Remembering the Days: Dress Codes and Curfews
Remembering the Days podcast—Episode 18
By Chris Horn, email@example.com, 803-777-3687
Dress codes and curfews persisted at the University of South Carolina until well into the 1960s, but in the waning years were mainly focused on female students. Kit Smith, a 1967 graduate, recalls the dire consequences of returning to campus 15 minutes late.
Remember the uniform you wore in college? I don’t mean an actual uniform, of course, but the clothes you felt most comfortable in — the ones you wore day after day. My go-to college uniform in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s at Carolina was blue jeans and a T-shirt. Every day. If the weather was cold, I put on a flannel shirt and maybe threw on a jacket. A clothes horse I was not.
I’m Chris Horn, your host for Remembering the Days, and today we’re looking back at two things that probably sound quaint to our 21st century ears — dress codes and curfews. The University of South Carolina had both of them as late as the 1960s, and, as you’ll see, they were unevenly enforced.
But first, since this is a podcast about the history of the university, here’s some historical context. Curfews were a fixture here at Carolina from the earliest days in 1805 when classes began.
Designating a time when everyone was supposed to be in their dorm rooms was one way the institution tried to keep its then all-male student body from lingering in taverns and getting into other mischief. Professors went on nightly patrols to apprehend curfew violators — a thankless task if there ever was one, considering the youthful stealth of students versus the age and infirmity of professors who didn’t exactly relish their role as campus MPs.
Construction of a brick wall around the original campus in 1835 was a well-intended idea to help curfew enforcement. But if you listen to our episode entitled “The Great Wall of Carolina,” you’ll know that students hustled over that 7-foot-tall barrier without much hesitation.
Women were first admitted to South Carolina in the mid 1890s, and at first they didn’t have to worry about curfews. That’s because for more than 20 years, the university did not allow women to live on campus. By the 1920s, the first dormitory for women was built and night-time curfews for women were implemented and strictly enforced.
As for dress codes, the strict social norms of the South dictated a de facto dress code for students — coats and ties for men and dresses for women.
Those buttoned down sensibilities persisted for decades, but then came the 1960s, a tumultuous decade of change.
Kit Smith, a 1967 graduate, remembers the fashion that almost all women wore in her early years at South Carolina.
Kit Smith: “Well, the uniform of the day was a brand called Villager dresses and Harbert skirts, but the Villager dresses were like a shirtwaist dress with Peter Pan collar buttoned down the front with [00:01:00] a little belt that came probably below the knees. I can't remember how short they were. And then the skirts were the same length, sort of flared, and we wore crewneck sweaters that had been cut down the front with grosgrain ribbon and had buttons on them. And Weejun loafers. That was the big deal. And we'd polished them all up and prance across campus in that outfit.”
The university expected female students to wear dresses or skirts. In fact, the dress code banned women from wearing shorts or slacks in academic buildings, and women had to cover up with a raincoat if they wore something as revealing as tennis shorts for a walk across campus.
Smith: “The women's movement had not yet caught on in the South. There were [00:02:40] some women who were ahead of their times, I think, and more progressive, but none of us really rebelled about it. It was just the thing that was expected and it was the style of the day so we complied with that style in that culture.”
But the fact that dress codes were focused on women and not men did not go unnoticed. And the uneven enforcement of night-time curfews also became very apparent.
Smith: “We had strict curfew hours. We had to be back in the dormitory by 10 o'clock on weeknights. You could get a library pass and then we could stay out to 11:00, [00:00:20] at least on Saturday night. I can't remember if it was Friday and Saturday, but we had a hall monitors and grandmotherly people that kept an eye on us and lived in the dormitories with us.
I was late coming in one time and I had been granted a stipend to go to graduate school. And I lost my stipend [00:03:20] because I was 15 minutes late. The boy that I was with on the date — we left the place in plenty of time to get back, but a train stopped us, which they still do, and I was about 15 minutes late. So I was denied my stipend for graduate school as a result of that. But I don't remember, I mean, I was, of course, [00:03:40] upset about that, thought it was most unfair. I think I appealed to the dean of women and still lost, but it was unsettling. And I think that's the first thing that I can remember really upsetting me about being a woman and being treated differently. Of course, nothing happened to my date.”
By 1967, the year Kit Smith graduated, the Association of Women Students challenged the ban on slacks and shorts, and the Student Senate passed a resolution condemning dress codes as an infringement on individual rights. Two years later in 1969, curfew restrictions were dropped for everyone except freshman women.
As the 1960s came to a close, hip hugger jeans and mini skirts replaced the conservative shirtwaist dresses and crewneck sweaters that had been all the rage just a few years earlier. By the early 1970s, the double standard of dress codes and curfews had faded away to a footnote in university history.
I was curious what today’s female students would think about those double standards of yesteryear. I asked them if they would have been rebels or conformists if they had been students back then.
Student 1: “As of right now, I think that I would be a rebel, but that’s just coming from our modern point in time. If all of my friends were conforming to the kinds of rules the university had then I think I might have been more abiding by those rules. But I don’t think that right now I would. I think right now I’d be a rebel.”
Student 2: “I think that it’s easy to say that we would be rebels but we would definitely conform because, obviously, we can’t even comprehend that and so that’s why we would say we’re rebels but I think I would conform because if everyone around me was doing it, I think human nature would be to conform.”
Whether you’re a rebel or a conformist, here’s to wearing whatever makes you feel comfortable and staying out as late as you like. If you have a memory of your own experiences with dress codes and curfews, send them along and we’ll post them with the show notes for this episode. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next episode we’ll take another walk down memory lane at the university. Actually, it will be a real memory lane — the story of how the brick sidewalks on the Horseshoe came to be. Hope you’ll join me for that.
Remembering the Days is a production of Communications and Public Affairs at the University of South Carolina. So long for now, and forever to thee.
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