Back-to-School Then & Now: From Saddle Shoes to Dorm Chandeliers


Butterflies in your stomach, checking and re-checking yourself in the mirror, the feel of new clothes on your skin and an unshakeable go-get-‘em attitude. Yep, it’s the first day of school. We all know how it feels, the year is new, young and full of promise. The biggest struggles of the day are navigating a tumultuous sea of students and attempting to discern what the mystery meat might be in the cafeteria. The first day of school is a day millions of kids, teens and young adults head to school to begin a new year. Not to mention, there is some serious shopping that occurs beforehand to make the day as successful as possible. Back-to-School shopping has been a popular subject on our blog recently as you might’ve noticed – but also across the web. We thought it might be fun to take a stroll down memory lane and look at BTS then and now. Just how different are things today vs. then? Well, back then back-to-school meant saddle shoes and now apparently back-to-school means dorm room chandeliers.

But first, what are the things that today’s back-to-schoolers are concerned with? We look to the Google Shopping data study for some insight:

  • One Direction school supplies
  • Messenger bags
  • North Face school backpacks
  • Personalized school supplies

College students are the biggest spenders – $614 average spend vs. $347 for high school students. Dorm decor popular searches:

  • Pink dorm bedding
  • Dorm chandelier
  • Big Joe bean bag chair

So What’s Different in School Today vs. Back Then?

  • Technology – in 1984 there was 1 computer for every 92 students, in 2008 there was 1 computer for every 8 students. In recent years, up to 70% of students use laptops or tablets to take notes instead of pen and paper. 51% of students bring laptops to class nowadays vs 39% bringing textbook to class.
  • The Way Information is Consumed & Accessed – The sale of ebooks has skyrocketed and many can take classes online. Research is done primarily online vs going to the library.
  • Spend – the amount we spend on students has increased dramatically. In 1951 the spend was $215, in 2011 the average spend was $10,615 on a student.

Back to School Then & Now: What Were the Trends By Decade?

50's women's fashion Clothing: Most importantly, the 50’s marked an era of increased freedom in clothing choices. Teenage and young adult fashion became a prominent market for the first time. Full skirts and more defined waistlines made their debut for women and girls. Pants became narrow and ankle length for women. Saddle shoes were popular – something only small children can get away with today. Also, in the 50’s boys began wearing what has become a staple for everyone in school today – jeans. While the jeans of the 50’s lacked the grated, distressed, #mydogatemyjeans look of today – they were an instant classic nonetheless. Men and boys fashion style consisted primarily of the “ivy league” look consisting of cardigan/letter sweaters and slacks.

Music: The early 50’s continued the crooner sound craze of the previous decade – but in the middle of the decade classic pop music was pushed off the charts by rock and roll. Music was primarily targeted at teens for the first time. Artists like Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were popular.

TV: The 50’s was the golden age of TV – TV sales rose tremendously & most Americans spent a great deal of free time watching TV. People were watching so much TV that movie attendance and radio listening dropped dramatically.

Clothing: Young adult women went crazy for the mini skirt with it’s introduction in the middle of the decade. By the end of the decade a hippie style emerged for both women and men consisting of bell-bottoms, tie-dye and headbands. Jackie Kennedy was a massive icon for fashion in the 60’s so many women emulated her style with pillbox hats, pastel suits with oversized buttons & simple geometric shift dresses. Casual wear for girls and women was mainly Capri pants.

Music: The rise of folk rock and the British Invasion. Think Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Woodstock. Enough said.

TV: The most popular shows of the 60’s were: The Ed Sullivan Show, I Dream of Jeannie, The Twilight Zone, The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show, Lassie, Bewitched, and the Wonderful World of Disney.

Clothing: Bell-bottoms continued to rise in popularity… unfortunately. Hot pants, and platforms made their debut. The movie Saturday Night Fever had a huge impact on fashion as the disco look emerged. Women also began wearing high-waisted flared pants or jeans. Other trends included: t-shirts, leotards, tube tops, baseball jerseys floral and paisley prints became popular as well as large collars on shirts.

Music: Soft rock emerged with artists like The Carpenters and Carole King. Jazz (a.k.a. fusion) emerged, folk and southern rock became popular. Soul music made a big impact and Disco made a splash with artists like the Bee Gees and ABBA.

TV: TV in the 70’s marked the decline of the innocent 1950’s style sitcom and brought in programming with “social consciousness” with shows such as All in the Family and Soap.

Clothing: All hail the acid wash jean and neon colors – men and women alike adopted this trend

Music: MTV was launched and music videos became the next big deal. Pop artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna helped usher in this new era of music complete with their own unique fashion statements. Glam metal, heavy rock and hard rock became some of the most dominant music genres.

TV: MTV shook things up dramatically, popular shows during the 80’s were: Miami Vice, Dallas, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Dynasty, Knight Rider, MacGyver, Magnum P.I. and soap operas.

Clothing: Casual athletic clothes made a rise, and we began to see denim jeans worn with denim jackets. High top sneakers and keds were a must have. Parachute pants made their debut. The grunge era of fashion began complete with ripped/holy jeans, long sleeve flannel, doc martens, skate shoes, patched fabric in jeans. Saggy jeans could be seen on men…many so saggy that had to be held up by the wearer’s hand.

TV: Sitcoms were the main staple for American audiences – classics like Seinfeld and Frasier as well as Full House and Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Music: Different niches emerged including: punk, rap/hip-hop and grunge. Boy bands and girl bands made a comeback with bands such as Backstreet Boys, NSync and the Spice Girls.

Clothing: Womens clothing began to imitate a boho-chic look – influenced by gypsies and hippies, marked by loose flowy garments and topped off with Uggs.The rise in skinny jeans for women and eventually men came about in this decade as well as the trend of ‘distressed’ jeans. Men’s casual clothing was mainly sportswear worn for everyday use. Polo shirts were a staple. Slimfit suits for men made their debut.


Music: The Internet allowed unprecedented access to music, rap and hip-hop reached theircommercial peaks in this decade. Britney Spears emerged as the best-selling female artist of the decade. The iPod became popular so many could take music easily anywhere.

TV: A rise in reality TV came about during this decade. How real is reality TV – well we just legally can’t comment on that. Kidding.

As we look back over the years images of what the student of each decade might listen to, wear, watch on TV and talk about. Today’s students are driven by technology and are looking online to shop, research and get deals – not to mention we are spending more than ever on BTS – contact us to take advantage of the BTS rush.