How to be a Hippie - Flower Power, Peace and Love, and the Alternative Culture of the 1960s

Bard of Ely as he once looked when he was a Hippie

The Hippie look
The Hippie look | Source

What does the word Hippie really mean?

What is a hippie (hippy)? The term may well bring to mind a bearded young man with long hair and weird clothes that goes to music festivals. Everyone has their own ideas of what a hippie is and the term really came into common use when the media started using it to describe rock festival-goers at the tail-end of the 1960s. The ‘Flower Children” of the time became hippies in press reports.

In the late 1950s there had been the Bohemians and Beatniks and they were the forerunners of the hippie movement in many ways. The Beat Generation was a term that had come to be used and many authors and poets became identified with this, writers such as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.

Loosely the term hippies meant young people who were involved in the alternative culture of their day. They were the people who didn’t fit in and some became dropouts. These were people who were looking for a different way of living. These were the cultural dissenters. Peace, Freedom and Protest were of great importance but psychedelic, experimental and progressive rock music, hippie fashions, mysticism and meditation, communes and new ways of living, all fitted into the bigger picture as well.

Peace and Love were what hippies were hoping for in the world. The summer of 1967 became known as the “Summer of Love.” The media featured reports of “love-ins” in which hippies were said to indulge in orgies of sexual promiscuity.

Many people are still attracted to the idea and ideals of what being a hippie means but times have changed and are changing. There are old hippies who have held on to their ways of looking at life and who were around in the ‘Swinging Sixties’ but there are also many who have become respectable members of mainstream society that once they protested about.

But let us look at what being a hippie means and has meant to those people who have been called hippies.

Cool in the Kaftan

Bard of Ely in a kaftan
Bard of Ely in a kaftan | Source

Hippie fashions - flares and tie-dyes

Flamboyant and eccentric ways of dressing were very much a part of being a hippie. It was about expressing yourself in an individual and artistic way, it was about showing rebellion in your dress codes and that you were not part of ‘straight’ society.

Ethnic clothing and garments that showed and Eastern mystical influence were popular and the kaftan was in this category. Kaftans were very different to normal Western-style clothes. A kaftan could be unisex. It was a loose-fitting garment, it was colourful and could have embroidery and an oriental look.

Tie-dye clothing became very popular too, especially t-shirts. This is because every tie-dyed shirt was unique. It expressed individuality. It also looked very ‘cosmic’ and psychedelic. You could “Do your own thing” by dyeing your own t-shirts and take pride in your creativity and self-expression. It was a very do-it-yourself form of looking fashionable. Or you could buy a tie-dyed shirt already made.

Flared trousers and loons were an important part of dressing as a hippie. These were trousers that flared out towards the bottom of the legs. Many people made their own flares by cutting up the seam at the end of the trouser legs and then sewing in a triangular insert of some contrasting material of their choice. This flared the bottoms of the trouser legs and looked flamboyant.

Denim jackets and denim jeans were popular too and so was the practice of bleaching them deliberately. It was possible to create whitish blotches on your denim by splashing with bleach. You had to be careful you didn’t burn a hole though if the bleach was too strong.

Holes in clothes were OK though because then you could patch them up. Patched jeans were very ‘cool.’

Buying clothes from charity shops was a great way of getting hold of some colourful clothes at a very cheap price. Many modern-day hippies still shop at these stores.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

 Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at 1963 March on Washington by USIA (NARA)
Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at 1963 March on Washington by USIA (NARA) | Source

Politics and Protest

The hippie movement was very much about changing the world. The Vietnam War was in the news and a reminder of how insane the human race was. Anti-war protests and demonstrations were a big part of the idea that you could do something to cause change. These demos expressed the idea of the power of the people and they expressed rebellion against a sick world that had been seen as the norm.

Mainstream politics was seen as a massive part of the problem. Anger was voiced at the greediness and unfairness of how the world was being run.

Bob Dylan became very much a figurehead for the protest movement with his outspoken lyrics in songs like The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Masters of War.

Social protest by way of squatting abandoned properties became not only a way of life but was seen as something that could be done to bring about change in a sick society.

The underground press with magazines like OZ and the newspaper IT often featured stories about revolutionary political groups and ongoing campaigns.

Timothy Leary's Turn On speech

Drugs and Mysticism

Many people were experimenting with drugs of all kinds. There was the commonly held idea that drugs could free your mind. LSD. Mescaline and other hallucinogenic drugs were seen as spiritual tools to help us evolve and to reach enlightenment. Former Harvard professor Timothy Leary came to fame for telling the world to “Turn on, tune in and drop out.” He advocated LSD as a key to understanding ourselves.

Along with the use of drugs as tools for understanding came an interest in Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Many Westerners travelled to India in search of gurus and new pathways to understanding the spirit.

