What is Retro Day?

Do you remember receiving a school flyer with an outline of the week, which stated a specific theme for each day and thought to yourself, “What is this?”  And in your quick scroll through the outline, your finger pointed to “Retro Day?”

What is “Retro Day?”  Retro Day is a dedicated day of celebration during what most high schools around the USA call Spirit Week.  During Retro Day, students are encouraged to emulate the culture, trends, and icons of previous decades and to align their outfit with the school’s colors, mascot, or motto. 

Hopefully, most of you Generation Xers follow me.

But in some cases, this might be your first time receiving a school memo about Spirit Week, and so begins your first experience concerning a retro-inspired costume or outfit. 

Retro 70s Storefront

Super Exciting! 

So for all of you high schoolers that have landed on this blog, we’d like to help you on your first (or subsequent) journey in dressing and experiencing retro.

We’ll explore some of the considerations when preparing for your school’s Retro Day, and provide you with as many resources (other article links) to get the creative juices flowing with costume ideas.  But first…

What is Spirit Week?

Spirit Week is five days of showcasing your school spirit the week leading up to homecoming weekend, which tends to round out the week with a pep rally, football game, and dance.

During Spirit Week, each day (Monday-Friday) will have a different theme where students are encouraged to dress up in unique outfits, have fun, and honor their school with pride. 

When you take a step back and think about this, it’s pretty awesome! 

Spirit Week is celebrated at elementary and middle school, as well as college, but the most common form of spirit week resides at the high school level.  The theme days will be drastically different from each school level.

The time of year will be another variable. An example would be scheduling Spirit Week in October and comparing that to another school that could schedule in November or December.

The time of year will impact the theme. In this example, the theme comparison would be Halloween versus Thanksgiving and Holiday/Christmas.

Also, the physical location of the school (Texas is probably less likely to have a “Western Day”), may influence the theme days of Spirit Week. 

An example of what a typical Spirit Week could look like for highschoolers in the Northeast part of the USA: 

Monday – Twin Day 
Tuesday – Sports Team Day (jerseys, uniforms, etc.)
Wednesday – Pajama Day
Thursday – Retro Day (see below for a ton of other names)
Friday – School Colors Day (Each class is requested to wear a different school color from head to toe)

Other Names Used By Schools Instead of “Retro Day”

It is ubiquitous for most spirit weeks to encompass what is called a “Retro Day.” Some schools may refer to it as “Retro Day,” while others may market by a specific decade like the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s Day, or only “Decades Day.”.

Thursday VW Bug

Our research also uncovered the following list of similar names for “Retro Day.”

  • Time Travel Day
  • Disco Day
  • Tie-Dye Day
  • Throwback Day
  • Generation Day
  • Era Day
  • Hippie Day
  • Neon Day
  • Flashback Day
  • Old School Day

Depending on how your school marketed Retro Day, you may need to get a little more granular with your quest for the perfect costume and review each decade in detail. 

For example, if they label it as “Retro Day,” then it’s fair game, and you can dress up in any style/person you want previous to the 2000s. 

However, if your school specifically markets as “70s Day” or “Hippie Day,” you’ll want to purchase your gear accordingly.  (Check out one of our best articles on 70s costume ideas and characters for more inspiration).

In some cases, one class may be required to dress up from a certain decade compared to the other class.  For example, your school memo may look something like this on Retro Day:

  • Freshman – 1960s
  • Sophomores – 1970s
  • Juniors – 1980s
  • Seniors – 1990s

When is Spirit Week?

Quite simply, it will vary from one school to the next and change year to year.

Spirit Week for most school systems will be scheduled sometime in the fall season, most likely in October or November.  The reason is due to the timing of each school’s Homecoming festivities like the home football game and weekend dance. 

The days leading up to Friday’s football game are to help build camaraderie amongst the classes, get everyone excited to bleed school colors with hopes of becoming victorious. 

