View Full Version : 1960s Middle Class Trivia/Trends Anyone?

03-24-2006, 05:24 AM
OK, I've made it to the polishing stage on Novel Number 2 and I need some help from you AWers who were adults in the mid- to late-1960s.

My MC is an adult now, but she was a junior in high school in 1969 in Berkeley, California. Her parents: a firefighter and a housewife with a Jackie obsession (minor, but still an obsession).

What I'm looking for are details and trends that normal middle class couples would've thought important at the time, things my MC can remember/emulate either consciously or unconsciously in her own adult life. Things specific to the Bay Area would be great, but Washington, DC and New England would work too given Mom's interests.

I hope I'm saying this well enough (I'm probably not, though, so let me know if this isn't clear enough), I'm looking for everything from what color they'd paint the family room to a party menu -- I don't know exactly what I'm looking for but I'll know it when someone posts it. PMs are also cool.

Thanks in advance for your answers!
Have a great day! :)

03-24-2006, 11:48 AM
Well, I wasn't in the US at that time but even in far off Guyana we felt the waves of Flower Power, the Summer of Love, Woodstock and the like. That's what jumps out at me first. http://www.woodstock69.com/

03-24-2006, 05:36 PM
Music made huge changes in the era, and album sales increased enormously as the baby boomers reached buying age. One phenomenon repeated in most households was parental reaction to the music--they didn't understand it, feared its rawness, its lyrics, its sexuality, its drug references; they forbade it in many cases. In a lot of households, there were huge arguments over it.

Hair on guys was another. Lots of parents, both blue-collar and white, threw their sons out or stopped paying for college when the guys grew their hair long and refused to cut it. Guys who looked like Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid got laid, and the mustache and sideburns were a factor in their attractiveness to the ladies.

The Pill. For the first time in history, women could engage in recreational sex with little risk--even the STDs were all curable then. And the young women were thrown out of the house for it, at times. Those who didn't take the pill and became pregnant were still shamed; out-of-wedlock birth wasn't yet socially acceptable.

Viet Nam and the draft, which assigned numbers in a lottery. Young people did not believe in this war and dared to protest, to refuse to serve, etc. Student protest was at times violent, and many adults thought they did not have the right to do it. The National Guard shot and killed students for protesting--and many people who supported the war thought that was regrettable but just.

Colors--avocado green was inescapable. Harvest gold was also abundant. Every apartment had carpet in one or the other. Rent a few movies made during the time period (not merely set then, which is often revisionist) and you'll see furnishings, textiles, display items, kitchenware, etc.

Those who didn't go the hippie direction went mod, a la Twiggy (a fashion model), with very short skirts which shocked parents and kept girls from using drinking fountains. Heavy eye makeup and short mussed hair, like Goldie Hawn. (If you can find Rowan & Martin's Laugh In [a TV show], watch a few as homework.) Capezio shoes, in bright-colored leather, nearly flat, with pointed toes and the upper cut so low that the cracks between the toes showed--and some mothers objected, in all seriousness, to 'toe cleavage.'

Wire-rim glasses, formerly the purview of your grandpa, were cool. Plastic frames were what your parents wore. The lenses were not plastic but glass, were heavy, and had a tendency to pop out of wire rims, chipping or breaking. Contact lenses were also making major inroads, although only hard lenses existed and many could not wear them comfortably.

Maryn, who's done enough time-travel for the moment

03-24-2006, 06:24 PM
I wasn't an adult then, but I do remember those years. Maryn has a good handle on it. Harvest gold, avocado green.... ughh. My MIL still loves those colors.

Hor d'oerves were pigs-in-a-blanket or Cheez Whiz on a Ritz cracker. (We're talking real middle class here.) Wine in a short bottle that had something like a hemp rope around the bottom portion. Chianti, I think. And when the wine was finished, they stuck a short candle in it.

Lots of candles while playing music on the stereo (which looked like a piece of furniture and held all the LP's).

What I call "turtle chairs" in neon colors. If you turned them over they looked like turtle shells. They were round and uncomfortable.

Huge stereo headphones were becoming popular.

AM/FM transistor radios. Cassette tapes. Women going back to work outside the home. Cars were clunky. Pork chop sideburns for any guy over 15. And yeah, lots of hair.

03-24-2006, 06:29 PM
Lots of candles while playing music on the stereo (which looked like a piece of furniture and held all the LP's).


You could pile up lots of LP's and put them on the stereo under a metal arm, and they'd drop down automatically. And the arm with the needle went back and forth automatically. The Beatles were conquering the world. Women were burning their bras (not necessarily literally).

