Surprising things men found attractive 50 years ago

Fifty years doesn’t seem like
a very long time in the vast scheme of things, but it’s enough time for things
to have drastically changed. The differences between the late 1960s and today
go beyond the obvious, such as the astonishing technological advances that have
been made since then. Beauty standards were also shockingly different,
reflecting the turbulence of the era. Here are some of the most surprising
things that men found attractive 50 years ago.

Racism was rampant in the
1960s, although the Civil Rights Movement helped to create significant change
by the end of the decade. Anti-miscegenation laws, which had prevented people
in several states from marrying those of another race, were struck down in
1967. In spite of the reforms made in the 1960s, racial prejudice was still
prevalent. By the 1960s, the Miss America Pageant still didn’t allow
African-American contestants. In 1968, a Miss Black America Pageant was held on
the same day as the Miss America Pageant in response to the organization’s
discrimination. It would be another two years before an African-American woman,
Cheryl Browne, won a state title in the Miss America Pageant competition.
Even within the
African-American community, a preference for lighter skin was apparent,
although this slowly began to change in the 1960s with people embracing their
skin color. Things are a little better today, but there is still discrimination
against those with darker skin. A 2016 Time article said even in modern times
“dark skin is demonized and light skin wins the prize” because of the
“deeply entrenched racism” of the United States.
For a time, it looked like
fuller figures would be, if not the dominant ideal of beauty, at least an
accepted standard. In the 1950s and early 1960s, voluptuous women like Marilyn
Monroe were cultural icons. Still, “there was also a significant move
toward slimness,” wrote Sarah Grogan in Body Image: Understanding Body
Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children. As the decade progressed, the slim
trend became more pronounced, becoming “particularly acute… when the
fashion Model Twiggy became the role model for a generation of young
women.” As time went on, “models became thinner and thinner,”
wrote Grogan.
As models became thinner,
curves became less desirable. It was in the late 1960s when the obsession with
eliminating cellulite began. Linda Przybyszewski wrote in The Lost Art of
Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish that at this time
“curvaceous women were passed over in favor of underweight
The desire to be thin led to a
preoccupation with weight, especially among younger girls. “Before the
1920s, teenagers worried about becoming better people,” wrote
Przybyszewski. By the 1960s, however, “weight loss became the primary
The desire for flatter chests
correlated with an obsession for smaller butts. Przybyszewski wrote that the
fear of cellulite caused women to do anything they could to eliminate
“what they identified as water, wastes, and fat trapped inside women’s
hips and thighs.” One woman who was written about in Vogue magazine in the
late 1960s “managed to reduced her 39-inch hips down to 34 inches through
exercise, ‘standing correctly,’ and using ‘a special rolling pin.'” Such
regimens were typical in the late 1960s. “If you didn’t want to rub your
butt yourself,” wrote Przybyszewski, “you hired a masseuse to do it
for you.”
The desire for more boyish
figures was not entirely to please men or to conform to fashion. Battleground:
The Media, edited by Robin Andersen and Jonathan Alan Gray, noted that
“the changing shape of women’s bodies has in many ways served to reflect
larger cultural values.” Throughout history, “a thin, straight figure
was prized” at times “when women were striving to demonstrate their
In Fashion: A History from the
18th to the 20th Century, Akiko Fukai wrote that “the young found that
displaying their physique was the most effective means of setting themselves
apart from the older generation.” The miniskirt came into vogue as
“bare legs… developed through various conceptual stages in the
As hemlines rose, more
attention was paid to the length and shape of a woman’s legs. In Women of the
1960s: More Than Mini Skirts, Pills and Pop Music, author Sheila Hardy wrote
that many women felt they “did not have the legs for a miniskirt.”
The emphasis 1960s fashion placed on women’s legs also influenced shoe styles.
Tall, pointed boots came into fashion, off-setting the short skirts of the era.
Coinciding with the preference
for more boyish figures was the rise of unisex clothing and androgynous styles.
This echoed a similar trend from the 1920s, when “androgyny [began to be]
associated with the search for greater independence for women,” wrote
Rebecca Arnold in Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the 20th
Century. Arnold wrote that the rise of androgyny in the 1960s helped to
“denote freedoms gained and the rejection of a preceding claustrophobic
Perhaps even more interesting
is that this inclination towards androgyny was also adopted by men. PBS
noted that “for a brief time, mostly in 1968, unisex was everywhere,
and with it came a fair amount of confusion in the media.” The piece went
on to quote Everett Mattlin, who, in 1968 wrote in the Chicago Tribune that
“the whole male-female relationship is confused.” Traditional gender
roles were beginning to evolve at this time, which Mattlin believed could lead
to a “healthier climate.”
Lolita look
The suppression of women’s
curves led to the popularity of what Imagine Nation: The American
Counterculture of the 1960’s and 70’s, edited by Peter Braunstein and Michael
William Doyle, called a “prepubescent look.” Lithe, young-looking
Lolita types like Twiggy dominated the fashion world. This “look of exaggerated
youthfulness expressed the associated sensibility that maturity, in dress or
behavior, was a dirty word, a sign of premature death, and therefore something
to be warded off as long as possible.”
According to The Mancunion,
the 1960s have today “become a symbol for the social conflict between the
old and the new.” The “Lolita look” embodied the spirit of the
era, representing youth and vigor.
The rebellion against
traditional gender norms was also evidenced in women’s undergarments. By the
late 1960s, many women were going braless as “a political, protest move
symbolizing freedom and rejection of traditional views of femininity,”
wrote The Lala.
Fashion designer Yves Saint
Laurent contributed to making going braless not just a form of protest but also
