It's January, and so far in Chicago we've had a relatively mild winter. We've had some cold days, but in the last week or so we had temperatures in the 50's and I was grilling outside without the need for a winter coat. There has been almost no snow. Yet I have grown to hate winter as the years go by, and I still can't wait for it to be over. Hearing others complain about the lack of snow made me remember growing up in the 1970's, and how much I used to enjoy winter.
The first thing I remembered was the winter clothing we had back then. Mothers would constantly remind their children to "bundle up and keep warm." This could be taken too far, in that you could end up completely unable to move, like Ralphie's whiny kid brother in A Christmas Story. What moms either failed to realize, or ignored for other reasons, is that kids would rather deal with the cold than be caught in clothing that was considered uncool. At a certain age, for example, mittens were perfectly acceptable for boys, but later, only gloves would do. I'm not sure why, other than I remember having better control of making and throwing snowballs with gloves -- an important consideration back then.
No one wanted to be the kid who had to wear galoshes over his street shoes, you had to have boots -- and heaven forbid they were moon boots (remember those?). No, they had to be work boots, those tan-colored leather boots you laced up. It was also acceptable to wear those greenish-brown and mustard yellow rubber boots if you were building a snowman or shoveling snow. Besides galoshes and mittens, it was also considered uncool to wear a scarf. Scarves were considered to be for girls and Momma's boys. If a boy had a scarf, you could bet he had mittens, along with a clip so they could be fastened directly to his coat. And he probably had galoshes and a pocket protector, too.
In a previous post, Back to School in the 70's: Razzles, Bullies and Primary Colors, I described my first winter coat. It was an electric blue fake fur coat with a hood, making me look like a little blue teddy bear, and I was thankful when I grew out of it. Then it was time for CPO jackets, made of wool and lined with fleece, plaid and cut like a shirt, as if to say "it's not cold out here." For more "formal" occasions, you had to have a pea coat, a double breasted wool coat, usually in black or dark navy blue. Some guys even had sheepskin McCloud jackets, like Dennis Weaver wore in the TV show, tan colored with white fleece. No one really wore cowboy hats in Chicago -- unless you were playing Cowboys, of course. That was more of a summertime or indoor activity, though.
What about winter hats? First of all, there's no consensus on what all the styles are called -- the names vary wildly from region to region and sometimes within a certain region. At least where and when I grew up, those "Elmer Fudd" or Catcher in the Rye hunting hats were considered for old people. There were also more European looking hats, that you could imagine being worn by skiers. They were long, enough to cover the ears, with "strings" that would hang down so you could tie them under your chin. There was also a string that hung off the top, supposedly so it would fly in the air as you zoomed down the mountain. The preferred winter hat was what can be called a "skull cap", either with or without the little pom-pom on top. You could cover your ears to keep them warm with these hats, so apparently that was OK, but having a hunting hat with ear flaps wasn't. I'm not saying that makes sense, that's just the way it was. I have heard the term "beanie" used to describe a skull cap, which baffles me. I always associated the term beanie with a baseball hat with a propeller on top, probably because of the old TV cartoon Beany and Cecil.
You would also see what we called "ski masks" which were basically extra-large skull caps that you could pull down to cover your face, with cutouts for your eyes and mouth. As these became more popular with bank robbers and other criminals, they became less popular for casual wear, at least on the South Side of Chicago.
It just wasn't worth the risk of mistaken identity.