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
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
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.
Protest Singers Bob Dylan and Joan Baez
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
Do you like music from the Flower Power era of the late 1960s?
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