Dateline 1964: Sloppy Dress, New Morality

Next up in our series of heyday-era reports from The Daily Princetonian is this piece called “Out of class, sloppy dress and a new morality,” also from 1964. It includes a topic dear to my own heart — or rather feet — namely the breakdown of social dancing, after centuries of waltzes, country reels, minuets, and various courtly promenades. Surely one of the greatest losses in the history of civilization.

Interesting, and we probably shouldn’t be surprised, is the perception of the relationship between lax standards of dress and sexual liberation.

Here it is in full:

An alumnus was complaining about the modern Princeton undergraduates. “Their parties are disgusting. All they think about is liquor and sex. It wasn’t like this before the war.” While the-alum-nus may have been exercising his “selective memory,” he certainly would feel uncomfortable at a Princeton party. But the parties themselves are only a reflection of a more general trend. The whole temper of Princeton’s social life has undergone a significant change since the war. Life was more relaxed then. There was less studying to do, and much of it was “busy work,” menial rather than creative assignments. During the week, the clubs were centers of social activity only at mealtimes. Half an hour after dinner, recalls Dean- Lippincott, “you could fire a shotgun in the club’s front hall and nobody would notice.” After the meal, the student went to the library or his room to study, or to the movies. “Flicking out” was a weekday diversion then; afterwards, everyone went to the Nassau Inn. The bars and inns in town paid little attention to the legal drinking age. Anyone could be served. Places like the Tiger Teapot, now defunct, catered to the undergraduate. But the students’ favorite was the “Nass.” Almost every senior had a beer mug on a nail there; some still remain, as do initials carved on tables.

On the Weekend, Home or the Big City With the exception of Houseparties and the big dances, a student rarely had a date on campus. Dances were far more popular then; everyone went to them, and not to dance with just one girl, either. The success of a date depended on how popular a girl was with other boys. Most of the students lived within commuting range, and many went home, for weekends. Others had dates in New York or Philadelphia. Those without dates met their friends at the city’s dance palaces, places like the Orpheum or the Golden Slipper, where, if you liked the girl you were dancing with, you could buy up the rest of her dances and leave. There was a definite dichotomy between the “good girl” and the “bad girl.” Every boy had his girl at home, and also knew one or two available girls in town or in Trenton. There was very little” on-campus social activity. After football games, there were cocktail parties in students’ rooms —to “get away from the alumni at the clubs,” explained Robert W. Bennett ’29, manager of six Prospect St. clubs. But women had to be out of the dorms by 6 p.m., so room parties were rare. During the week, seeing a girl on campus was so unusual that the first boy to spy her leaned out his window and shouted “Fire”; shouts would follow her around the campus, much as today’s banging in Commons greets a girl there. Things began to change after the second world war. Students first found that minors could no longer be served along Nassau St. Recognizing this, the administration opened the clubs for a set number of parties each ‘term. This began a modern Princeton trademark—the Big Weekend, a fast-paced succession of parties, girls and liquor, an effort to condense a year’s social activities into four bursts of 48 hours each. Stag lines and changing partners at dances and parties disappeared; a boy was with his date constantly. For that matter, dancing itself, seriously weakened by the logistical problems of spending a full evening with one girl, began to fade. In fact, before the rise of the Twist, Elm Club manager Bennett recalls parties where couples simply sat and listened to the club’s jazz or rock and roll band.

