How did paisley, bell bottoms, and flower-headbands become the uniform of the sixties hippie? The look to this day is endlessly recreated everywhere from fashion runways to Hollywood films. And how did that look morph — and, more recently, of hipsters in general?
Well, you can thank San Francisco and the Summer of Love for that.
1. Start in the Haight-Ashbury District
The city’s status as ground zero for emerging countercultural fashion originated in the 1960s, specifically in the Haight-Ashbury. Of course, California’s always been a home for eccentrics, no place more so than the criss-cross of streets running from Golden Gate Park down to Market Street. Queer outposts were already legion on Polk Street and South of Market Area. But in the 1960s, fashion revolutionaries seized on trends emerging from hotspots like London and New York and made them unique by mixing and matching high fashions with finds mined from second-hand shops that lined Haight Street.
2. International Inspiration
Hippie fashion didn’t just spring out of nowhere. Ready-to-wear designers in London had already been shaking up the way people dress starting in the 1950s. But the hippies of the 60s set out to break every rule, intentionally making them grungier and less expensive. After all, no one had any money. They had dropped out and were living in tents, boarding houses and couches across the city. The art and music of the period already boasted an acid-influenced aesthetic, and that was soon applied to clothing.
3. Sexual Freedom
Sexual liberation is the key to understanding the hippie style. Garb tended to be flowing, soft and oversized, a decade before the tight denim look of the ’70s, lending itself to a sensual tactile experience and easy access to the body. Garments tended to reveal much more flesh than the country was used to seeing. And sometimes, of course, hippies defined their look with an absence of clothes altogether.
How’d they do it? The Haight boasted a hide variety of shops with the basics needed for a creative outfit. Key elements were folklore-inspired items and peasant skirts. Military surplus was big, repurposed to mock American warmongoring. The pencil skirt and straight-leg pants were abandoned in favor of looser fitting blouses and bell-bottoms, and there was widespread borrowing of styles thought to represent Native American culture.
5. Bucking the Trends
Contrary to popular belief, tie-dye was not really a big part of San Francisco hippie culture. Neither was the disco look that gradually worked its way into the community a decade later. Those trends mainly originated in Southern California, though eventually the Bay Area-based Grateful Dead made tie-dye inescapable.
6. Groundbreaking Designers
Designers like Linda Gravenites lent their skill to dressing prominent local rock bands. Jeanne Rose worked with bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, the Young Rascals and others who came to define the summer of love. Her emphasis was on masculine figures and natural materials, assembled on an antique sewing machine.
Helene Robertson ran Anastasia’s, a prominent Bay Area fashion boutique, where starting in 1961 she adopted as laid-back an atmosphere as she possibly could to encourage experimentation and risk-taking in dressing. Anastasia’s was bordered by rock clubs and Helene’s designs soon gained international prominence as artists dropped in, shopped, and took her fashion with them on the road.
7. The Summer of Love
The Summer of Love in 1967 was a crucial point for the spread of hippie couture. The eyes of the nation suddenly turned to San Francisco and saw how young people were dressing, often through the look of rock bands that toured the country and were celebrated (or disdained, according to local standards) in local newspapers and television news. It was a revelation: flea market ensembles, maxi skirts, bell bottoms and African motifs shocked the pedestrian styles of the suburbs, and gave fans of the music a visual identity.
8. Going Mainstream
With hippie fashion on a more widely-seen canvas, the styles began to dilute. More mainstream figures began donning countercultural styles, and by the 1970s the clashing acid-inspired look had been watered down into plainer, more sensible outfits that ordinary folks could wear to the movies. The hippie fashions incorporated by the world’s top designers — Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Mary Quant — were priced out of reach for most.
9. Keeping it Real
Today the city remains firm in its embrace of affordable hippie couture–only now it has morphed into an updated version known as hipster style for which it has become renowned in recent years. Stroll the vibrant the streets of the Mission District, especially Valencia Street, and you’ll see plenty of San Francisco hipsters. Check out the “gay beach” at Dolores Park and there will be plenty of queer hipsters, although they are indistinguishable at times from their hetero counterparts.
In fact, San Francisco’s Haight still boasts a wide variety of options that will allow you to dress just like a SF hipster–or hippie, for that matter. There’s Held Over on Haight, where tie-dye has found a comfortable home. It’s a great place to pick up festival garb. Buffalo Exchange is one of the great thrift shops anywhere. Ameoba Music boasts the best hippie and hipster music in the world.
Hop over the hill to the Castro and check out the Levi’s Men’s Store, which has the denim that forms the basis of all hipster style. Out of the Closet has several locations across the city, and there’s nowhere better to find great vintage looks inexpensively. And designers continue their boundary-pushing work in the Bay Area to this day. N.I.C.E. Collective has established a shop in the Dogpatch ‘hood for it’s unique fusion of musical and military looks. Buy an authentic hipster messenger bag from San Francisco’s own Rickshaw Bagworks or Timbuk 2.
Throughout its history, and particularly since the Summer of Love, San Francisco has been on the cutting edge of culture. It only makes sense that it’s on the cutting edge of fashion as well.