform shoes came back into vogue for women. And they have never completely disappeared. Tennis shoes can be seen mounted on two-or three-inch platforms. Tall stiletto heels are as popular as ever. And podiatrists are making millions, because chic shoe fashion continually demands that what’s hot is also what’s dangerous to walk on.

PF Flyers

P.F. Flyers ad from the late 50’s

The ultimate shoe for a second-grader to have on his feet in 1967 was the PF Flyer. It was a known scientific fact that we learned from its endless TV ads that you could simply run faster and jump higher with a pair of these beauties on than with a pair of a competitor’s vastly inferior product.

I never had any high-tops like are illustrated here. I preferred the low cut “track shoe.”

The shoe has a venerable history. It all started when B.F. Goodrich patented the Posture Foundation Insole in 1933. That’s where the “PF” comes from, get it? It made for the most comfortable basketball shoe that could be found, now that your poor arches finally had some support. By the 40’s, they were occasionally spotted on the feet of bobbysoxers sitting on drug store soda bar stools. Their popularity grew through the 50’s, and by the time I was a kid in the mid 60’s it was at its peak.

One of the things that made them irresistible to kids was the old trick used by Cracker Jack and sugary cereals: throw a prize in the box!

The Johnny Quest Decoder Ring was perhaps the most famous of prizes included, but they also inserted delights with a cowboy theme in earlier years. That seems kind of odd, when you think about it. Why would tennis shoes go along with arrowheads and branding irons?

Try as I might, I just couldn’t find the name of that monkey that used to be on the TV commercials. Maybe a reader can help?

In truth, I only remember owning one pair of the magical PF Flyers. I wore mom down with begging only once. She preferred that I wear Ked’s, a better value in her opinion. And no doubt they were. That money for the enclosed toy had to come from somewhere.

The shoes are still around, I’m happy to say, but they’re not the King like they were in the 60’s, when they were heavily advertised to kids watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Nehru Jackets

Get your Nehru jacket from Sears!

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, served from 1947 to his death in 1964. He was a good friend of Ghandi, saw his country through the first difficult years of independence from the British, and also tried hard to eliminate the Indian caste system, which assumes that if you are born into poverty, it must be because you’re a horrible person who did horrible things in a previous life.

Obviously, he was a fine leader who did a lot for his country. However, he is more famous for lending his name to an article of clothing that is uniquely 60’s in its appearance.

The Nehru jacket appeared in the mid 1960’s. Its mod look went perfectly with Twiggy, paisley prints, and sitar music. Soon, it was seen on none other than the Beatles themselves, vaulting its popularity. Dr. No was seen wearing one in Sean Connery’s first Bond movie. Other Bond films released in that decade with Nehrus, or close Mao lookalikes, were Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice. In fact, Bond villains have continued to sport them right up to recent releases.

Arte Johnson wore a Nehru at the weekly Laugh-In cocktail party. So did Sammy Davis Jr. (he owned over 200 of them), Mike Love, Johnny Carson, and lots more hipsters. Even baseball player Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson sported one on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The funny thing about the Nehru is that it has never completely disappeared. Steven Seagal is known to have one on. Of course, Dr. Evil and Mini-Me are adorned with their immaculate Nehrus in the Austin Powers movie series. The look is really sort of timeless, an alternative to a suit and tie that was a modern one from the start, and continues to look strangely in style. Contrast that with, say, a pair of red-and-white striped polyester bell bottoms.

The jacket itself: a band collared, hip-length closely-fitting coat, first appeared in India in the early 1940’s. It took a while to catch on in the US, but by 1968 was seen all over TV, magazines, and movie screens. Chairman Mao lent his name to the similar Mao jacket, which basically looks like something a communist leader would wear. Perhaps if the Chinese leader would have been svelte like Nehru himself, the Mao look might have proven more ageless.

So here’s to the Nehru jacket: It’s definitely a blast from our past, but, like us, refuses to go away quietly.