Fashion Crimes - Past and Present

By Catherine Durnford-Wang

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While having dinner with other baby boomers recently, a discussion came up about a current fashion crime that, quite frankly, had us all shaking our heads: the wearing of pajama bottoms in public. It's true. How often do we see people walking around with fleece pajama bottoms decorated with clowns or perhaps little sleeping cats or even Christmas trees? As we talked about it, I wondered how “pajamas-as-street-wear” had gained such acceptance.

What could have sparked this fashion crime? A couple of scenarios popped into my head, both of which may or may not have spawned this unfortunate trend. Picture this: One morning, having overslept and running late for work, did someone quickly throw on a sweatshirt, look down and decide maybe pajama bottoms could double as pants? Or, was it just plain old laziness? While idly thinking about meeting with friends for an evening at the pub, did someone sluggishly raise him or herself from the couch, look down and think, “I'm only going to the pub. Why go to all the trouble of dressing?” and then sauntered out the door, clad in pajama bottoms?

This got me thinking: What did we do back when we were in our youth that had our elders shaking their heads in wonder at their dinner parties? What fashion trends - or fashion crimes - would have sparked a discussion back then? Sadly, several possibilities spring to mind that most baby boomers will remember with fondness, mixed with a certain amount of humiliation.

Let's start with the tie-dyed t-shirt. An ordinary, white t-shirt (back then, they were all “ordinary,” since designer labels were still a thing of the future) was tied into a knot and then dipped in dye – any colour. When dry, it was tied into another knot and dipped into a different colour of dye, and on and on. Out into public we went, our brand new and exclusive t-shirt tucked into too-short bell-bottoms, our fringed belt swaying gently down by our knees. Peeking out from underneath our bell-bottoms were Elevated Orthopedic Nightmares, otherwise known as platform shoes, à la Elton John. At least four inches high, males and females alike teetered precariously on them. Incidentally, like most fashion trends, platform shoes were not new in the late ’60s - far from it. They were worn in ancient Greece to elevate important characters in the Greek theatre and, by the 16th century, were worn by high-born callgirls in Vienna.

Try as we might, can we ever forget the leisure suit worn by trendy males? That pastel jacket-and-pants combo made of polyester - and probably highly flammable - was characterized by the casual belting of the jacket. Thankfully, being female, I never had to sport one, but I certainly wore my share of polyester. By the way, for those interested, it is still possible to purchase leisure suits on the internet.
Pajamas, however, are manufactured, marketed and sold to be worn at night, in bed, with the lights out. The boomer fashion errors I have mentioned were all manufactured, marketed and sold to do exactly what we did with them – wear them out in public. They can, therefore, be chalked up to poor judgment - not a true fashion crime.

So, lest we get too smug, I wracked my brain trying to come up with a horrible error we boomers made back in the ’60s. A self-induced fashion crime, so to speak, that matches the severity of the pajamas in public we see today. My personal fashion horror and one I believe compares favourably, or unfavourably, with the pajamas as casual attire is curlers worn in public. Back when we were young, females merrily went about their business, huge curlers bobby-pinned into place, half hidden under a scarf. We foolishly pretended no one would notice these enormous cylinders. Consider the irony of it: looking grotesque in public so as to look good in public a few hours later. Wearing curlers in public was not an error in judgment – it was just plain wrong.

The extent of the “wrongness” was characterized by the type of rollers you happily sported. There were the pink spongy curlers that sat tight to the head and were oh so easy to sleep in. There were the crisscross mesh curlers that had bits of bristle sticking out of them to make sure the hair adhered. These were fixed into place by a horrible pink plastic stick that really did poke into your scalp and cause sores. But hey, it was all in the name of beauty. My all-time favourite, which I freely admit I used, was the cardboard inserts from rolls of toilet paper. Seems a contradiction in terms, but they were huge and, rather than actually curl hair, they did the opposite and helped to smooth out the hair to attain the coveted flip of the ’60s. Some of us wandered around with our curlers semi-hidden beneath our artfully arranged scarves, but neglected to hide the strip of pink scotch tape that kept our bangs plastered flat to our foreheads. Perhaps you remember that tape - Scotch Hair Set Tape - a pretty shade of pink?

So, lady baby boomers, raise your hands if you are guilty of this. No one will see you, honestly. Sadly and sheepishly, I can recall at least one occasion when I wandered the streets, big pink curlers peeking out from under a head scarf, sure that no one would notice. And now, having raised my hand, I find I am unable to continue typing...



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