Spirit Week would rarely carry over into winter months unless your school wants to host a Christmas/Holiday Spirit Week.  Or, if your school is over the top with their moral building, they may have a Spirit Week during the second half of the year (spring season). 

Retro Day Outfit Ideas

The great news is there is no shortage of material for the type of fashion or styles of each decade.  You should not have a problem coming up with a fantastic outfit.

A few things to consider before diving into each decades attire trends, hairstyles, and matching accessories:

  1. What are your school colors?
  2. What is your school‘s mascot?
  3. Does your circle of friends want to dress up together?   

Keep the answers to these questions in mind during your outfit search journey and try to match accordingly with whatever you decide.

Ladies, first!

The chart below is a great guide to help you get started with knowing what was popular during the mid-late 20th century.  The categories we found to be the most important to address is hairstyle, dress, shoes, hats, and accessories. 

Let’s review what a stereotypical outfit would for each decade by gender for the second half of the 20th century.

The 1950s – polka dot dress, updo hair with bow/bandana, saddle shoes, white gloves, big pearl bead necklace, lipstick and cat-eye glasses (all color coordinated of course)

1950s Womens Outfit

The 1960s – bell bottom jeans, a while flowy bell-sleeve blouse, long straight hippie hair with flowers, sandals and beaded peace sign jewelry

The 1970s – sleek disco-style dress with psychedelic swirls, white go-go boots, afro hair with a tie, and big earrings/necklace

The 1980s – neon aerobic jumpsuit with bold print, matching waist belt, leg warmers, headband, wristbands, crazy crimped big hair and clunky white sneakers with neon laces

The 1990s – stone wash jeans and matching jacket, solid long-sleeve crop top, white keds, woven leather belt, feathered hair with bangs and big hoop earrings

Womens Fashion Chart

Gents are next!

The 1950s – greased hair, darker blue jeans, plain white t-shirt, black leather jacket, saddle shoes, and a pack of cigarettes to be rolled up in the t-shirt sleeve

1950s Mens Outfit

The 1960s – short comb over hairstyle, suit with skinny tie, pocket square and handkerchief, oxford shoes and fedora hat

The 1970s – bell bottom jeans, tie-dye shirts, platform shoes, long wavy hair, scraggly beard or mustache, and all natural handmade headbands/necklaces/bracelets

The 1980s – denim on denim (stone wash preferred), black t-shirt, white high-top sneakers, mullet, fanny pack, and reflective sunglasses

The 1990s – mid-length straight or wavy bleached hair, red flannel shirt, ripped jeans, low-top vans or converse shoes, and chain wallet

Mens Fashion Chart

Related Questions

What day of the week does Retro Day typically land on during Spirit Week?
Throwback Thursday has made this very easy for schools to schedule Retro Day.  #TBT

When did Spirit Week get started?
In 1952 by Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, CA.  It was dubbed “Friendship Week.”

Is Spirit Week celebrated outside of the school system?
Yes.  More companies and organizations worldwide are recognizing the importance of Spirit Week to build morale and celebrate company culture. 

Do other countries celebrate Spirit Week and Retro Day outside of the United States?
Yes, however, it is not as popular in the USA where 75% of high schools make Spirit Week an annual celebration.

Is Retro Day the same as National Retro Day?
No.  Retro Day is associated with high school Spirit Week.  National Retro Day is a nationally, and soon-to-be internationally recognized day to celebrate the best of times past.  #NationalRetroDay

Is there a dedicated date on the calendar to celebrate National Retro Day?
Yes.  February 27, every year!  

Mark Plevyak

Thanks for reading! Throwing events can be overwhelming but to me one of the most thrilling and rewarding experiences. Since we all grew up in different decades, we can't always relate to iconic time periods of the past. There is so much to celebrate so if you are thinking of planning an event, plan a Retro one. And, if you're attending a party, ensure you relive it to the fullest. Party Unique!

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