03-24-2006, 07:23 PM
Wow, you guys are great! :)

I grew up in the SF Bay Area, so I know about Flower Power & all that, but the Cheez Whiz & girls not being able to use drinking fountains -- that's exactly what I was looking for! I'd forgotten all about my aunt's "mod" clothes, hair & makeup, but it all came rushing back. I have to admit that "toe cleavage" is a new one for me, though. Love it!!

The LPs on the turntable is also wonderful -- my MC still has hers but I'd forgotten that you could set one to repeat an album side.

Any more ideas will be very welcome. The more "normal" and middle class the better -- I wasn't really exposed to much normal during that time, but I did have an empty chianti bottle with a multi-colored drip candle in it. :Sun:

Thanks again!

03-24-2006, 08:11 PM
i was a kid during this time as well..but can remember a lot of the day to day life. and i remmeber much about my parent's lifestyle. we were lower middle class with my dad in the air force and my mom doing odd jobs like meter maid. we drove a big buick station wagon. or oldsmobile. let's see, plaid button down shirts with short pointy collars were standard for men, always tucked in and slacks always worn with a belt. jackets were never left swinging open. sweater vests were also common. most adults still wore those black plastic glasses. Vitalis was the hair product of the day and Old Spice was heavily advertised on t.v. the war in Vietnam was in full swing and many families had loved ones overseas. we made reel-to-reel recordings to send to my dad, and he would record something fun back for us. not everyone protested the war, and pride in country was still a family value passed along. not having the inundation of material toys that society has now, kids played more games of imagination. war games were popular in our neighborhood, (army men were collected by the thousands,) along with hide and seek, and cowboy and indians, and it was common to start some kind of club. indians were still thought of as the bad guys. in fact, life was divided into the good guys and the bad guys. our heroes were firemen and astronauts, and wanting to be president one day was a popular goal. we always said sir and ma'am, Mr. and Mrs., please and thank you. belt spankings were common and kids really did get their mouths washed out with soap for offenses like cussing or back talking.
ok..this is almost sounding like a rant..lol.i'll stop..but if i think of anything significant, i'll pass it on.

03-24-2006, 08:16 PM
Does NYC fit into this?

03-25-2006, 12:13 AM
Hi Rich,

If you have something you'd like to share, I'd love to hear it! Like I said, I'm not sure exactly what I'm looking for, just some little normal details to give more life to the story. Right now I have a ~65K word story that reads like an outline in some spots; it needs some makeup and high heels & a pillbox hat to dress it up a bit. :D

Thanks PH!
Army men sure take me back!! My cousin had a million ways to destroy those little guys. I felt so lucky to find a homemade rubberband gun at a garage sale last summer, we all made those back in the 70s. Fun sure was different back then, wasn't it??


03-25-2006, 04:11 AM

I could be wrong, but I think pill box hats went out of style around '65.

Also, lipstick was pale, pale, pale. Either light pink or almost white. Same with nails. Yardley of London makeup was popular, English Lavender soap, and Jean Nate cologne (lemon smelling).

Not sure on this one, but I think charm bracelets became popular around the late sixties, early seventies. Smilie face pins :) worn on pocketbooks or lapel of a jacket.

Peace signs everywhere.

Tish Davidson
03-25-2006, 04:51 AM
I was a junior in high school in 1969 in Philadelphia. What I remember most was that that was the year my school allowed girls to wear pants (but not jeans) to school for the first time. Before that we had to wear dresses or skirts. Boys were not allowed to wear jeans either, and had to wear shirts with collars. This was a public school in a middle/lower-middle class neighborhood. Girls also had to change clothes for gym and wear these dreadful ghastly yellow gym suits that were one piece with a skirt and bloomers underneath. And you had to take a shower after gym. You had a number and someone checked off your number as you went into the shower, but you were excused from showering if you were menstruating . My kids think this all sounds weird. Field hockey was the big girls' sport at my high school girls and girl's basketball had very different rules from today.

The other huge thing was Vietnam. There were lots of protests. The process of assigning military draft status by random drawing of birthdates had begun a year (or maybe two years) earlier, and this was a huge deal. Many men can tell you where they were when the draft drawing took place and virutally all adult men who were 18 then can tell you instantly what their draft number was. The My Lai massacre occurred in November 1969, accelerating protests against US involvement in Vietnam. The Kent State shooting happened in May of the following year. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_State_shootings

Many men taught school to avoid the draft. Teaching was a draft-exempt position. Other men went to Canada to avoid the draft, and there were any number of strategies for getting a medical deferment. I lived in an area where there were many Quakers. Quakers are pacificist, and life-long Quaker males almost always got granted conscious objector status. Other guys resented this (at least in my high school). You heard "America, love it or leave it." a lot from the pro-military crowd.

