How Bobby-soxers Worked

By: Cristen Conger

Bobby-soxer Fashion

Saddle shoes, the essential bobby-soxer footwear.
Saddle shoes, the essential bobby-soxer footwear.

A gang of bobby-soxer pals would certainly be easy to spot at a soda shop or movie theater because of their uniform-like outfits that revolved, of course, around ankle socks, which replaced stockings when nylon became necessary for producing World War II supplies [source: Peterson and Kellogg]. Typically, bobby-soxers would wear their ankle socks with saddle shoes, penny loafers or ballet-style slippers. A Shetland sweater with cuffed blue jeans or a poodle skirt, along with a trendy identification bracelet bearing a girl's name or initials, completed the classic bobby-soxer ensemble [source: source: Woloch].

Fashion conformity was a cornerstone of bobby-soxer culture, because unlike preceding generations, these teen girls were fixated on fitting in. LIFE magazine reported on this facet of the bobby-soxer mindset in the early 1940s, observing that "the microcosm of their gang is everything" [source: Woloch]. That adolescent angst over their appearance makes sense, considering that they were interacting every day in school more than ever before. In 1900, only 11 percent of teenagers in the United States attended high schools, whereas almost 80 percent of them were doing so by 1940 [source: Inness]. In addition to allowances doled out by parents, teen girls funded their wardrobes and extracurricular outings with pocket money earned from babysitting, a grassroots industry that would only pick up after the baby boom began in 1944 [source: Forman-Brunell].


Although most bobby-soxers weren't working full-time, their disposable incomes didn't escape the attention of advertisers and popular media. Leading the pack of teen taste-makers, Seventeen magazine served as the bobby-soxers' how-to manual for clothing, cosmetics and hairstyles [source: Inness]. And in a landmark effort to understand the consumer wants and needs of the average bobby-soxer, Estelle Ellis, who headed marketing research for Seventeen magazine at its inception, surveyed teen girls around the country in 1945 about their spending habits, interests, education and aspirations. That "Life with Teena" survey (named as a wordplay on "teenager") revealed, among other things, that these girls spent a bulk of their baby sitting profits and allowances on movies, candy, soda, lunch and entertainment [source: Smithsonian Institution].

Thanks to the launch of Seventeen magazine and its interest in what appealed bobby-soxers, marketing and popular media directed toward teens only continued to grow. Though bobby-soxer fashion faded away in the 1950s, along with that collective crush on Frank Sinatra, a new teen market had been born.

Related Articles


  • Fitzpatrick, Jane Brodsky. "Bobby-soxers." The Forties in America. Salem Press. (Aug. 11, 2011)
  • Forman-Brunell, Miriam. "Babysitter: an American history." NYU Press. 2009. (Aug. 11, 2011)
  • Inness, Sherrie A. "Delinquents and debutantes: twentieth-century American girls' cultures. NYU Press. 1998. (Aug. 11, 2011)
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