How can visual and material culture investigate meaning? : Hippies of the 1960’s

The hippie subculture was born from the social and ethical deformity of 1960’s American mainstream society. Their style became an alternative form of activism, against a society they condemned.  It was their anti- war, anti- establishment and anti- materialistic views that meant they were not only a subculture but a counterculture. Their passive resistance and hedonistic ideals meant they were dubbed ‘flower children’. Terms such as ‘flower power’ were coined, promoting peace and love, the key ideals of the hippie movement.

Hippie clothing was often adorned with ethnic colours and patterns. The counterculture wished to completely distance themselves from capitalist, American society so by adapting ethnic styles and designs, as well as from different time periods, the peasant blouse and skirt for example, they were able to visually communicate their hate for mainstream culture. Miller supports by stating that the counterculture challenged the prevailing culture and argued that America needed a sweepingly new ethics appropriate to an age characterized by never-ending global power struggles, technology, urbanization, environmental catastrophe and new psychedelic chemistry” (Miller, 2012 pg.XIV). Hippies took strong influences from the native American culture, particularly in their jewellery. Making similar styles of beaded jewellery which often included dream catchers. Fringing was also taken from native American style, as well as the iconic hippie headband. This obsession with native American culture stemmed from the activism that was alive in the 1960’s, including the civil rights movement. Smith argues that Hippies were probably the first non-natives, from the post war generation, to learn about and sympathize with the native American’s grievances and call for reform. (Smith, 2012) Hippies also turned to the east and adopted many of their spiritual beliefs, another example of why they wore ethnic patterns and styles. Issitt talks about the work of Allan Ginsberg, an American poet and one of the leading figures of the counterculture, “in the mid- 1960’s, Ginsberg became famous for his belief in eastern spirituality and was an idol for thousands who had also turned to the east for enlightenment”. (Issitt, 2009, pg. 73). It was people such a Ginsberg that placed importance upon the eastern values and was highly influential to the hippie’s ideologies and therefore style. He “spent years travelling the collage circuit, lecturing about spirituality, speech, and poetry” (Issitt, 2009, pg. 73)

The hippie style was very eclectic, often shopping at thrift and army surplus stores, or even making their own clothes. Often made up of long free flowing skirts and tops. Outfits were made up of a wide range of colours, tactile fabrics and patterns. Because of this outlandish compilation, they were able to celebrate their disregard for so called fashion. This style choice was symbolic of the freedom hippies represented. Rebelling against corporate culture by re-cycling old clothes they made their own standout style disposing of social norms. Lobenthal supports this up when he writes “The hippies’ protest against capitalist society informed their impunity to all received strictures or etiquettes about clothes. They coordinated garments so that harmonies and homogeneity were fractured. Mad, anarchic mélanges resulted. They simulated acid phantasmagoria in their color schemes and paraded recycled old clothes, proclaiming them not as cast-off rags but proudly worn pedigree.” (Lobenthal, 2003)

The Vietnam war played a big part in influencing the counterculture. Strongly opposed, the hippies used peaceful protests and their style to visually communicate their lack of support for the horrific violence. Shopping at army surplus stores meant bell bottoms and old army jackets became very popular. In classic hippie style these garments were changed and up cycled. Often adorned with appliqued peace signs and colourful flower patches which was a hippie’s personal, passive, anti-war protest for the whole world to see. Binkley explains how “the words “peace” and “love” became symbolically loaded terms, lumping together a call for military withdrawal from Vietnam, an attitude of mutual acceptance and trust between people, and a sense of personal awareness and happiness.” ( Binkley,2000). The iconic picture of hippie’s putting flowers in the end of troops guns as part of their peaceful protest really highlights the unique techniques and views of the counter culture. The Beatles psychedelic Napoleonic style military jacket worn in their album from 1966 is a good example of some key influences for the mock military style the hippies adopted.

Both men and women wore long natural hair, often women wore little to no makeup and no bras. All this enhanced the freedom they endorsed, particularly as at the time it was extremely taboo. Hippie’s made an interesting message about equality and stereotypical gender norms within this style choice. As long hair was usually reserved for women, and women were pressured to uphold a certain standard of style. Lobenthal explains this when he writes, “They drew attention to the way that all clothes costume the wearer into roles, some-businessman, housewife-so integrated into the warp of society that they were no longer recognized as constructed characterization.” (Lobenthal, 2003)

Drug culture had a huge role to play on the hippie style. This drug culture also stemmed from the ethnic traditions, where the use of marijuana and psychedelic drugs were considered sacred. This obviously had a huge effect on the way hippies chose to visually represent themselves. From their love for bright flowery patterns to tie dye, which came from upcycling their own clothes. Seen as extremely psychedelic with its bold colours and patterns it is obvious to see why the hippies were so attracted to it. Binkley explains the spiritual influences that shaped the counterculture, “Drugs played a special part in this hedonistic moral rebirth. By “blowing one’s mind,” drugs allowed one to see through the fake values of middle-class materialism and into the profound layers of one’s innermost being.” (Binkley, 2000)

The hippie style was made up of key iconic features that clearly defined the counter culture and made them stand strongly apart from the norm of society at the time. I believe the message of peace and love in everything they did, was the most defining feature of the movement. From anti- war protests to challenging gender stereotypes with their clothing, the hippie’s set of ideals was hugely vivid in their choice of style. Their messages were embedded deeply within their visual communication and became an alternative form of activism, against a society they condemned.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: