How Did Teenagers Dress in the '60s & '70s?

by Robert Dumas

Tie-dyed shirts and sandals were part of the hippie fashion movement.

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The 1960s and '70s were volatile decades, both politically and socially, and the fashions reflected it. The '60s started out fairly conservatively, but as rock ‘n’ roll grew in popularity, it began to have a fashion influence on the kids who listened to it. Teens sought individually and, for good or ill, tended to wear that quest -- quite literally -- on their sleeves. By the '70s, styles were changing rapidly as bright, flamboyant colors gave way to the unkempt punk influences.

1960s Girls

At school, pants were usually verboten and skirt hemlines were required to reach the knee. Plaid patterns and herringbone tweed were popular for skirts, with matching solid-colored blouses, often accompanied by cardigan sweaters. They were matched with knee-high socks made of wool or stretch nylon. Dresses were classically styled, often cinched at the waist with a vinyl belt. Fabrics were blends of nylon, acrylic and wool. Dress was a little more liberal for social occasions. Hemlines for skirts were a few inches shorter. Colors were more vibrant. Pullover sweater dresses, made from acetate knits and Orlon, were popular. Girls wore hip-hugger pants with wide belts. Later in the decade, bell bottoms came on the scene for both casual and dress pants. Girls wore jeans, but usually for the most casual affairs.

1960s Boys

In the early part of the decade, men’s fashions were still fairly conservative. Shirt lapels and collars did get wider, as did ties and belts. While full-blown bell bottoms were yet to hit the scene, a modified version called flared pants became popular. Sport shirts and polo shirts were de rigueur. New man-made fabrics made their appearance, such as Ban-Lon, a type of synthetic yarn known for its comfort. By the late '60s, hippie and rock ‘n’ roll influences began to surface with an “anything goes” attitude. Bell bottom pants (the wider the better) were standard. Boys paired plaids with stripes of all colors and vests with jeans. Hippie dress for young men ranged from rock T-shirts and ripped jeans to flower-pattern caftans to fringed leather or suede jackets. Colors were bright and vibrant. Anything different from the norm or the “establishment” was considered groovy.

1970s Girls

The 1960s broke down the fashion barriers and paved the way for the wild '70s. For women, skirts got shorter, as did shorts. If fact, it was the decade of the hot pants (extremely short shorts). Brightly colored bell bottoms with blousy shirts were common early on, but hippie garb gave way to the disco look, which could be anything from miniskirts to midi skirts to halter-neck cat suits with tropical and exotic prints. Jeans also become part of the teenage “uniform” for both sexes for just about any occasion except the extremely formal.

1970s Boys

Fashion for teen boys moved swiftly through the '70s. It started with hippie garb, morphed to disco styles, and finished up with punk sensibilities. Early to mid-1970s boys fashion was a pre-cursor to the '90s Seattle grunge styles: ripped jeans and rock T-shirts topped with plaid flannel shirts left unbuttoned. Bell bottoms were still fashionable, and platform shoes were worn for more formal affairs -- otherwise, sneakers were the footwear of choice. Disco saw the advent of the leisure suit. They were brightly colored (and sometimes white) monochromatic ensembles with very wide collars usually worn with a ruffled shirt. Think John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.” As the '80s dawned, the punk movement rebelled against all that. Punks preferred torn T-shirts (often expressing political slogans), torn jeans with wide leather belts and chains, and heavy leather boots.

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About the Author

Robert Dumas has been a journalist for over 25 years. In 2007 he was the winner of the prestigious Maggie Award for magazine writing and has also received the American Society of Business Publication Editors Award. He has worked in trade journalism and community-based journalism, and spent several years as a sportswriter. Robert holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications.