Blog: Hazy Days: Revisiting Grooming Rules for Women in the 1960s

by Mary Lee DeCoster

I was born in 1947 and am a proud charter member of the Baby Boomer generation. I came of age with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who were pushing societal norms all the way through the ’60s and ’70s. As a generation, Baby Boomers are a lot like these groundbreaking musicians because we not only pushed on the metaphorical glass ceiling, but we also sought to change anything and everything we perceived to be old-fashioned.

As another telling sign of this tumultuous time, we analyzed the University of California-Berkeley riots in my sociology class at the University of Oregon, dissecting the convergence of issues that came to define our generation: The Civil Rights Movement, the Free Speech Movement, and the Vietnam War.

Meanwhile, students joined a “radical” new group called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and marched all over our campus. And many—including me—longed to go to Haight-Ashbury to experience the hippy movement for ourselves.

Contrast all of this with my experience pledging the Tri Delta sorority and moving into the house, which was one block past the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, most of whom served as our “house boys.”

Hazy Days

On Tuesdays and Thursdays after dinner, our sorority offered smoking classes in the lounge. Yes, we were taught the proper way for women to smoke. The lessons had nothing to do with whether smoking was bad for you; the objective was representing the Tri Deltas as refined and well-groomed women when smoking.

Some of the rules included:

  • Never lighting your own cigarette if a man was present
  • Never holding a lit cigarette when not taking a drag, but instead leaving it in the ashtray until taking a drag
  • French inhaling, which was so in fashion
  • Rolling—not flicking or tapping—the ash from the burning cigarette. 

After eight sessions, we were considered ready to smoke in public.

Looking Polished

Other rules for Tri Delta women involved fashion. When on campus, we were to wear a skirt with hosiery. Pantyhose had not been introduced, and wearing hosiery in those days required women to wear a bulky little garter belt. If there were special circumstances that called for wearing slacks (not pants—slacks), such as for a sporting event, we were required to wear a coat that covered our hips, over the slacks. In the ’60s, these were called car coats. In 1965-1967, the Oregon Ducks were at the bottom of the college football standings. Going to a game was fun, but the “pre-function” was more fun, and we wore our car coats no matter the weather.

In addition to these fashion rules, nail polish was to be clear or very light, transparent pink. Red was a no-no and was worn only by women of ill repute.

Sound of Silence

At social events, we learned to stand or sit around the perimeter of the room until a man invited one of us onto the dance floor. We spoke only when spoken to—we did not initiate any conversations. In stark contrast to today, women never—ever—danced with one another. We learned these rules and carried them forward after college and into the workplace. 

Suprisingly, Tri Delta maintains a dress code today. The Ole Miss Tri Delta recruiting schedule for this fall’s Pledge week includes dress guidelines for each event, from casual to fun dress (or skirt and top) to semiformal.   

As we surely know, some things have changed for the better regarding social expectations for women, and some have stayed the same. During the HERe conference, let’s continue to break down those barriers to success—for ourselves and our daughters.


Mary Lee DeCoster is vice president, consulting services, Adreima, Phoenix, and a member of HFMA's Arizona Chapter. 

Publication Date: Friday, October 23, 2015