For many people, the 1960s are considered to be an era of great change for traditional gender stereotypes. Yet women in general still had to adhere to rigid societal expectations – arguably enforced by members of the opposite sex. And quite frankly, some of the things that men seemingly found attractive at the time are downright bizarre.
40. Bare legs
The 1960s gave rise to perhaps one of the biggest fashion statements of all time: the miniskirt. Popular among young women of the day, the leg-baring garment would later come to represent an entire era of sexual emancipation. But back then, some treated wearing the item as simply an easy way to rebel against their parents.
39. Flawless pins
Given the popularity of the miniskirt, having flawless legs became a new concern for women. Long before Kim Kardashian launched her own line of body make-up, then, ladies in the 1960s actually started painting their pins to ensure that they looked perfect. Mind you, women had drawn on their legs before – but that was during the Second World War when stockings were scarce.
38. Acting demure
As previously noted, the 1960s are often seen as a period of liberation for women. Yet for the most part, ladies were still expected to take a back seat in society. In certain states, for instance, women were still not allowed to serve on juries or study at some colleges. And even after the contraceptive pill was introduced in 1960, many single females were still not permitted to have prescriptions.
37. Drinking only in moderation
We might today speak of the Swinging Sixties like they were a ten-year party – but that wasn’t necessarily the case for women. Because while wider society was okay with females drinking liquor, women still were often arguably expected to do so in a “ladylike” manner. So this meant that a tipple with dinner was acceptable, but anything more than that might be deemed inappropriate. Getting drunk was obviously a big no-no, then.
36. The “Lolita” look
While the curvaceous Marilyn Monroe had previously been the ultimate pin-up girl, the 1960s heralded in a completely different kind of muse. Inspired by British fashion model Twiggy and the like, the new desired female look was thin and youthful in appearance. It is apparently believed that this “Lolita” style was actually a rejection of maturity – both in dress and attitude.
35. Seeming uninterested
Another trend that Twiggy seemingly helped to popularize was the far-off gaze. This, in effect, served to make women appear like they were in a constant state of boredom. The phenomenon may also have arisen because it was still considered taboo for women to appear intelligent. Vacant expressions therefore became the order of the day.
When it came to finding the perfect wives in the 1960s, men from some circles didn’t take into account women’s jobs. That’s because ladies were expected to make their families their priority after marriage. And as a result of these expectations, women often had to choose child-rearing over their careers.
33. Valuing chastity
With sexual liberation still in its infancy, women were still expected to behave in a certain way during courtship. This included, for example, not going in for a kiss on a first date and dressing modestly. And anything that could have been considered as promiscuous was likely frowned upon. Yet at the same time, ladies were nonetheless supposed to appear free-spirited and lively.
32. Ditching the bra
Some women ditched their bras in political dissent throughout the ’60s. Yet others shed the undergarment to simply make a fashion statement. The trend was sparked – at least in part – by the designer Yves Saint Laurent, who had braless models at his runway shows for the sake of emanating a freer sensibility.
In the average household of the 1960s, men ruled the roost. And women were just supposed to accept this. So even if a husband was in the wrong, his wife might be forced to shoulder the blame. In women’s problem pages of the time, in fact, wives were often urged to see concerns from their spouses’ points of view in order to rectify them.
By the end of the decade, athletics was actively encouraged among women, with an increasing number of females taking up sport. This culminated in the 1972 act determining that the same amounts of federal funding should be provided for both sexes at college level. Before this, though, participating in competitive sport was seemingly not seen as a priority for women.
29. But not being the sporting type
In fact, professional women’s sports were still not taken altogether seriously. And, on occasion, if a lady had wanted to participate in a certain sporting event, she might have expected a negative reaction from the menfolk. In fact, women were actually banned from many marathons. That’s why Kathrine Switzer caused controversy in 1967 when she ran the Boston Marathon under the ambiguous name K. V. Switzer.
28. Leaving the military to the men
Another realm of public life that women were excluded from in the 1960s was the military. Females were indeed prohibited from signing up to military academies – with one of the reasons apparently being that salutes and marches were unbecoming for a lady. In fact, the West Point Academy only first allowed female students in 1976.
