Sock Hops of the 1950s -- What were they?

From my radio days

Fats Domino gave me a personally autographed copy of this fan photo at a concert in Lubbock, Texas in 1962
Fats Domino gave me a personally autographed copy of this fan photo at a concert in Lubbock, Texas in 1962

Still strong after all these years

Chubby Checker wows the crowd at a concert in Philadelphia in 2009
Chubby Checker wows the crowd at a concert in Philadelphia in 2009 | Source

Fan photo from my personal file

A very popular past time for teenagers

A wise man once said that necessity was the mother of invention. If that is so, the sock hop had to have been a brainchild born of necessity. The sock hop was a social dance originating in the 1950s, usually put on by school groups, in which no shoes were worn on the dance floor. The dancers danced in their socks. The original sock hops were held in gymnasiums where street shoes were forbidden. Even tennis shoes were not allowed because someone invariably would sneak in wearing conventional shoes and scratch the hardwood floor. Chaperones were often the worst culprits of all, so even they were required to wear socks unless they observed from the bleachers.

There is very little written on the history of the sock hop of the 1950s, and most of it is from someone’s imagination. The writings center on being hip, preppys, greasers, saddle oxfords, and other things someone read in a book. One wrongly held view is that kids held sock hops because they could do the twist better in socks. Sorry, but we never heard of the twist in the 50s, and Chubby Checker and his version didn’t come along until the 1960s, after the sock hop became popular.

No one seems to know exactly who originated it or where, but it probably began in small towns or perhaps even suburbs without community centers or good places for teens to congregate and dance. At least that’s why my friends and I sock hopped.

My small town of 5,000 was typical of a sock hop town. There was no community center, and if we went outside the school to hold a dance, most places charged a rental fee that we kids couldn’t afford. Our very special dances and proms were held at the Country Club, while the Episcopal Church Parish house graciously allowed us to hold others. Either place had to be reserved months in advance. We usually could talk our principal into lending us the gymnasium with no more than one or two weeks’ notice as long as it was available and we obeyed the rules.

The rules were simple:

· No shoes on the gym floor, socks only, and that included chaperones

· No smoking in the gym

· No drinking

· Respect the chaperones

· Everyone in school was invited

Sock hops were usually held in cold weather when boredom set in, although there were other times. Someone would beg the principal’s permission, a date would be set, and then came the task of finding sponsors or chaperones, or maybe that in reverse order. Our high school of 300 students usually had no more than 50 to 75 to show up, so we needed no more than a half dozen chaperones. There were usually a couple of teachers willing to sacrifice a Friday or Saturday night, and we had our choice of enough parents willing to help.

Someone, usually two or three interested students, would make poster board signs and place them in strategic areas around the school announcing the date. Then excited students would talk up the sock hop in the halls:

“Are you going Friday night?”

“Oh yeah, wouldn’t miss it!”

"Be there or be square!"

Dates were lined up, but it was okay to come single because there would be lots of others of the opposite sex without dates, too.

Dress was simple. It was basically a come-as-you-are party in our school clothes. Guys dressed in clean jeans and shirts or tee shirts. Girls wore their mid-calf skirts with lots and lots of petticoats that looked cool swirling on the dance floor, or they wore jeans. A big fad for girls at the time was wearing their daddy’s white shirts, so sometimes a group of girls would decide to dress in jeans and their father’s shirts, which, unless the girl was tall, hung down to the knees. Poodle skirts weren’t much of a thing to us because they weren’t that easily obtained in the rural South. A few girls bought them in Little Rock or Memphis and wore them. Oh, and the jeans—Levis were our “designer jeans.” They were still affordable at $2.98 a pair, while off-brands could be bought at $1.98 a pair. No self-respecting teenager of the 50s would show up wearing off-brand jeans, not even Lees. Levis made ladies jeans that were fitted at the waist, but that wasn't cool. Jeans had to fit low on our hip bones. We wore boys jeans and we wore 'em skin-tight. My mother claimed that we girls "looked like we'd been melted and poured into our jeans."

Guys wore their regular white socks, but bobby sox were a must for the girls. Bobby sox were long, to-the-knee socks that were folded down three times to make a thick roll at the ankles. Plain anklets simply weren’t hip. The saddle oxford phase was passe by then, although they never went completely out of style. Pat Boone had popularized white bucks, and we preferred oxfords or penny loafers of white buck. Shoes were removed at the door, and there was always a scramble for shoes in a pile of white bucks after the dance was over. Lucky were the ones who wore unfashionable colored shoes that made them easier to find.

