Do you remember receiving a school flyer with the outline for the week, which stated a specific theme for different days, and thought to yourself, “What is this?”  And in your quick glance through the outline, you came across “Retro Day”?

What Is “Retro Day?

Retro Day is a dedicated day of celebration during Spirit Week at most high schools around the USA. During Retro Day, the students are encouraged to celebrate the culture, trends, and icons of past decades and to align their clothes with the school’s colors, mascot, or motto. 

Many of you Generation Xers already know.

But in some cases, this might be your first time hearing about Spirit Week, and your first experience concerning a retro-inspired outfit. 

So for all of you high schoolers that have landed here looking to learn more, we’d like to help you on your first journey into retro day.

We’ll explore some of the things to know when preparing for your school’s Retro Day, and provide you resources to get the creative juices flowing with costume ideas.  But first…

What is Spirit Week?

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

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

It’s pretty awesome!

What is Spirit Week?

Spirit Week is often celebrated at elementary, middle school, and college as well, but the most common place for Spirit Week is at the high school level. The theme for each day will be different for each school level.

The time of year can also change things up. Some schools might have Spirit Week in October and another school could schedule it in November or December.

The time of year will usually have an impact on the theme. Depending on the month, the theme could be Halloween versus Thanksgiving and Holiday/Christmas.

Also, the location of the school may influence the theme days of Spirit Week. 

Here is an example of what a typical Spirit Week might look like for high schoolers in the Northeastern US: 

  • Monday – Pajama Day 
  • Tuesday – Twin Day
  • Wednesday – Retro Day
  • Thursday – Sports Team Day
  • Friday – School Colors Day

An 80s outfit for retro day

Other Names For “Retro Day”

Most schools that have spirit week have a “Retro Day.” But some may not refer to it as “Retro Day,” usually if the day is tailored toward a specific decade like the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s Day, or just  “Decades Day”.

Here are some other names for what is more commonly known as “Retro Day.”

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

Depending on how your school celebrates Retro Day, you may need to get a little more specific with your search for the perfect outfit and review each decade in detail. 

For example, if your school calls it “Retro Day,” then any decade is fair game, and you can dress up in any style/person you want from the 90s and earlier. 

However, if your school specifically has a “70s Day” or “Hippie Day,” you will need to plan your gear accordingly.

In some cases, different classes will be assigned different decades all on the same days For example, your school the plan may look something like this on Retro Day:

  • Freshman: 1960s
  • Sophomores: 1970s
  • Juniors: 1980s
  • Seniors: 1990s
Dressed like hippies for retro day

Retro Day Outfit Ideas

Luckily there is no shortage of fashion options and styles for each decade.  You shouldn’t have a problem coming up with an awesome outfit.

There are a few things to consider before diving into each decade’s trends, hairstyles, and accessories:

  • What are your school colors?
  • What is your school‘s mascot?
  • Do your friends want to dress up together?   

Keep the answers to these questions front of mind during your search and try to match accordingly with what you decide.

The guide below should be a great place to help you get started with knowing what was popular during the decades of the past.  The factors we found to be the most important are is hairstyle, clothes, shoes, hats, and accessories. 

Let’s look at what a stereotypical outfit would look like for each decade by gender.

Ideas For The Ladies

  • The 1950s: polka dot dresses, updo hair with a bow or bandana, saddle shoes, white gloves, big pearl necklace, lipstick, and cat-eye glasses (everything color coordinated of course)
  • The 1960s: bell-bottom jeans, a white bell-sleeve blouse, long straight hippie hair, flowers, sandals, and peace sign jewelry
  • The 1970s: a sleek disco-style dress with psychedelic swirls, white go-go boots, an afro with a tie, and big gaudy earrings/necklace
  • The 1980s: neon aerobic jumpsuits with bold print, matching waist belt, leg warmers, headband, wristbands, big crazy crimped hair, and white sneakers with neon laces
  • The 1990s: stone-washed jeans with a matching jacket, solid long-sleeve crop top, white Keds, a woven leather belt, feathered hair with bangs, and big hoop earrings
90s style for retro day

Ideas For Guys

  • The 1950s: greased back hair, dark blue jeans, white t-shirt, black leather jacket, saddle shoes, and a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the t-shirt sleeve
  • The 1960s: short comb-over hair, suit with a skinny tie, pocket square, and handkerchief, oxford shoes, and a fedora
  • The 1970s: bell-bottom jeans, tie-dye shirt, platform shoes, long wavy hair, scraggly beard, and all-natural handmade headbands/necklaces/bracelets
  • The 1980s: lots of denim (stone wash preferred), a black t-shirt, white high-tops,  a mullet, a fanny pack, and retro sunglasses
  • The 1990s: mid-length straight or wavy hair, a red flannel shirt, with ripped jeans, low-top Vans or Converse shoes, and a chain wallet

When is Spirit Week?

For most school systems Spirit Week will be scheduled sometime in the fall season, usually in October or November. It will correspond to the school’s Homecoming celebrations like the home football game and weekend dance. 

The days leading up to the Frida football game are to help build camaraderie amongst the students and get everyone excited in hopes of becoming victorious. 

Spirit Week rarely carries over into winter months unless your school wants to host a Christmas-themed Spirit Week. Or, if your school is over the top with its moral building, it may have a Spirit Week during the second half of the year in the spring season. 

Other Spirit Week/Retro Day Questions

What day of the week does Retro Day usually land during Spirit Week?

Throwback Thursday is the most common day of the week and an alternate name for Retro Day.

When was Spirit Week first started?

Spirit Week first started in 1952 at Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, CA.  It was originally called “Friendship Week.”

Is Spirit Week only celebrated in schools?

No  Many companies and organizations worldwide are recognizing the importance of Spirit Week to build morale and celebrate company culture. 

Do other countries celebrate Spirit Week or  Retro Day besides the United States?

Yes, other countries celebrate both. However, it is not as popular in the United States where 75% of high schools celebrate  Spirit Week annually.

Is Retro Day the same thing as National Retro Day?

No. Retro Day is associated with high schools as part of Spirit Week. National Retro Day is a national holiday to celebrate the best of times past.

Is there a dedicated date on the calendar to celebrate National Retro Day?

Yes.  Retro Day is celebrated on February 27, every year!