Older college-educated dopers: Please explain the customs surrounding beanies.

You know how any time you see a movie about college, if it was made or if it was set, any time before 1965 or so, the freshmen wear beanies.

How did that work? Did you have to wear one, or was there only social pressure to wear it as a matter of school spirit? If you were pledging to a Greek society, might they make you wear one as a pledge rule, even though there was no similar rule for the campus community at large?

Before my time, but IIRC beanies were worn by Freshman pledges. Being caught without your beanie before Homecoming was a dire offense. This practice pretty much died out with the rise of the 60s, and all that entailed. Hard to get worked up about a beanie while the National Guard is shooting people on your campus, and all that.

I went to a small private midwestern school from 69-73. A week or so after school started in the fall came Hell Week (I think it actually lasted two weeks). A few years before I got there, participation was considered mandatory. It was unofficial in that they wouldn’t kick you out of school, but if you didn’t participate you would be forever branded a social pariah. When I got there it was voluntary, but many upperclassmen would condsider you a poor sport if you didn’t get involved. By the time I left, it was a shadow of its former self.

During Hell Week, freshmen were to wear their beanies at all times. They were subject to being stopped by upperclassmen who would ask various questions about the school’s history and traditions. Infractions – no beanie, wrong answer, improper respect shown, etc. – were punished in some way (I forget some of the details). It was a mild form of hazing.

There was a Goon Squad of eight or ten upperclassmen made up like horror movie types who carried paddles. If they were around the punishment would be a few paddle swats (nothing violent) – “Grab your ankles, Frosh!” The paddles were 4-5 feet long and individually decorated. The feistier freshmen would try to steal a goon’s paddle, which was a highly respected act of defiance. It wasn’t easy, but during my freshmen year a few of us raided the goons’ quarters and made off with several paddles. It was quite a coup.

During Hell Week there were several activities such as a freshmen vs. upperclassmen tug of war. In lieu of a center line was a 4 foot deep pit. The local fire department obligingly filled the pit with a few feet of water and wet down the dirt on the freshmen side. Naturally, the upperclassmen won. I probably had 20 pounds of mud on me and my clothes.

At the end of Hell Week a trial was held. Freshmen who had been “uncooperative” were prosectuted and found guilty – except the one who stood out as the worst of all, who was declared innocent.

It was all in a spirit of good-natured fun, and a good way for freshmen and upperclassmen to meet each other. At my school, the beanie was a minor component of the whole experience, but we did have them.

Our school eliminated beanies a couple of years before I got there, but some of the upper classmen remembered them.

All freshman had to wear the beanies and upper classmen were allows to stop them and make them do various things: answer questions about the school, show their freshman handbook. Failure resulted in a minor penalty.

The freshmen were required to wear them until the football team won their first game. With our team, that could have meant that sophomores still had to wear the beanie, but luckly, the team always scheduled a really lousy team for the first game, so it didn’t last long.

One year, the freshmen decided enough was enough and held beanie burnings o end the system (this was in the 60s, of course).

Okay, now explain the megaphones, raccoon coats, and porkpie hats with cocked brims.

And did American universities ever really require wearing gowns and mortarboards to class?

The megaphones, at least, are easy to explain. Long before group formation cheerleading by mostly female squads became the custom, there were guys called yell leaders. Through megaphones they would exhort the home crowd to shout “Ali Bevo, Ali Bivo”, “wallaga, wallaga wallaga wax”, and “rah, rah, rah”, and similar declarations of school loyalty and affinity. Sometimes they even named the school.

I think yell leaders still exist. My high school had them in the 70s.

I arrived at my college in 1975, about 10 years too late to be pressured into beanie-wearing. However, I’ve seen some old pictures, and was impressed by the way most of the freshmen attempted to wear them with a bit of a flourish, like a Plume of Navarre.


Yep, that’s me who posted the comment below the picture.

College student wearing freshman beanie, circa 1914.

University of Wisconsin students wearing raccoon coats, 1928.

Texas Tech during the late 50s, very early 60s, back when Tech was still a College and proud of it: Freshmen wore beanies, men and women alike. Stealing beanies was routine; men were expected to tackle the thief and fist fights were not uncommon. Sort of a right of passage. Women didn’t have to fight but it took a real whimp to swipe a woman’s beanie. I weighed 127 pounds my freshman year and my dorm was next door to the athletic dorm—after being beat bloody twice by freshmen footballers, I adopted pacifism and bought several extra beanies. People wonder why I hate Texas.

I went to a private college affiliated with a fundamentalist Christian church in 1991. For my first week of freshman year, we had to wear orange beanies (called “dinks” at my school for no apparent reason). There was a group of about ten seniors, dressed in black robes, who had the power to inflict embarrassing punishments on any freshman caught without the dink. As I recall, they weren’t particularly difficult to avoid.

We had one student who really fought against the hazing. He was persecuted mercilessly by the seniors, got little sympathy from his classmates, and ended up dropping out after Christmas.