Music was provided by one of the students who had a phonograph and a good collection of 45s. Other students would lend their 45s also, and a sorting and claiming of the records occurred following the dance. A sock hop could not be held without Elvis, Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino to rock ‘n roll and Connie Francis and Pat Boone for slow dancing. The owner of the phonograph usually insisted on being in charge of the music and was aided by best friends who kept the requested records ready to go. Cries of “play something by Elvis!” or “how ‘bout Long Tall Sally?” rang out. “Rock around the clock,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Blueberry Hill” were all favorites, too.

It’s hard for me to even remember the names of the dances we did, in fact, we didn’t know the names of most of the dance steps. We watched Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and a local channel show from Little Rock called, “Steve’s Show” and imitated the dances we saw. Names came later.

I do recall one dance movement popular at our sock hops because only the most foolish girl would attempt it in heels. With a good momentum going, the boy would cross the girl’s arms and then swing her head over heels over his left shoulder. Then, if properly executed, she would land on her feet, release one hand and he would swing her around to face him. It was a very athletic move still popular today in ice dancing. Since I weighed less than 90 pounds soaking wet, I was usually one of the girls chosen for this step. I don’t recall ever having an accident, but a couple of times I remember a girl landing on her fanny and pulling her partner over backwards.

I was also very good at the Limbo, being only 5 feet tall I could get under a low pole much easier than the taller kids.

To have a real DJ spinning records at a sock hop was unheard of in the beginning. We never thought about it, mainly because there wasn’t one available. That came later after the sock hop caught on in the big city.

The sock hop was popular also because the anxiety and nervousness of the formal dance was not present. Girls danced freely in socks and didn't suffer achy feet or sprained ankles from high heels, and boys didn’t have to wear what they called their “monkey suits”. It was acceptable to snatch up a parent or a teacher to dance as long as the subject was willing to rock ‘n roll. Cuddling a mother or the algebra teacher in a slow dance was not socially acceptable, but no one would have wanted to, anyway.

Gosh, this brings back the memories. Dang, I’m old!

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Comments 27 comments

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

MizBejabbers....Thank you so much for such a wonderful and FUN walk down Memory Lane. I may not have come into full bloom until the '60's....but I had an older sister I was very close with and so....I was somewhat of a "tag-along", always under her feet and looking up to her, being in awe of her and her "friends."

I may have only participated as part of the audience, but I remember it well. She taught me to "jitterbug" and she was simply the BEST big sister! I loved his hub for more than one reason!! UP+++


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 4 years ago Author

Thank you! I enjoyed writing it. I was so surprised to find that there really is no real information on the web about sock hops, so I thought I'd add my two cent's worth from my memories. And thanks for the UP!


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi MizBejabbers,I really enjoy reading this hub it sure did bring back memories of the good old days.Sock hops were a lot of fun,dancing and listen to the latest hits .

Vote up and more !!!


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 4 years ago Author

Thanks for the vote up, Kashmir56. The good old days were a lot of fun, and a heckuvalot safer for young people! Be seeing you around!


Ciel Clark profile image

Ciel Clark 4 years ago from USA

I was just about to ask questions about sock hops, but you answered most of them. Great hub! I remember going to a sock hop as a teen in the 80s, and wondering why. Still not totally sure. Do they have them anymore?


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 4 years ago Author

Wow, you went to one in the 80s! Neat! I don't know if the kids still have them or not. I haven't heard of any, but my kids are grown. Thanks for stopping by.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

It does bring back memories and dang, I'm old too! LOL I grew up in a city of 100,000, and sock hops were not as plentiful there. I did attend a couple out in the country, and they were a blast. Exciting times then as the 50's gave way to the 60's and then all hell broke loose. :) Great hub which I thoroughly enjoyed!


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 years ago Author

Thanks, friend Bill, they really were neat and a lot of fun. Back then the gym floors were varnished with gym seal, which scuffed easily, so we had to take off our shoe. I especially enjoyed the "over the shoulder move" and that probably the only time in my life I enjoyed being a tiny person. Sock hops were also the only advantage I could think of as a teen ager living in a small town.


ajwrites57 profile image

ajwrites57 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

MizBejabbers--"Thank you, thank you very much!" Love this Hub! This was before my time but it sounds like great fun! Twistin' your way down memory lane is bittersweet. When we had dances, it was in our socks and shoes--in the school cafeteria or our friends basements and the moms yellin' down the steps, "Turn those lights back on!" :0) Sigh...compared to today, those were innocent times. Again I say, "Thank you, thank you very much!"


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 years ago Author

Glad you like it AJ. It was fun, and back then I kept a 20 inch waistline. All the girls had wasp waists then, and a lot of it probably was from dancing.


