Butch Recalls The Tradition Of “Senior Cords”

If you went to school in Indiana during the 1950s and 1960s, you likely participated in a Hoosier tradition during your final year in high school…wearing “senior cords.” It all started back in the early 1900s when some seniors at Purdue University discovered some yellow corduroy fabric in a downtown Lafayette store window. The boys had some trousers made from the material, and had their friends sign them. However, as time passed the corduroy pants were decorated with pictures of mascots, club symbols, sports themes, school achievements and honors, and various other drawings. The tradition caught on at other colleges, and then became very popular in Indiana’s high schools after WWII. The trend reached its height in the 1950s and 1960s. It was almost a rite of passage, and as far as I can tell, this was an Indiana phenomenon…schools in other states did not have senior cords.

Many boys and girls decorated their own trousers or skirts, but quite a few seniors hired a local person to do the artwork. My mother, Mildred Dale, decorated hundreds of senior cords during that time period. I remember Mom staying up late at night sketching the drawings on the cords and then coloring them in with a pen and India ink. She spent four or five hours on each one, and charged the student anywhere from $3.00 to $5.00 for each skirt or pair of pants. Most were decorated with club symbols, such as 4-H, FFA, Sunshine Society, band, etc., along with sports, the school mascot, cartoon characters, names of friends, or whatever else they could come up with.

It was a tradition at our school to wear your cords on Friday, especially during the winter months when basketball games were played on Friday or Saturday nights. I wore my senior cords and class sweater just about every Friday. Most of my classmates wore their senior cords to the basketball games, and we wore them for our senior class group photo in front of the Darlington covered bridge.

The senior cord tradition carried on at each of the small high schools in Montgomery County until they closed after the 1971 school year. I believe there was a stronger emotional tie that students had to their school before consolidation, and when the little schools were gone, the colorful senior cords ceased to exist. During the 33 years that I have been the librarian here at Darlington, several senior cord trousers and skirts have been donated by graduates, and these are on display in our library museum, along with sports honor jackets, basketball uniforms, club jackets, and numerous other apparel and memorabilia. For the Darlington graduates who visit our little library…when they see our collection of senior cords…the great memories live on. They are another reminder of all the fun times!

John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.