a fashion trend. His sheer designs were always modeled by women who wore no
undergarments beneath them. This, too, was a political statement. Dazed wrote
that “the decision was less about pleasing the onlooker, and more about
asserting equality between the sexes.”
straight hair
The time period was noted for
a departure from formality and tradition. In Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion
and Feminism, Linda M. Scott wrote that there was a “preference for long,
straight hair” in the late 1960s. Many men also wore their hair long at
this time. The changing hairstyles weren’t just about following fashion. For
many, they were also “acts of rebellion against the highly constructed
female hairdos and very short male haircuts of the previous generation.”
The 1960s might have been a
time of change, but ads from the era show that women were still expected to be
homemakers and sex objects. In spite of the great strides made towards gender
and racial equality, women still did not have the same rights as men. Even by
the end of the decade, it was legal for a bank to deny an unmarried woman a
credit card — married women were often required to have their husbands co-sign.
Some states still banned women from serving on juries. 
When it came to higher
education, attending an Ivy League school was incredibly rare for women in this
decade. The University of Pennsylvania and Cornell both allowed women to
attend as of the 1870s, but only in special circumstances. Yale and Princeton
didn’t start accepting women until 1969, while Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth
held out until the 1970s. Columbia didn’t offer admission to women until 1981.
In The Feminine Mystique,
published in 1963, Betty Friedan summed up the frustration of the generation,
writing, “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.”
A lot of people envision the
1960s as a decade long booze-fest where day drinking (especially at work) was
the norm. While this is partially true, it was far more acceptable for men to
indulge in multiple alcoholic beverages each day than women. More and more
women were moving away from conventional gender stereotypes, but women who
drank frequently were seen as decidedly unfeminine. A glass of wine with dinner
or a cocktail on the weekend was acceptable, but getting drunk was not. 
Warning women not to drink too
much was not just a societal pressure, but one that was backed up by public
service announcements of the day as well as the mainstream media. “People
think of the woman drunk as an old hag,” warned the Saturday Evening Post
in 1962. “Among men, heavy drinking is often taken as a sign of virility,
and the phrase, ‘Drunk as a lord,’ is a tribute. No one ever said approvingly,
‘She was drunk as a lady.'” That sentiment still remained true by the end
of the decade.
Drinking in excess may have
been taboo for women looking to attract a man, but smoking was considered
attractive. While a link between smoking and lung cancer had been
established years before, the practice was still widespread. In 1964,
the surgeon general warned that “Cigarette smoking is a health hazard of
sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial
In spite of such warnings,
smoking was largely considered to be glamorous and sophisticated. The
tobacco industry targeted women in the 1960s, taking advantage of the growing
feminist movement by portraying smoking as the pinnacle of gender equality.
Virginia Slims were launched as a women’s cigarette in 1968, with the slogan
“You’ve come a long way baby!” Other cigarette ads from the late
1960s show young, attractive women partaking in what is shown as an elegant
pastime, conveying the message that women who smoked were refined and sexy.
By the late 1960s, more women
were working than ever. While they were making great economic strides, working
women faced a certain stigma. It was far more acceptable for single women to
work than married women, as a woman’s primary duty was still expected to be to
her family. In 1967, just 44 percent of married American couples lived in dual
income households, compared to more than half of married couples today. Working
wives and mothers were thought to destabilize home life and their
History professor Stephanie
Coontz told the Harvard Business Review that middle-class women were the most
stigmatized, and that if they did choose to enter the workforce they were
expected to wait until their children had grown. “And these women — it is
hard for modern people to understand just how insecure, how depressed, how a
low the self-esteem was of these stay-at-home moms in those days,” she
The rise of the miniskirt
meant that women felt the pressure to put their best leg forward. By the mid
1960s, a new trend was emerging: leg makeup. Makeup had been used on legs
before, perhaps most notably during World War II when a shortage of stockings
propelled women to draw on stocking seams with eyeliner to make it look like
their legs weren’t bare. The leg makeup of the 1960s, however, was primarily
used to cover up flaws that were now exposed thanks to the shorter hemlines of
the era. Women would carefully apply makeup to their legs to cover up blemishes
before putting on hosiery. Bruises, scars, and other imperfections were covered
up with cosmetics, and then further concealed with stockings.
The use of leg makeup shows
just how conflicted women in this era were. The women’s liberation movement was
empowering females, and women were beginning to embrace their bodies, but many
of them still felt the pressure to conform to society’s beauty standards.

Athletic women were
“in” at the end of the 1960s, but not for the reason that you might
think. Athletics were viewed as a way for women to maintain
“attractive” figures. Women became more active in sports in the
1960s, especially in high schools and colleges, although women’s sports were
not considered to be on par with men’s sports.
A woman with an athletic
physique was considered attractive, but female athletes had a long way to go to
be accepted in society. It wasn’t until 1972 that the U.S. Congress passed
Title IX, which helped secure funding for women’s sports. The first female
athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Jackie Joyner-Kersee,
didn’t do so until 1987. While female athletes today are considered strong and
capable role models, the female athletes of the 1960s were largely viewed as
hobbyists whose pastimes were only indulged in order to help them remain slim.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.