For many people, the 1960s are considered to be an era of great change when it comes to gender roles. However, women still had to adhere to rigid societal expectations – many of which were forced upon them by members of the opposite sex. And quite frankly, some of the things men found attractive at the time were downright bizarre.
40. Bare legs
The 1960s gave rise to arguably one of the biggest fashion moments of all time – the miniskirt. Popular amongst young women of the day, the leg-baring garment would come to represent an entire era of sexual emancipation. But at the time, wearing the item was, for some, simply an easy way to rebel against parents.
39. Flawless pins
Given the popularity of the miniskirt, having flawless legs became a new concern for women. So, long before Kim Kardashian launched her own line of body make-up, ladies in the 1960s started painting up their pins to ensure they looked perfect. Women had drawn on their legs before – but that was during the Second World War, when stockings were scarce.
38. Acting demure
The 1960s are often seen as a period of liberation for women. But for the most part, they were still expected to take a back seat in society. In fact, in certain states women were still not allowed to serve on juries, nor were they permitted to study at some colleges. And even after the contraceptive pill was introduced in 1960, many unmarried women were still denied a prescription.
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. While society did permit them to drink alcohol, they were often expected to do so in a “ladylike” manner. This meant that a glass of wine with dinner was acceptable, but anything more than that was deemed inappropriate. So getting drunk was a big no-no.
36. The “Lolita” look
While the curvaceous Marilyn Monroe was the ultimate pin-up girl of the 1950s, the 1960s heralded in a completely different kind of muse. Inspired by the likes of British fashion model Twiggy, the new desired look was thin and youthful in appearance. And it was apparently believed that this Lolita style was a rejection of maturity – both in dress and attitude.
35. Seeming uninterested
Another trend that Twiggy 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. This phenomenon may have arisen because it was considered taboo for women to appear intelligent. So vacant expressions became the order of the day.
When it came to finding the perfect wife in the 1960s, in some circles a woman’s job wasn’t a consideration. That’s because middle-class ladies were expected to make their family their priority after marriage. And so as a result of these expectations, women often had to choose child-rearing over their career.
33. Valuing chastity
With sexual liberation still in its infancy, women were still expected to behave in a certain way during courtship. This included not going in for a kiss on a first date and dressing modestly. Anything that could have been considered as promiscuous was frowned upon. But at the same time, ladies were nonetheless expected to be appear free-spirited and lively.
32. Ditching the bra
Some women ditched their bras in political dissent throughout the ’60s. But 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 more free sensibility.
In the average household of the 1960s it was the men who ruled the roost. And women were just expected to accept this. Moreover, 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, wives were often urged to see concerns from their spouse’s point of view in order to rectify them.
By the end of the decade, athletics were encouraged among women, with an increasing number of females taking up sport. But back then, staying active wasn’t just about keeping fit. Instead, taking part in sports was considered a good means of women sculpting their bodies – which men no doubt approved of.
29. But not being the sporting type
With that said, professional women’s sports were still not taken altogether seriously. And if a lady wanted to undertake in a sporting event, she might have been practically laughed out of town! In fact, women were banned from many marathons. As a result, 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 prohibited from signing up to military academies, with one of the reasons 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. She earned respect by breaking into the predominately male-commanded music industry and mixing things up with her unique style. Back then, Cher was known for her long, dark locks and sporting the latest trends. And her looks captivated many men, as well as women.
25. Long, thick eyelashes
Both Cher and Twiggy were fans of long, sweeping lashes. Indeed, both women helped to popularize the trend among young women. While fake lashes remain popular to this day – thanks, in part, to celebrities like the Kardashians – back in the 1960s fluttering eyelashes were quite revolutionary. To achieve the look, 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 was no different. It implores men 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
Chastity was valued in women of the 1960s. But conversely, they could also 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, therefore, 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 good gauge their daughter’s potential as a wife. 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.
While society still had rigid ideas of gender roles in the 1960s, the decade did mark the start of the women’s liberation movement. The crusade set out to challenge notions of femininity, which 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. However, a 1965 Cosmopolitan article encouraged women to brush up on their massaging skills in order to please their man. “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 like Cher, long luscious locks became commonplace among both genders during the 1960s. For men and women, the hairstyle was considered to be a form of rebellion from the high-maintenance hairstyles of generations gone by. And 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.” However, it warned that not all females are suitable for such tasks. So to determine if readers were up to the job, it urged them to ask themselves, “Can you keep going without a daily dose of praise?”
16. But save any sexual advances for out-of-office times
If women were successful enough to make it in a “man’s world” they were warned that romance had no place in the office. “Can you regard men as people instead of sex objects?” the Cosmo article 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 endorsed 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. However, back in the 1960s people tended to wed much younger. Back then, 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 and skinner frames became more en vogue, 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.” As such, larger breasts were no longer considered fashionable.
12. Flat bottoms
With that in mind, bigger butts were also 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
By looking at ads from the 1960s, it was 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, the only roles they 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. While Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania accepted female students from the 1870s on, they only did some in exceptional circumstances. Princeton and Yale didn’t admit women until 1969, and Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard followed suit during the 1970s. It was Columbia that held out the longest, accepting its first female students in 1981.
9. Big beehives
Alongside long locks, beehives were another popular hairstyle of the 1960s. It’s believed that Margaret Vinci Heldt, a hairdresser from Chicago, came up with the do in 1960. 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 looked unlikely to change – especially when you consider this 1959 ad by Drummond. 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 the 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 a bank account or taking out a credit card without their husband’s written approval. What’s more, unmarried women could be denied a credit card altogether. In fact, it was only with 1974’s Equal Credit Opportunity Act that banks were forbidden to refuse females a credit card on the basis of her gender alone.
5. Being a klutz
If a certain 1964 advert for Volkswagen is to be believed, then it was perfectly acceptable for women of the time to be less than careful with the family car. “Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things,” it read. Then, in a bizarre twist of marketing it 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, not only was douching normal, but it was actively encouraged by advertisements in women’s magazines. What’s more, douches were marketed in a way that led women to believe men wouldn’t find them desirable if they didn’t use one. That’s a pretty insidious way to promote a product.
3. Skills in the kitchen
In another cringeworthy ad from the 1960s, a woman is portrayed as her husband’s personal cook. 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 to be encouraged nowadays, back in the 1960s lady smokers were deemed incredibly attractive. But with that said, they were only permitted to light up when appropriate. For instance, it was considered impolite for a woman to smoke on the street. Moreover, they 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. With that in mind, advertisements for cleaning products tended to be aimed at females. This vacuum promotion, for instance, claims, “Christmas morning (and forever after) she’ll be happier with a Hoover.”