Today’s student leads a distinctly different social existence. The greater work load he bears precludes the weekend trip home or to New York. On week nights, town theaters report fewer students in attendance. The clubs are still almost empty an hour after dinner, though now members study there. Dean of the College J. Merrill Knapp points out that there is far less total drinking now than before the war. The decline is primarily in weekday consumption. Students now save their drinking for the big weekend drunk. Dances have declined significantly in popularity. Less than a third of the undergraduate body attends dances like ‘Prince-Tiger and Junior Prom. No longer can a dance compete with a couch and a television. Club parties have changed, too. Informality is the watchword, occasionally too much so. While cocktail parties in the afternoon still find a great deal of mixing, the student pays almost exclusive attention to his date at evening parties. Indeed, he pays more attention to her at all times. He is with her constantly. He is apt to set aside time for serious conversation. And it is to his date, not a “bad l girl,” that he now looks for sex. This is the conclusion of a report recently issued by Graham B. Blame Jr., psychologist for the Harvard Health Services, which stated that, in comparison with 15 years ago, significantly more college students have sexual relations with dates than with pickups and prostitutes. The Current Morality Undergraduate apologists explain the current morality in terms of a reaction to the increasing pressures on the student, from his studies and from the outside world. Dean Lippincott agrees: “Students now have a much greater need for feminine companionship than my generation ever did.” iSex is far from casual for the undergraduate. Where once it was everything or nothing to a campus boy-girl relationship, now it is an integral part, but still only a part of a more complete relationship. While the majority of girls still subscribe to the “Nice .girls don’t” ideal, the decisions on sex are more and more being made on personal grounds. Measured in quantity, the role of sex is not very different from what it was a generation ago. The difference is qualitative: the “bad girl” and the attitude she stood for its disappearing. In her place is a new conception of sex, as nothing to be ashamed of, as an important part of a dating relationship whose value is determined by one’s self and not by society.

See the archived version here. — CC

12 Comments on "Dateline 1964: Sloppy Dress, New Morality"

  1. My opinion has always been, the downward spiral of society hinged on the availability of effective birth control, the pill. Female “freedom” and liberation resulted.

    The “rubber” did not count, for it was a male device, only exhibiting male desire.

    Women did not just have their own cigarette, baby. They’ve come a long, long way.


  2. Maybe I’m a prude, but the author seems to be longing for the days when you could keep your “nice girl” at home, your whore in Trenton, and never have to see either on campus. If that counts as the “old morality”, was it any better than the “new”?

  3. Although I will give him (the author) credit: he notes early on that the alum who complains about ‘modern’ parties are disgusting because they only focus on liquor and sex is probably exercising some degree of selective memory.

  4. That quote, “It wasn’t like this before the war”, immediately put me in mind of Charles Ryder’s college servant; different war, same “harrummmph!”.

  5. “All they think about is liquor and sex”.

    Cough,cough…and in 1920s?

  6. Anyway,the turning point was the WW-II for sure.
    In somehow the late 60s revolution is in continuity with the changes result by the war.
    Less elitarian models,for exemple.
    Before the war when Joe the plumber dressed up,he looked to the Park Avenue patrician (that looked to the Prince of Wales).
    Today when the Park Avenue patrician dressed up he look to Joe the plumber.

  7. Better to have sex with a girlfriend than a prostitute or a “bad girl”, who is then labeled as a “prostitute”. Certainly, there are many terrible trends in modern society, but the “good old days”, when sex was prohibited in a real relationship, and as a result, visiting prostitutes, or having a mistress on a side, was a gentlemanly tradition, are not to be missed. That being said, it’s sad that so many young ladies these days, mess around too much. Too many girls have abortions before they even get married.

  8. Charlottesville | January 29, 2018 at 12:59 pm |

    Carmelo – “Today when the Park Avenue patrician dressed up he look to Joe the plumber.” Very true. In fact, much of the fashion of the past decade or so appears to have its roots in the ethos of drug addicts and prisons, from the wan, slack jawed models to the lace-less shoes. There was even a brief fashion for orange jumpsuits a few years ago. Our local jail has recently switched to dispensing the wide, gray-and-white, horizontal-striped clothing of the convicts in old movies. I expect to see it on the runways of Pitti Uomo soon.

  9. None in the 30s or also in the 50s expected that in the future the peoples dressed in the same way that in their time (neither that wanted it).
    See for exemple the man of 1980s in the 1930 movie “Just imagine”:
    But none expected that in the future the peoples dressed as shabby beggars with many tattoos…and they loved it!

  10. whiskeydent | January 29, 2018 at 4:04 pm |

    Gosh, how quaint.

  11. That suit in the still from Just Imagine actually wouldn’t have looked out of place in an 80s music video. Of course even in the 80s, you’d have looked like a complete fool walking around dressed like that, but looking like a complete fool was very much expected when dressing up for a music video shoot.

  12. Thanks Mr. Yip Harburg from Finian’s Rainbow: “When the idle poor become the idle rich you’ll never know who is who or who is which. Won’t it be rich. When everyone’s poor relative becomes a ‘Rockefellative’ and palms no longer itch. What a switch,”

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