April 27, 2012
In 1957, the manager of a motion picture theatre in North Tonawanda, New York, was plagued with rowdy behavior by youngsters dressed in leather jackets, blue jeans, shorts, and boots. So he decided to enforce a dress code. All people who wanted to see movies in his theatre had to be properly dressed before they would be admitted into the theatre.
Patrons were given two weeks notice of the new policy. It specified that “young people had to be dressed in a clean, well-groomed manner, usually consisting of sports jacket, shirt, slacks or suit. Girls were expected to be attired in clothing suitable for young ladies. The ban on certain types of clothing also applied to adults.”
The policy was projected on the screen during every presentation. It stated:
“(1) What can’t be worn in the movie house. (2) Suggestions for proper dress and grooming. (3) No talking. (4) No whistling. (5) No running around the theatre. (6) No smoking. (7) No mischief or rowdyism. (8) No profane language.”
The local police department cooperated with the theatre to enforce that code-of-ethics.
One year later: Trouble from casually-dressed youths “is almost a thing of the past,” the theatre manager reported. “Having customers properly dressed has reduced the trouble almost completely.
“One of the biggest ‘goodwill’ builders for us has been this proper attire program. When we first started it, we didn’t know how far it would go or how well it would be received, but shortly after the policy was instigated, local school officials started to notice a decided difference in the type of clothing being worn by students. [Casual clothing] started to be replaced by the more conventional, neat type of wearing apparel. Young people seemed to enjoy getting dressed up.”
The theatre manager received letters from church organizations and mothers thanking him for the new dress code. The local American Legion adopted a similar policy when it sponsored dances: “All children had to be in dress clothes to attend those dances. The policy spread to other youth functions throughout the city and all credited us with being the first to do something concrete in getting youths back into proper attire. I had no idea the policy would spread so fast nor that it would be so well received.
“The local police department informed us that since this new policy was put into operation, very few complaints came in concerning trouble [by youths] after theatre hours. A well dressed person feels different.”
These remarks appear in the cover story “He Ended Rowdyism by Making the Kids Dress for the Movies”, in the June 30, 1958, issue of Boxoffice magazine. (Emphasis added.)
After instituting a similar policy, a theatre manager in Elmhurst, Illinois, said “we have gained a much better class of customers. We found that changing the ways of some of the female set (all ages) was the hardest part of the whole program. We don’t allow the female set in the theatre to dress in blue jeans or shorts, but they are permitted to wear dress slacks, full length. We found by getting the female patron to dress as she should, the males followed and we ended our rowdyism problems.”
[Letter to the Editor,Boxoffice, August 11, 1958]
Imagine the difference we would see if Americans today had the good sense to enforce a similar code of dress and ethics in theatres, restaurants, and shopping malls.
But the situation today is not quite so bad as it was in 1957; it is worse because (a) many youngsters are now equipped with cell-phone toys and gadgets that increase the opportunity for annoying other people, and (b) many American “adults” today dress just as sloppily as their offspring, and carry the same toys with them everywhere, and are just as ill-mannered. That wisdom from 1958 is now alien to a nation of perpetual adolescents.
— Comments —-
Constance Forster writes:
I can’t imagine a theater would be successful banning immodest clothing, mischief, or profanity as almost all of the films shown in the theater nonchalantly showcase these values.
Yes, it would be absurd.