Hippies emerged in the mid 1960s in the United States, particularly on the West Coast. The Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco became the centre of hippy culture, culminating in the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967. They introduced or popularised many lifestyle elements that we take for granted today, but which were once considered wildly alternative or counter-cultural, including alternative businesses, co-operatives, holistic medicine, health food, green issues, meditation and vegetarianism.
Closely related to the counter-cultural Beat or Beatnik movement of the 1950s, hippies were broadly opposed to capitalism and the values of the establishment. They preached love and peace in opposition to the Vietnam War, appeared to reject monogamous relationships in favour of ‘free love’, and explored the spiritual alternatives offered by American-Indian and Eastern belief systems with the aid of marijuana and hallucenogenic drugs.
Hippies in Britain looked both to the Far East and the West Coast for their guidance, marrying it with the psychedelic dandyism that had developed on London’s King’s Road. Their style could be characterised as eclectic, mixing and matching vintage clothing with handmade and ‘ethnic’ garments.
The more radical hippy elements experimented with alternative ways of living through communes and co-operatives. By the mid 1970s most cities and large towns could lay claim to a radical bookshop, a vegan cafe or an alternative arts centre, often all in one co-operatively owned building. Brighton was no exception, here the focus for hippy activity was an arts centre called The Combination on West Street, offering films, music, theatre, a cafe and occassional ‘happenings’.
The hippy outfit in Brighton Museum’s Renegade collection dates from the 1980s-early 1990s and reflects the continuation of the hippy aesthetic and lifestyle.
In the USA the Beat movement was spearheaded by writers Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Key texts include Kerouac’s On the Road and Ginsberg’s epic poem Howl. Howl became an anthem not only for the Beats but for the increasingly vocal Anti-Vietnam War movement, and for the counter-cultural stance of politicised Hippies with whom Ginsberg readily identified in the later 1960s.
For hippies, clothes reflected their beliefs and aspirations. Hippy style, like so many other renegade styles, was a rejection of establishment values. Their style embodied the belief that the clothes they wore and the lives they lead would change the Western world.
Hippies placed renewed value on handicrafts and the hand-made. Making one’s own clothes, as well as other things, was regarded as a fulfilling creative experience and an alternative to the soulless uniformity of mass-production. Many elements of hippy dress reflect this. Tie-and-dye and crochet were widely practiced because they could be done easily at home without needing technical skill or equipment. Other techniques practiced included batik printing, embroidery, applique and patchwork. All were used to customise, personalise and enliven hippy dress.
As with other renegade styles, commodification came quickly on the heels of creativity and mass-produced garments replicated the hippy, hand-made aesthetic.
Clothes were colourful, romantic and playful, often a mixture of secondhand flea-market finds, the hand-made and the ethnic. Vintage clothing was still cheap and easy to find and its velvets and chiffons were particularly suited to the hippy ethic. An Edwardian dress might be happily paired with a crocheted waistcoat and an Afghan coat.
Roy Pennington, who moved to Brighton in 1966, recalls the colourful eclecticism of his own style:
“The blanket jacket … That was a hobbity thing you know. I had a series of extremely loud trousers, some made out of furniture cloth, which were quite sweet. I once had a pair of … white cloth sailor trousers … and we dyed one leg pink and one leg green or red, I can’t remember. The top was yellow’.
Ethnic influences could be found in both hippy patterns and the garments themselves. These influences filtered through from the travel experiences on what became known as the “Hippy Trail” and underscored hippy rejection of the sober restraints of Western capitalist dress. Foreign garments that were popularised included ponchos, kaftans, suede fringed waistcoats in a Native-American style and, most famously, Afghan coats.
Hair was worn long and natural by both men and women. Worn without hair products, it was kept under control when necessary by a head band or bandanna, and sweetened with the ubiquitous hippy scent patchouli oil.
Outfits were accessorised with strings of beaded necklaces and bracelets, but Roy Pennington recalls a more curious accessory worn by hippies in Brighton in the 1960s:
‘For some reason people would wear a bell round their neck and you could tell who was walking up the street as you sat in your garret flat in Montpelier Road or whatever … ‘cos you could hear their bell’.
Similarly, Lisa Newnham, a hippy from the mid 1980s onwards, recalls: ‘I had loads and loads of silvery sort of bracelets that I used to wear and bells hanging, anything that you could strap a bell to’.
Personal reflections on hippy style
Brighton & Hove Museums’ Renegade collection contains oral history interviews with hippies in which they describe their personal style.
‘I did wear some outrageous things in those days. Well I had a fur coat, long brown real fur, and I wore it with a brown-brimmed felt hat, also an old one, which was tied around with a long organza scarf that floated behind me … One of my favourite dresses, old dresses, was black actually and it was floor length with a train that trailed behind me, and I wore this to college discos, the train used to get a bit dirty.’
‘There was a lot of fringes and flowers and movement in the clothes. At the time it was very cheap to buy vintage clothing, particularly dresses, there were lots of lovely dresses around from the 30s and 40s and I had a little silk dress, sort of mid-calf length, it was very flimsy and fine … it had long sleeves and a very fine print on ivory silk and I wore it everywhere and I even wore it without shoes. I remember getting on the bus in it with no shoes on.’
Oral history interview, OH000143 Roy Pennington, describing one of his own oufits in a photograph from the late 1960s:
‘[trousers] Is that a paisley pattern? No it’s not quite [the] paisley sort of pattern you’d see on a sofa, cos it’s furnishing material as I recall. Is that a pink shirt? … wonder if that was a Ben Sherman? I might have dyed a Ben Sherman. And then a rather hideous neckerchief which is a ladies female neckerchief and a necklace made of seashells. The trousers were made for me by someone down here in Brighton. The neckerchief I probably stole from my mother’s wardrobe. The pink shirt I can’t remember.’
Oral history interview, OH000119
Hippy outfit worn by Lisa Newnham , c1980-1990
This is a hippy outfit donated by Lisa Newnham to Brighton & Hove Museums. The outfit is part of the Renegade collection, which illustrates the history of subcultures in Brighton. It includes, from top to bottom:
Hair braided with beads and coloured cotton, CT003930
Grey cotton t-shirt, CT003931: “[the] old t-shirt which is extremely holey, well it was like a favourite item that you wore and wore and wore because it was comfortable.”
Multi-coloured cotton patchwork trousers, CT003932
The hippy trail
The 1960s was the first time young people began to travel extensively beyond Europe. Hippies rejected conventional Western religions in favour of what were perceived to be more holistic and spiritual belief systems such as Buddhism and travelled to the Far East in pursuit of enlightenment. India became an essential stop-off point on what became known as the ‘hippy trail’, and Goa remains today a centre of spiritual hedonism for Western travellers. The widespread acceptance of yoga and meditation in contemporary Western culture is in large part due to the hippies and their interests in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Many hippy clothes, interiors and even vehicles were decorated with swirling psychedelic patterns in clashing colours that reflected the increasing use of ‘mind-expanding’ drugs such as marijuana and LSD. One of the effects of the halucenogenic LSD and of magic mushrooms was heightened colour awareness, and the swirling vibrancy of psychedelic design could be seen everywhere in hippy pop culture, from boutique exteriors to John Lennon’s infamous Rolls Royce.
Brighton & Hove Museums’ Renegade collection contains oral history interviews with hippies who recollect their experiences of hippy culture.