WHAT? The swinging sixties meets flower power; good hair, great denim and the perfect soundtrack.
The 1960's were unique in so many ways, a time of restriction and oppression across gender, race, sexuality and beyond evolved in to a catalyst for change. The mind-blowing economics of this time meant that the one million babies born in the late 1940’s all came of age in the 1960’s. These kids grew up in a sterile post-war ‘nuclear family’ striving for the American Dream in the States and something all too dissimilar in the UK, faced with the remnants of a broken Britain and unclear future. After years of campaigning, the results of these kids turned activists led to the start of huge political movements in civil, women’s and gay rights which brought with it new ‘freedoms. Combine that with a new sound and you’re on to a new wave of thinking, society and style.
Spanning two key cities, a swinging 1960’s in London and a Summer of Love in San Francisco, the hippie scene connected the two western leaders on another, more psychedelic level. A style so rooted in not only music but politics, human rights and environmentalism, which interestingly resonates so much with where we find ourselves today, in an era of post-truth, alternative-facts and a burgeoning patriarchal society. As a subculture rich in often overlooked creativity, beyond the pot-smoking and the ‘great unwashed’ as my grandmother would have said, here’s what made this scenes soul, spirit and style.
'Hippie' is a subculture that started in the mind. It was way of broadening your way of thinking, with or without the help of hallucinogenic (LSD only became illegal in 1968) and opened you up to new ideas, new concepts and new styles. You didn’t have to conform. You didn’t have to be your parents. The Merry Pranksters lead by Ken Kesey toured towns and festivals with their Acid Test, offering classes in chemical escapism and guided exploration of the mind. You even graduated with a diploma certificate on completion to boot. The psychoactive effects of LSD lead to a new wave of thinking and transformed every creative and expressive outlet available, from music and art and of course fashion. When you think that innovative, world-changing organisations like Apple were born out of the counter-culture movement, you get a sense of the trans-formative approach to thinking that this unique space in time lead to. Right on Steve Jobs.
As with every style tribe, music is the catalyst and communicator. Whether it’s protesting war, offering escape from the mundane day to day or uniting people to break on through to the other side. It is a tribe’s music that communicates the ideology, connects the followers and defines the style. The Vietnam War is often accredited with having the best soundtrack, thanks Francis Ford Coppola but this movement had so much to fight for and when you need a revolution music becomes the mouthpiece for change.
The thing I love most about this era of music of the breadth of styles and genres that are fused together through style. This tribe unified blues, rock, funk and folk and the political and social lyrics united people to come together, paving the way for festivals like Woodstock to change the way we connect through music and style.
The so many styles, so little time soundtrack:
BLUES – Big Brother and the Holding Company - notable star of that show of course, Janis Joplin
PSYCHEDELIC & ROCK – Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, The Byrds, The Doors, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, The Mamas & The Papas FUNK – Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament Funkadelic, George Clinton
FOLK – Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel, Ravi Shankar - because if a sitar won’t expand your mind I don’t know what will.
Gathering for change; music, drugs and freelove
The Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967 saw 100,000 hippie’s gather in the Haight-Asbury area to experience The Who, The Grateful Dead, The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane. The Summer of Love was attended by teenagers, college students and the likes of Hunter S Thompson. Festivals were gaining momentum as an opportunity to come together, paving the way for Woodstock sand beyond.
Advertised as ‘An Aquarian Exposition’, Woodstock offered fans and followers three days of peace and music . Almost half a million-people attended the festival in 1969, as a result, the state of New York became the third largest in American that weekend. The stage served some of the greatest musicians of all time – Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane. All making Woodstock one of the most important festivals in history. Hey, Coachella and your floral crown wouldn’t exist without it.
Brilliantly The Doors apparently turned the gig down, thinking it would be a second rate festival while Frank Zappa declined due to the mud.
The UK also had its fair share of fantastic festivals but the UFO club on Tottenham Court Road, London proved the epicentre for the UK tribe hosting Hendrix, Pink Floyd (the house band) and Procol Harum. The club is also best known for their psychedelic poster art, movie screenings and macrobiotic menu
As a style tribe with often fickle associations, the ‘hippie’ look is so rich in style references. Once you look beyond the tie-dye and other obvious token items, the approach to style is relative to sustainable and eco-commerce ideas that we are striving for today. Items were homemade, ethical and recycled. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Mama Cass and Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) were all know for their thrifting, scaling racks of vintage for Edwardian blousons and Eastern kaftans.
As a total denim-obsessive I love looking at how style tribes adopt and take ownership of their denim. The bell bottom flare is as iconic of the scene as the word hippie. These were well-worn, hardly washed, low rise and personalized with rips, repairs, patches and embroidery. Levi’s 646 and 26 inches at peak width were the go to.
Style tribes by nature are an amalgamation of reference points, much like the music, all rolled up to create something new – postmodern through and through. The hippie scene was no stranger to borrowing from history but also across cultures. Just as the music spanned genres and influences the tribe mixed African and Eastern prints; Indian paisley tunics, dashikis, Afghan Coats and more. As naive as it sounds, I’d like to think that this initially stood as a statement for diversity and unity but like so many sartorial choices it unfortunately transcends in to cultural appropriation as soon as it multiplies and becomes mainstream.
The hippie tribe got its high fashion showcase through boho. Thea Porter is probably best known for bringing bohemia to Britain in the 1970’s, importing middle eastern fabrics and clothing over from Israel and selling out of her Soho store. Her intricate kaftans and head scarfs were must-haves for clients including Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor and Pete Townshend
At the time, if you were searching for something a little more vibrant, the answer to all your sartorial desires could be found on the King’s Road at the infamous Granny Takes a Trip. Run by Freddie Hornick, the interior took on a psychedelic New Orleans bordello vibe and fused art, vintage fashion and later own designs with music. The store naturally became a tourist attraction after dressing The Beatles (wearing Granny shirts on the back of Revolver), The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. Jimi Hendrix was a regular as was Diana Ross.
Hippie was the tribe with the biggest trip. Rich in revolution, the demand for change was rooted and communicated through popular culture and style. I can’t help but think we’re in need of another revolution – inequality, political upheaval, uncertain futures, the ingredients are all there. We just need a united voice, soundtrack and style. Now go on, get your groove on.