27. Putting their man’s needs before their own
Flicking through women’s magazines from the 1960s reveals a lot about gender roles of the time. In one particularly telling Cosmopolitan article published in 1965, readers were advised on “38 Ways to Coddle a Man.” One of the so-called tips suggested that wives don’t awaken their sleeping partners – even if they’re lonely. Ladies were also encouraged to give their “full, rapt, before-marriage attention when he’s telling you what happened at the office.”
26. Channeling their inner Cher
Aside from Twiggy, another major style icon from the 1960s was Cher. The singer in fact earned respect by breaking into the predominately male-commanded music industry and mixing things up with her unique style. Back then, you see, Cher was known for her long, dark locks and sporting the latest trends. And her looks captivated many men and women.
25. Long, thick eyelashes
Twiggy was a fans of long, sweeping lashes. Indeed, the model helped to popularize the trend among young women. Back in the 1960s, you see, fluttering eyelashes were quite revolutionary – and remain popular to this day, thanks, in part, to celebrities like the Kardashians. To achieve the look in the ’60s, then, girls often used lots of mascara, finished with a flick of eyeliner.
24. Knowing her place in a “man’s world”
Advertisements from the 1960s often did nothing to shatter harmful gender stereotypes. And this ridiculous tie ad from the era is no different. It implores men, after all, to “show her it’s a man’s world” by sporting a patterned tie. And the accompanying illustration depicts a woman kneeling at her husband’s bedside while presenting him with a tray of refreshments.
23. Not being a prude
As we’ve seen, chastity was valued in women of the 1960s. But conversely, females could also apparently take things too far. As a 1957 article from Ladies’ Home Journal warned mothers, “If your daughter is too prudish, lacks spontaneity and is always in a state of conflict, she may also not be able to make a happy marriage.”
22. Long boots
With all those thigh-skimming miniskirts to contend with, women’s legs were bound to get a bit cold from time to time. It should come as no surprise, then, that long boots eventually became extremely popular. Originally favored by teenage dancers, the footwear became widely fashionable at the end of the decade.
21. Being marriage material
Back in the 1960s, it was deemed important for women to be of good marriage material. Ladies’ Home Journal even ran a quiz in 1957 so that mothers could gauge their daughters’ potential as wives. One question asked if the girl had attended blind dates. Another asked if she would “pet when she goes steady?” Or did “she refuse to go to church regularly?” All of these were seen as negatives, by the way.
While society still had rigid ideas of gender roles in the 1960s, the decade did mark the start of the women’s liberation movement. This crusade set out to challenge notions of femininity and actually gave rise to androgynous fashions. The trend was also helped along by icons such as Twiggy, who – with her slim build and short hair – personified the popular boyish look of the day.
19. Having massage skills
Even in this day and age, finding a partner who’s a masseuse would be a bonus. But a 1965 Cosmopolitan article actually encouraged women to brush up on their massaging skills in order to please their men. “His idea of Nirvana is a vigorous back rub,” it advised. “Take a course in Swedish massage.”
18. Long loose locks
Partly thanks to the influence of stars such as Cher, long luscious locks became commonplace among both genders during the 1960s. So for men and women alike, the hairstyle was considered to be a form of rebellion from the labor-intensive hairstyles of generations past. But as the decade progressed, flowing tresses became increasingly associated with the burgeoning hippie movement.
17. Earn like a man
According to a 1974 article in Cosmopolitan, the only way women could enjoy the same earning power as their male counterparts was if they got a “man’s job.” Yet the piece warned that not all females are suitable for such tasks. So to determine if readers were up to the job, Cosmo urged women to ask themselves, “Can you keep going without a daily dose of praise?”
16. But save any sexual advances for out-of-office times
And if women were successful enough to make it in a “man’s world,” the Cosmo article warned that romance had no place in the office. “Can you regard men as people instead of sex objects?” the piece asked. It then stated, “The working world is full of men, and they are not there to play the mating game.”
15. Vinyl clothing
Of all the fashion trends of the 1960s, vinyl clothing was one of the more out-there. Made from PVC plastic, the garments were known for their shiny appearance and see-through styles. And even fashion icon Audrey Hepburn seemingly embraced the fad, donning a black vinyl trouser suit in the 1967 movie Two for the Road.
14. Being willing to marry young
In 2013 the average age a person would marry in the United States was 27 for women and 29 for men. But back in the 1960s, people tended to wed much younger. In fact, 79 percent of adults were married, with the average age for tying the knot being just 20 for brides and 23 for grooms.