This was partly because people were in many cases growing away from the patriarchal religions like Christianity. They were looking for answers and a new way of living. They were also following in the footsteps of their idols like The Beatles who briefly became followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The interest many were showing in yoga and meditation and Eastern religions led on to many parts of what has become known as the New Age teachings.

Bard of Ely on TV talking about dope smoking in the 1960s

The Beatles: Parting Ways - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Alternative health, therapies and diets

Besides a growing interest in Eastern religions and esoteric spiritual practices a lot of people began looking into and using alternative healthcare and ways of taking care of mind and body. The Macrobiotic diet and various forms of Yoga were introduced to the western world. Vegetarianism was something else that became popular.

Sixties Music and Music Festivals

Pop, Rock and Folk music played a massive role in the defining of what hippies are because the media started calling those people who gathered at music festivals by the name of hippies. Woodstock and the Isle of Wight were massive festivals at which many famous acts appeared, acts such as Jimi Hendrix who revolutionised guitar-playing with his on-stage antics and wildly distorted sound.

Bands started wearing flamboyant clothes with flower-power shirts and ties, flares and kaftans. Hair was long and beards were in. Psychedelic rock like that of the Grateful Dead and pop songs like I Can Hear The Grass Grow by The Move were very much part of the cultural change of the time. The Beatles switched from smart Beatle Jackets, knitted ties, tabbed shirts and fringed haircuts to long hair, full beards and hippie-style clothes. Their albums were tailored to the times with titles such as Sergeant Pepper and singles like Strawberry Fields Forever.

Bands like The Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine emerged in the late 1960s and quickly became popular because they broke boundaries by experimenting with sounds. Weirdness was in in whatever way it manifested.

Singer-songwriters armed only with a guitar became very popular. Cat Stevens, Donovan and Joni Mitchell were some of these singers and writers who became internationally famous at the time. Mitchell is famous for her environmental protest song Big Yellow Taxi.

Songs about protest and peace became hits. John Lennon and Yoko Ono became known as peace activists. The Plastic Ono Band released Give Peace A Chance, a single that has become an anthem of the Peace Movement.

John Lennon - Give Peace A Chance

Flower Power and Swinging Sixties era music poll

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Alternative lifestyles

Many hippies liked to travel and hitch-hiking was one of the cheapest and most popular ways of getting around. You could go a long way by just thumbing a lift.

People also began to move away from the idea of living in a house with all the problems of paying a mortgage etc. Besides squatting, already mentioned, communes were often started and other people began looking at ways of living directly on the land. Tipis (Tepees) like those in Tipi Valley in Wales were one way of opting out of mainstream society.

Has the world changed?

Much of the artistic and cultural changes initiated in the late Sixties infiltrated mainstream society and are still with us today. Hairstyles and fashions that were once shocking no longer have that impact.

Colourful and psychedelic art has often been used in advertising, in furnishings and elsewhere.

Ginseng, which was once a herb that hippies used and was quite difficult to get, is on sale at all health counters now.

Transcendental Meditation, which was once something that only went on in ashrams in India where holy men and gurus lived, is now used all over the world and a famous film director like David Lynch is known for being an advocate of this practice.

The hippie revolution really did change the world!

© 2014 Steve Andrews

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Comments 26 comments

Nils Visser profile image

Nils Visser 22 months ago from The Low Countries

Nice one, thanks.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 22 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Very interesting, nice take and great history lesson. It seems funny to think of the days of being a hippie as now historical.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 22 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for commenting! Historical as a lot of it now is there are still hippies about both young and old.


Nils Visser profile image

Nils Visser 22 months ago from The Low Countries

I have a writing project planned for the mid-eighties, and CJ Stone's books have instilled in me a fascination with sub-cultures. Hung around with New Age Travelers in caravans and buses in the early nineties, living in a caravan myself again now. It's more than just the 60s I think.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 22 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Yes, it is ongoing in many ways though perhaps not so easily seen. Glad to hear you know Chris Stone's books. You will have read about me in them. If you want to ask me anything about my views on the mid-1980s ask away.


Nils Visser profile image

Nils Visser 22 months ago from The Low Countries

I will later this year when I get to that project, thanks!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 22 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

OK, I look forward to hearing from you when you are ready.


M L Morgan 22 months ago

Your writing as made me want to put on some flares and grab my tambourine. I love hippies! Thank you for sharing!


DreamingBoomer profile image

DreamingBoomer 22 months ago from Jackson, MS

I have never known the "backstory" of hippie-ness. Very interesting!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 22 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for posting, ML and DreamingBoomer!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 22 months ago from East Coast, United States

I read that the original hippies were professional people and artists who became interested in alternative life styles. They lived together in large, decrepit Victorian houses, investigated philosophy, music from around the world, and Eastern religions. When the new lifestyle was publicized, it began to attract the "drop-out" crowd looking for free love and drugs. Which is where we get the idea of the shuffling, doped up, dirty hippie. That original concept was beautiful, educational, and mind opening. I love the old hippies! (Do you still play the banjo?)


