Back to School in the 50’s

back to school 1950

Not everything from the past was better and not every day could  be described as one of  “the good old days”  It’s a sure bet that back to school in the 50’s was simpler and less expensive.

From the moment Independence Day Sales are over, it’s Back to School bonanza time.   Mailboxes are stuffed full of back-to-school sales touting everything from basic school clothes to back-to-school fragrances.  TV commercials attempt to sell the latest fashions ad nauseam.  Do we really need a back-to-school fragrance?  Back-to-school  jewelry and accessories.  Back to school phones.  Watches, backpacks, designer notebooks, cosmetics, belts, boots, buckles, toothbrushes, luggage,graphic tees, and of course, shoes.

I long for the days when it was all simpler; even though  I hated  just about everything my mother chose for me to wear to school. Each school year my Mother purchased one pair of school shoes for me.  They were one size bigger than I needed so I could grow into them and so they would last all year. I wore extra socks in the fall so the shoes would fit and by the end of the year, my toes were rubbing the tip of the shoes but they served her purpose…. they lasted.  Did I mention that the style of shoe was also decided by my mother?   Until the 6th grades I had no say in the choice of style.  It was determined by my mom. Her criteria for choosing was 1.  price and 2.  sturdiness.  I suffered through saddle shoes (hated them) and orthopedic-looking shoes (hated them) .

saddle schoes

We were not well-to-do so new clothes were limited.   New underwear was a must.  My mother made me wear undershirts, too. (hated them)  And little girls in the 50’s always wore dresses or skirts and blouses.  And slips.  (hated those) I usually had one cardigan sweater to wear on cool days and almost always got a new winter coat.   My mother insisted on headscarves, too.  Even on warm days in the fall and in the spring, I wore  a headscarf.    Believe me I was no Grace Kelly! My mother would tie it tightly under my chin in a double knot that just about choked me when I tried to turn my head.  ugh.   (hated them)


One of the bright spots in my wardrobe was the fact that I received hand me down clothes from my cousin.  Luckily, my aunt was a bit more forward thinking and actually allowed my cousin to choose some of her own clothing.  So I ended up with a blue sailor dress in the second grade and a flowered dress with sequins around the collar and a bright blue sash tied around the waist.  Oh I loved those two dresses.

School supplies were a lot simpler, too.   I can remember in the primary grades, I had a cigar box or Velveeta Cheese Box to hold my pencils and crayons.  There was thick white  paste (which a lot of kids mistook for food) safety scissors, and huge primary pencils which were just about too fat to hold !  A box of 8 crayons was all you needed.

My mother more than redeemed herself when my own children needed school clothes.  She was always there to take them school shopping, a special day out with Grandma, eating lunch at the mall and getting that pair of designer jeans or pair of athletic shoes that this Mom refused to buy because of 1. price and 2. sturdiness.   I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree!

For all my friends who have commented on this post… here is an update (Thank you Luanne

You can find all the colors that Crayola packaged at this website:


About Life in the 50's and beyond...

Welcome to Life in the 50's and 60's and beyond .... where I write about my childhood memories, music of the 60's and about life in the country. I am a mother, grandmother, farmer's wife, business owner, and retired teacher.
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39 Responses to Back to School in the 50’s

  1. edebock says:

    Thanks for the memories! I’d completely forgotten about Velveeta cheese boxes but who can forget wearing skirts or dresses to school every day? My grandma made most of mine and they were identical to my younger sister’s! Now, at 60, I finally find myself enjoying wearing skirts again but it took a long time! I remember wanting saddle shoes sooo badly but my practical Mom felt that keeping the two-coloured shoes properly polished would be an ordeal so I wore my plain Mary Janes while all the “cool” girls wore saddle shoes!


  2. Great post. I chuckled through it because I remembered so much of it myself. I had school clothes and play clothes and had to wear accordingly so the school clothes would last. School shoes were always some kind of ugly leather that had to be polished. I remember having these half slip things that were like pants that I wore under dresses and skirts. They had rows and rows of lace on them to dress them up. Can’t for the life of me remember what they were called.


  3. LB says:

    What I hated were the boots and umbrella my mom made me wear / carry when it rained. One time I hid them in the bushes and without me knowing my mom came and got them and put them in the closet. I was very worried when they weren’t there after school. For weeks she would ask me where they were and I lied that I’d left them in my locker. One day she told me to go look in the closet … yep! Caught and grounded! Years later, I now know that my parents had a great time during that whole process.
    I thought of you as I rode past miles and miles of farms and stopped in at a local diner (I’ll be posting about that soon)


  4. Blogdramedy says:

    This post reminded me of “A Christmas Story.” I think because of the scene where Mom is trying to get the kids off to school and Randy looks like a tick about to burst. *grin*


  5. Pegster says:

    Good memories, Ruth. I recall a beautiful red coat my frugal mother bought so big that I must have worn it for three years. She did, at some point, buy me the 64 Crayola box with the sharpener, though, since drawing was my passion. I also recall being sent home in 5th grade because I wore my flannel-lined jeans without a dress. I was a rebel! Hated wearing dresses to school when the boys were so warm in their long pants! We’ve come a long way, Baby.


