Back in the day: Senior cords served as rite of passage

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Carmel High School seniors of the 1950s and ’60s painted highlights of their high school years on yellow corduroy pants and skirts. (Photo courtesy of Carmel High School)

Carmel High School seniors of the 1950s and ’60s painted highlights of their high school years on yellow corduroy pants and skirts. (Photo courtesy of Carmel High School)

By Terri Horvath

In the 1950s and ’60s, a popular fad among the Carmel High School seniors was the wearing of yellow corduroy pants or skirts, commonly referred to as senior cords. Each senior cord served as a canvas painted with the emblems signifying the wearer’s highlights of high school years.

The same was true for seniors throughout the Midwest. The guys wore the pants, and the girls donned the skirts. The unveiling of cords varied but usually occurred on the first day of cool weather. The anticipation was like a coming-of-age rite.

Beginning with freshman year, many students examined the possibilities that could be painted on the corduroy canvas. Glee club members, football players, straight-A students –

every cliché had its share of those in painted corduroy tattoos.

The tradition of the senior cord in Indiana began at least as early as 1904. During this year, Purdue University records show its seniors adopting the practice, which lasted for more than 60 years. The archives indicate the original fashion statement was without the painted symbolism. The drawings and lettering eventually evolved. The tradition was also passed down to high school seniors.

Sometime in the late 1960s or early ’70s, however, the fad outgrew its popularity. The reason is unclear, but speculation centers on the re-examination of traditions, a practice that symbolized the ’70s.

For Carmel High School graduates with their cords, however, they have a tangible reminder of their high school priorities.

 

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