Cantuhearmescream profile image

Cantuhearmescream 3 years ago from New York

MizBejabbers,

This is great! I've always said that I must've lived a previous life in this era or I should've been born then; there is just something about that time and place that I connect with. I love anything 50's and 60's and that material is getting harder and harder to come by. I grew up on records and 8-tracks so I have a huge appreciate for the music of that time. Your pictures are great; I'm envious... the things you must have seen! I'm so glad to see you debunk inaccurate accounts of Sock Hops! Dick Clark was born, raised, went to college, and worked in radio and TV minutes from where I was born and raised.

What I wouldn't give to have days like this come back. Throw away most of our technology, hang out in malt shops, spend Sundays with our families and attend Sock Hops!

Voted up, Awesome and Interesting!

Cat


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 years ago Author

Yes, there was a lot of innocent fun back then. No drugs, but sometimes the boys got in trouble for drinking. Notice I said "boys" because we girls didn't drink. Dick Clark was one of our favorites, of course. I met him in person in Lubbock, Texas, many years ago. I wish I had an autographed photo of him, but I don't think I got one. I"ve misplaced my box of photos and autographs, and I can't remember. Thanks for your wonderful comment and vote.


Cantuhearmescream profile image

Cantuhearmescream 3 years ago from New York

MizBejabbers,

How cool the people you've had the opportunity to meet! My first concert was the Beach Boys... I was about 20 and most people my age didn't even know who they were :-) Other than that, I can count famous people that I've been in the same room with on about 2 fingers.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 years ago Author

Yes, C. I kind of miss those days. I love the Beach Boys, but I've never had the opportunity to see them live. Taking that photo of Chubby in Philly in 2009 really brought back old memories. A few years ago, I saw a band in Little Rock that was a composite of some big names, including Ringo Starr and Joe Walsh, but I didn't get to meet them. It was great fun. I miss those days. By the way, I never met Elvis, but he drove a truck for my father-in-law's business in Memphis at one time. Thanks again.


Cantuhearmescream profile image

Cantuhearmescream 3 years ago from New York

MizBejabbers,

The stories you must have... I'd love to be a fly on your wall :-)

Cat


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 years ago Author

Thanks, at least the first half of my life was exciting.


Cantuhearmescream profile image

Cantuhearmescream 3 years ago from New York

MizBejabbers,

Hey, now that's now way to talk ;-)

You're a ball of fire and look at what you have to share with others!

At least the first half of your life was exciting... I'm hangin' on waiting for mine to start... the clocks ticking! :-)


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 years ago Author

Thanks, I'm just waitin' for mine to slow down.


Cantuhearmescream profile image

Cantuhearmescream 3 years ago from New York

MizBejabbers,

Knowing what I know of you... it probably won't ;-)


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

Ohhhh myyyyy gosh! Do I ever have memories of the sock hops. Our junior high school had at least one sock hop a month. Not only was it fun and affordable, but kept teens off the streets.

Thank you, MizBefabbers, for this wonderful hub packed with golden memories.

Voted up, awesome, beautiful and interesting.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 years ago Author

Phyllis, oh boy, weren't they fun! We met our friends, flirted with the opposite sex and just had a grand time. Thank you for the memories and the awesome votes!


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 19 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

I went to high school in a small town in Illinois in the late 1950s. A sock hop would follow a basketball game in the gymnasium.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 19 months ago Author

So you know ... That's great. We really had fun, didn't we! Thanks for the read and comment.


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 11 months ago from California

It's funny how fashion trends get recycled...low rise jeans became popular again, and poodle skirts are considered very retro chic now. Thanks for that fun trip to the 50s, so cool!


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 10 months ago Author

So sorry I didn't see this. I was recuperating from surgery. Fashion trends do get recycled. I'm wearing very fashionable earrings now that I bought back in the 60s and 70s. Thanks for your cool comment.


Jean Bakula profile image

Jean Bakula 7 months ago from New Jersey

I used to go to sock hops in the 1970s, they were still popular with the greaser set, guys who loved to tinker with cars. Most of the girls wore saddle shoes though. The woman who later became my Mother in law had a poodle skirt I used to borrow, and some girls wore cheerleader outfits. They were so much fun, and a lot of the music was so upbeat (a few slow, romantic songs too).


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 7 months ago Author

What fun! I didn't know they were still around then, Jean. I remember when saddle oxfords rolled back around in the 1970s. I always wanted a poodle skirt, but I never could find one tiny enough for me. I was the smallest girl in my high school. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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