13. Flat chests
As curves gradually fell out of fashion, skinnier frames became more en vogue – and so too did flatter chests. Linda Przybyszewski, author of The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, explained that during the 1960s “curvaceous women were passed over in favor of underweight teenagers.” Larger breasts were therefore no longer considered fashionable.
12. Flat bottoms
Bigger butts were also apparently deemed undesirable. But the 1960s’ obsession with slimness wasn’t exactly a healthy one. One article that appeared in an edition of Vogue at the time told of a woman who “reduced her 39-inch hips down to 34 inches through exercise, ‘standing correctly’ and using ‘a special rolling pin,’” Linda Przybyszewski wrote.
11. Being a homemaker
The ads from the 1960s make it clear that a woman’s place was still expected to be very much in the home. And while the decade is generally considered to be an era of great change, females continued to have less rights than their husbands. By and large, in fact, the only roles women were expected to fulfill were those of housewives and objects of desire.
10. No Ivy League education
During the 1960s, it was remarkably unusual for a woman to have an Ivy League education. Because while Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania accepted female students from the 1870s on, these institutions only did so in exceptional circumstances. Princeton and Yale didn’t admit women until 1969, either, and Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard followed suit during the 1970s. Yet it was Columbia that held out the longest – deciding to accept its first female students in 1981.
9. Big beehives
Alongside long locks, beehives were another popular hairstyle of the ’60s. It’s believed that Margaret Vinci Heldt, a hairdresser from Chicago, came up with the ’do in 1960, in fact. But little did she know that the style would go on to become one of the most iconic hairstyles of the decade and beyond.
8. The weaker sex
For many years, women were long considered to be the weaker sex. And at the onset of the 1960s, that view looked unlikely to change – especially when you consider this 1959 Drummond ad. It advises, “Indoors women are useful – even pleasant. On a mountain, they are something of a drag. So don’t go hauling them up a cliff just to show off your Drummond climbing sweaters.”
7. Willingness to give up a career
In the 1960s women were expected to give up their careers when the time came to wed and have children. Their new job was to be homemaking – a task apparently said to require 55 hours of work a week. Discussing this injustice in her landmark 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan wrote, “A woman today has been made to feel freakish and alone and guilty if, simply, she wants to be more than her husband’s wife.”
6. Surrendering control of their finances
During the 1960s, women were prohibited from opening bank accounts or taking out credit cards without their husbands’ written approval. And what’s more, unmarried women could be denied credit cards altogether. It was only with 1974’s Equal Credit Opportunity Act that banks were actually forbidden to refuse females credit cards on the basis of their gender alone.
5. Being a klutz
If a certain 1964 advert for Volkswagen is to be believed, it was perfectly acceptable for women of the time to be less than careful with the family cars. “Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things,” it read. Then, in a bizarre twist of marketing, the one-sheet added, “If your wife hits something in a Volkswagen, it doesn’t hurt very much. VW parts are easy to replace.”
4. Questionable feminine hygiene practices
The issue of “feminine hygiene” is still controversial today – but we’ve made some strides in that department since the 1960s. Back then, you see, douching was normal and in fact encouraged by advertisements in women’s magazines. Douches were also marketed in a way that led women to believe that men wouldn’t find them desirable if they didn’t use one.
3. Skills in the kitchen
In another cringeworthy ad from the 1960s, a woman is portrayed as her husband’s personal cook. Yes, the promotion for a Kenwood Chef food mixer sees a couple smiling alongside their new kitchen gadget. But while that appears innocent enough, the caption reads, “The chef does everything but cook – that’s what wives are for.”
While the habit isn’t encouraged nowadays, back in the 1960s lady smokers were deemed incredibly attractive. But they were only permitted to light up when appropriate. For instance, it was considered impolite for a woman to smoke on the street. And ladies were also supposed to carry their own cigarettes. “No man will marry a woman who’s always bumming theirs,” Peg Bracken warned in her 1964 etiquette guide I Try to Behave Myself.
We’ve already established that for women of the 1960s, work was usually in the home. So it may come as no surprise that the upkeep of the family abode often fell to them. Advertisements for cleaning products tended to be aimed at females too. This vacuum promotion, for instance, claims, “Christmas morning (and forever after) she’ll be happier with a Hoover.”