    • Sent home for wearing pants! Who would believe that except us? My brother was 5 years older than me, so at home I wore a lot of his jeans and shirts…. maybe that’s why I have no fashion sense! But I was always jealous of the boys, too. There was a lot to be jealous about back then…. lots of inequalities.


  6. And a full set of 64 watercolour pencils would have been unattainable bliss. We had “Lakeside” brand here in Australia. I remember sharpening my pencils with a single-sided razor blade. A sharpener was even a luxury!


  7. Loved your post. I too was a happy recipient of hand me downs from older sister and cousin. I was 12 years old before I owned a dress that someone hadn’t worn before. I also had some favorites I loved , especially ones with sashes. I can even recall a Christmas when my older sister requested a pink dress with a petticoat, and to hide it until Christmas morning, my father hung it in his wardrobe. I was always the snoopy one in my family of eight and I discovered it. I can still see that pretty hailspot voile dress with satin ribbons on a hanger among his shirts and suits in his “lowboy”. Does anyone remember having a tallboy and lowboy ( ie wardrobes)?


    • We didn’t have tallboys or lowboys, but I can picture that pink dress…. one year for Easter I begged and begged for a dress from the Sears catalog, It was white and the skirt had panels of filmy pastel colors and a sash, of course. I didn’t get it, but was relieved on Easter Sunday when several girls arrived at church with the very same dress!


  8. Karen says:

    Reading your words of school days brought back even the smell of those crayons in the cigar box! And like you and many of your readers, I loved the new crayons and felt that only the ‘rich kids’ could have the 64 color box! Pants under dresses, galoshes that created a wound into my legs, and lots of hand-me-down clothes with only new ones coming from my mother’s sewing machine. How about packing lunches?! We did one of two things, walk home (I’d say it was 7 blocks away) for a bologna sandwich with plain potato chips (which I snuck onto my sandwich) or packing that lunch and walking about two blocks to the cafeteria (rain, snow or shine). I remember in 3rd grade proposing to Wayne Linhart as my first marriage endeavor while walking to that cafeteria. He looked at me oddly and ran to catch up with the other boys. I decided he wasn’t any fun. 🙂


  9. Mustang.Koji says:

    I was raised pretty much the same way… One new metal lunch box with Thermos (and we couldn’t buy a cool one like with Rin Tin Tin on it), shoes that were too big, and a whole bunch of patches for the knees on my jeans. Your post brought back a lot of memories. 🙂


  10. Did you have to wear ‘pantaloons’ under your skirts to keep your legs warm? Mine were red – very similar to ‘long underwear’; we wore them over our ‘tights’; they went to just below the knees (skirts were the same length). I HATED them! I also remember ‘galoshes’ – brown rubber boots lined with some sort of fake fur that went over your shoes and buckled at shin-level. I HATED them too (by grade 9, I would put them on, walk one block up the street and take them off and hide them under a neighbour’s bush; on the way home, I’d retrieve the galoshes, slip them back on over my ballet flats, and walk the final block home – my mother never knew). Lord, some things were definitely NOT better in ‘the good old days’. Thanks for the memories.



    • No pantaloons but I wore flannel-lined jeans under my dresses when the weather was cold. We were required to take them off when we got to school. (Not that I wanted to keep them on.. they were bulky and uncomfortable and probably belonged to my brother at one time) I remember the boots you are talking about, too. The top would rub on your legs and you would end up with a red rash!
      I love that you hid your boots in the bushes!


  11. Khristine says:

    I still look longingly at the 64 box of crayons with the sharpener. I was tempted just last week to buy myself the “sought” after box for no reason other than I just “wanted” it. In 4th grade, I wanted a long strapped purse instead of the short strapped one I received. Finally, Uhlman’s had a sale and I got my first long strapped purse. Bliss.


  12. Ruth, did you forget the awesome set of water colors? In Ada back to school involved a trip to Pepper’s or Gardner’s Drug Store for your packet of workbooks for the year. There was always a Think-and-Do book and a spelling book. Some years you got a Boys’s and Girl’s Dictionary. I always wondered if a plan Girl’s dictionary would not do.


  13. Vickie says:

    I got several laughs out of this one Ruth! And many more yep that was my Mom! and wishing I could have 64 crayons with the sharpener too!


  14. Luanne says:

    Ruth, your childhood sounds a lot like mine! I used to get a new 8 crayon box every year and then when the other kids were getting SIXTY-FOUR and I whined and begged I was finally allowed 16. This was probably 1962 by then. I had those orthpedic shoes, too, but they always got too small and my toes were cramped for months before I could get new shoes.


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