Men still didn't swear much in front of women, and it was considered coarse and unladylike for girls to swear. The f word was considered shocking in mixed company and not used casually like it is today. Anyone who said "That sucks" would have been considered crude. Adults, like your friends parents, were addressed as Mr. and Mrs. In a doctor's office you would be called Miss or Mrs Last Name, never by your first name.

High schools mostly held their senior proms in the gym, not in hotels.

Marijuana use was fairly common, but circumspect. You had to know someone fairly well before the topic was discussed. LSD was also popular. Muscle cars were popular with young men. The station wagon was the standard large family car. Families were bigger then. Having 4 or 5 siblings was not unusual. Hardly any of my friends came from two-child families. Air travel and long distance telephone calls were much more expensive than today. There was a single phone company (Bell Telephone) that provided all local and long distance service and the telephone that went in your house (a rotary dial phone, not a touch-tone one). In my town, phone numbers were still designated with 2 letters and 5 numbers rather than 7 numbers e.g. MA5-5555 rather than 625-5555. Airlines were regulated monopolies and there was not the variety of fares and competition there is today. Going to college was the exception rather than a middle class expectation. Manufacturing jobs were the ticket into the middle class. There were a few malls, but not too many, and no discount department stores like Target or K Mart. People ate much less ethnic food, and ethnic restaurants were uncommon outside urban areas. I didn't go to my first fast food restaurant (a McDonald's) until 1968. Most stores were closed on Sunday.

Race relations were unsettled. Interracial dating was considered radical by both parents and most kids. In the summer of 1968 there were race riots in Detroit, Newark, NJ, and other places ("Burn, Baby, Burn"). Tommie Smith and John Carlos did the Black Power salute at the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City. You can read about it here http://www.infoplease.com/spot/mm-mexicocity.html. (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/mm-mexicocity.html.The)

The Black Power movement was quite strong in urban areas and the nation seemed very racially divided. Black students took over the administration building at Cornell University and were pictured with maching guns on the cover of Newsweek. I wanted to go to Cornell, but after that, my parents would not even consider it. The SDS and the Weathermen were violent radical student groups active on some campuses (UC Berkeley, U Michigan). Environmental activism was practically non-existent. People were only just beginning to become concerned about pollution.

Abortion was illegal everywhere in the US, and boys who "got girls in trouble" were still expected to marry them. Having a child out of wedlock was scandalous and reflected badly on the whole family. Birth control (pill, diaphragm) was available but in more conservative areas some doctors still refused to prescribe it for unmarried women. Condoms were kept behind the counter at pharmacies (usually called drug stores at least where I lived) and boys had to ask for them (often causing them to feel a mixture of embarassment and pride). Tampons were not advertised on television. Rape was often thought to be the woman's "fault" and was considered shameful, was hidden and not talked about.

Someone mentioned long hair on young men. This, and girls going braless, seemed to be flash points for the older generation. Looking back, I can't believe how many families were bitterly fractured over the length of a son's hair. Long hair seemed to symbolize rebellion and anti-Americanism to the parental generation. Flag burning was another flash point, as were flag symbols on clothing. Peace signs were everywhere on clothing. I don't know any women who had tatoos then and very few men that I knew had them with the exception of sailors and other military types and those who got their tatoos in prison. Some girls had pierced ears - they were just becoming more popular in the middle class, but other girls stuck with clip-on earrings. Boys always asked girls out. A girl in 1969 might make her interest in a boy known by telling her friends who would tell his friends, but she would never call him up and ask him out. Young people tended to go on formal dates rather than just hang out.

The space program and landing on the moon (July 20, 1969), were a big deala. Communism was the enemy. Beating Russia to the moon was a big "victory" for the US.

You might also want to look at this site. You can put in a date and it will tell you how much things cost, what songs and tv shows were popular, etc. http://www.dmarie.com/timecap/

03-25-2006, 10:01 PM
Oh wow, Jean Nate -- what a flashback!! One of my closest friends loved it, as soon as I read that I could smell it again.

Tish -- Thanks a million, I truly appreciate you taking the time to share all that great info. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/smile.gif

Thank you so much to everyone who's responded. I'm so excited about this ms, it's really starting to feel like a story now.

03-25-2006, 10:12 PM
You're welcome, and best of luck with your book!