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 22 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for your feedback about this! Yes, the original ideas behind it were good ones.

I am afraid I no longer have that banjo but only play guitar now.


colorfulone profile image

colorfulone 22 months ago from Minnesota

I loved reading your hippie article. That was a great era and some tremendous music and art that was created by some very gifted artist.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 22 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for appreciating my hub and saying so!


Edna and Earl profile image

Edna and Earl 22 months ago from The Cliffs of Insanity

I haven't been on hub pages in FOREVER...and this was the first article that really caught my eye! And I found it pleasantly as interesting as it appeared and even more informative than iI was expecting. Thank you for writing!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 22 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank YOU for enjoying my hub so much!


Virgo Rouge profile image

Virgo Rouge 17 months ago from New York, New York

The world has changed. There is not much focus on peace and love but jut survival now. Love the colourful clothing and arty pictures. It was a wonderful era. I am glad you could experience it sober ahah mean this. Not many hippies were sober. : )


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 17 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for commenting! Yes, you are right about the world.


Virgo Rouge profile image

Virgo Rouge 17 months ago from New York, New York

I went to the house an interesting person today who hangs out with the composer of the musical Hair. He wrote all the songs for Hair like Aquarius and others. This person that I met is a musician who built a studio in his house and loves music. He's good...I wanted to tell you this because I can't wait to meet the composer of Hair..and he lives right down the street from me. He was in the park the other day watching me do cartwheels..because he and my new friend were watching me ahahah. I love Hair...that was one of the best musicals...I can't wait to meet him. He is much older now..all these wonderful Hippies from that era, really created a wonderful time for us all. Are we still in the age of Aquarius? I am very much like a hippy but I am iconoclast in general.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 17 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

That will be a really interesting meeting for you! Yes, Hair was a wonderful musical!


Virgo Rouge profile image

Virgo Rouge 17 months ago from New York, New York

Galt Mac Dermott (composer of Hair) , I think that is his name. He is one of my favorite composers of the kind of music that he has written. I think he is from Quebec. He is up there in age now..but I want to meet him. He lives very close to my house here. I watch Hair videos a few times a year to get that hippy feeling back into my life...My friend that I just met at the park who has the studio..was sitting with him the other day..he the composer of Hair must have some brain. That was an amazing musical. Those were the days of intellect. Right now I am listening to Spanish Caravan, The Doors. I love them. Robby Kreiger is my favorite Hippy guitarist...I love Spanish flavor. I really think it is amazing that you are in Portugal to listen to that gorgeous Latin music...amazing! Like you are Bard, I am a bit obsessed with Hippydom, that era...I watch retro videos all the time, wishing I were back in the sixties...seventies..


Virgo Rouge profile image

Virgo Rouge 17 months ago from New York, New York

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06X5HYynP5E You need a fifth dimension video here. The age of Aquarius. One of the amazing pieces of music ever to be composed. Lyrically too, this song was beautiful. This song takes me to outer space..without drugs. Galt was such a fantastic composer..he still is since he is still alive..I will let you know what he is like when I meet him ..hopefully in the next few months..


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 17 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for these posts! Yes, please keep me updated on what Galt is like. I tend to watch retro videos a lot too.


Virgo Rouge profile image

Virgo Rouge 17 months ago from New York, New York

I definitely think that fashion sets a mood and attitude in a society. I love the long Kaftan that you had on with the hood. the black one...it was beautiful. People are afraid to be colourful, animated, or alive..right now in history

People are not into poetry today but taking selfies from their smartphone.

Times change but we can still be into what we want to be into..wear the clothing we want to, and wear our hair how we choose to, regardless of styles changing for the worse. Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding, rather than rough and tough people who are hyper masculinized. Peace out.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 14 months ago from Queensland Australia

Oh how I looked on in envy at the hippy lifestyle. I was only born in the very late 50s so was just a little too young to make my own decisions in the height of the hippy movement. By the time I left school I had been encouraged to have a steady job ready to walk into and the opportunity for an alternative lifestyle never presented itself. Finally now after retiring from work due to my wife's health I am living a semi-alternate lifestyle on a 40 acre property in a rural community. I have studied Permaculture and have a certificate in Permaculture Design. We grow our own vegetables, have chickens and believe in renewable energy and recycling. No drugs and love ins however :) very interesting hub, voted up. (Great kaftan too)


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 14 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for your comments, Virgo Rouge. I agree with the points you make. Thanks for posting too and voting up, Jodah! Sounds like a great life you have now.

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