In these days of bare midriffs, daisy-dukes and skin-tight pants, it is hard to believe that USF once had a stringent dress code. The prudish conservatism of the 1950s lingered in Florida during the 1960s. The Johns Committee’s intense investigations looking for communists and homosexuals in Florida’s classrooms came more than 10 years after Sen. Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare. USF’s dress code was imposed in an era of bikinis and miniskirts.
Keep in mind that the generation making the rules owned bathing suits and underwear with more fabric than entire present-day wardrobes. USF’s original code of conduct did not even mention the word “shorts.” Administration did not ban shorts and sandals outright because they were never considered proper. The first student handbook designated the proper dress on campus (except in the residence halls) to be “business attire”–slacks and dress shirts for men and skirts and blouses for women. The rules required men to wear coats and ties to Sunday dinner, especially on formal occasions.
Mercifully, the State Cabinet designated USF as Florida’s first air-conditioned university. Administrators assumed that climate control was enough comfort for students, but the students thought otherwise. A walk across USF’s hot and desolate campus encountered little shade and a lot of sand blowing in the wind. Where the lush MLK Plaza now stands, was a vast expanse of sidewalks and sand. Many students must have cursed the dress code as they walked across the sprawling campus in the oppressive heat and humidity.
As summer’s heat increased in May 1961, only nine months after USF opened for classes, some students had enough. They staged a protest against the poor food service, and demanded the addition of Cuban sandwiches to the menu. But students reserved their most vocal protests for the dress code. On May 4, 150 students gathered during the “free hour” before noon to demand the approval of shorts by administration. A student from Miami Beach named Guy Ross led the protest, saying, “They don’t like us to wear Bermuda shorts. Personally, I don’t like them myself–but why do they feel it necessary to issue these edicts? This school is nothing more than an air-conditioned high school with ash trays.”After marching around the Administration Building, the demonstrators played bongos and sang the national anthem and folk songs. The Dean of Students, Howard Johnshoy, refused to meet with students, saying his schedule was booked solid. Administration openly planned punitive action for those who wore shorts. Johnshoy fired back at the students through the press, saying they had become “careless in dress.” He also discouraged the wearing of blue jeans and “work clothes.”
Fifty students responded by staging a display of “tacky” clothing a few days later. Their behavior was so outrageous to some that they dubbed the event “The Shorts Riot.” The conflict frustrated Johnshoy, and he resigned in 1962 (In 1967, Johnshoy died in a plane crash near Da Nang while on an educational mission to Vietnam.) Dr. Herbert Wunderlich replaced Johnshoy and announced shorts were inappropriate except for gym classes.
As the liberal atmosphere of the late 1960s permeated the campus with protests and a hippie counterculture, the dress code became quite impossible to enforce. Besides, USF’s administrators had many other more serious issues to contend with. By 1968-69, the student handbook said simply, “(USF) expects dress to be appropriate to the activities in which the individuals are engaged.” By 1973, the handbook made no mention of dress at all. A whole host of new issues crowded the code of conduct, and the list gives one a good idea of the chaos of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The policies included restrictions on flag display, alcohol, narcotics, psychedelic drugs, weapons, firearms, explosives, bomb threats, hazing, “amplified electric music” (to which they devoted three pages), distribution of literature, sexual misconduct, gambling, riots and megaphones.
No wonder administrators no longer concerned themselves with such trifles as sandals and shorts.
Want to share a memory or suggest an idea for a column? Send an e-mail to Andrew Huse at email@example.com or call 974-7622.
Want to know more? Check out the Florida Studies Center’s Web site at www.lib.usf.edu/flasc or call Director Mark I. Greenberg at 974-4141.
Check out USF History 101 again on Feb.12