The calendar tells us that it’s still Autumn, but many parts of the U.S. have already experienced below-freezing temperatures and significant snowfall.
It was this time of year that early snowfalls were a double-edged sword when we were growing up. We couldn’t wait to go out and play in the snow, but mom was convinced we’d catch pneumonia if we weren’t bundled up bulkier than the Michelin Man. Do you remember….
1. Pants under skirts
Girls who went to elementary school in the 1950s and 60s probably remember being subjected to the atrocious fashion statement known as “leggings.”
Mind you, we’re not talking the slender form-fitting trendy version worn by women today; no, these were bulky elastic-waist pants (not unlike sweat pants, but without the fleece lining) or “ski pants,” which had seams down the front and stirrups at the feet.
Most schools of that era had dress codes that forbade girls from wearing slacks to school, so once the snowy sub-zero season started, Mom would make us wear leggings to protect our bare leg skin while we walked to and from school. Once we got to school, we had to squiggle out of said pants in the cloak room before attending class because bare female legs were apparently essential for a proper education.
Rubber boots were a must during winter to protect your “school shoes.” Unfortunately, many parents decided to save some money and “hand down” galoshes from one sibling to another as the eldest one outgrew them, rather than buy new ones for the smallest pair of feet in the family.
If they were a little too big, no problem — mom would simply stuff crumpled-up newspaper in the toes. Those of us with the ill-fitting galoshes will recall the sort-of “flapping” walk to school as we struggled to keep the boot from falling off, and mom later admonishing us for “dragging our heels,” which would eventually cause the rubber on the back portion to rupture.
3. Plastic bag protection
Despite the double-barreled protection of leggings and galoshes, when there was a heavy snowfall it was inevitable that snow would fall into our boots as we negotiated our way through tall drifts.
Again, mom wanted to protect our “school shoes” — oh, and our feet, too — from moisture damage, so she had us slide plastic bags over our shoes before donning our galoshes. This was in the pre-Ziploc bag era, so quite often we ended up going to school with empty Wonder Bread wrappers on our feet.
4. Stocking hats
The long-tailed stocking hat that was popular in the 1960s and 70s was meant to serve a dual purpose. The hat would keep the head and ears toasty warm, and the tail portion could be wrapped around the neck as a scarf.
But, as kids tend to do, we ignored the scarf angle and usually chose to wear the long tail draped down our backs. Of course, this just invited the class bullies to grab the tail (the pom-pon on the end gave extra gripping leverage for gloved hands) and yank the hat off our head to play a “fun” game of keep-away.
When we were toddler-to-kindergarten age, mom often bundled us up in a one-piece zippered snow suit that was so stuffed with fluff that it restricted basic movement (remember Randy from A Christmas Story?).
She’d add a hat underneath the hood and then wrap a scarf around your face and neck to make sure the hood remained in place. The result was that you resembled an Arctic starfish, and it was difficult to keep up with your older siblings and friends as they played in the snow. They could barely hear you call for help if you fell down (thanks to that muffler around your mouth) and you struggled like an upended turtle to get back on your feet.
6. “Trapper” Hat
When I was a kid, I used to refer to these hats that mom dressed my younger brothers in as “World War I Flying Ace hats.” Turns out the proper name for them is a “Trapper” hat, because it is fashioned after the headgear used by those intrepid hunters in Siberia and similar regions while hunting game.
Nevertheless, until young boys “graduated” to a standard toque or skier’s headband for that “cool” look while keeping warm, most young boys were literally strapped into these faux-leather, fur-lined helmets with earflaps.
7. Mittens clipped to sleeves
Every elementary school “lost and found” box had an assortment of single mittens. Mom would always be confounded when dressing you for school in the morning and you only had one mitten. “How can you lose a mitten?!” she’d sigh in exasperation as she buckled your galoshes, tied the strings around your hood securely and handed you your lunchbox.
The solution was to attach your mittens to your sleeves. Some winter coats in the 1960s actually came with mittens on strings attached to the sleeves. But moms who couldn’t afford such “designer” coats opted for elastic strips with Alligator Clips on each end to keep our mittens and gloves within reach at all times.