Ethos and characteristics

Hippies sought to free themselves from societal restrictions, choose their own way, and find new meaning in life. One expression of hippie independence from societal norms was found in their standard of dress and grooming, which made hippies instantly recognizable to one another, and served as a visual symbol of their respect for individual rights. Through their appearance, hippies declared their willingness to question authority, and distanced themselves from the “straight” and “square” (i.e., conformist) segments of society.[68]

At the same time, many thoughtful hippies distanced themselves from the very idea that the way a person dresses could be a reliable signal of who he was, especially after outright criminals, like Charles Manson, began to adopt superficial hippie characteristics, and also after plainclothes policemen started to “dress like hippies” in order to divide and conquer legitimate members of the counter-culture. Frank Zappa admonished his audience that “we all wear a uniform”: the San Francisco clown/hippie Wavy Gravy said in 1987 that he could still see fellow-feeling in the eyes of Market Street businessman who’d dressed conventionally to survive.

A 1967 VW Kombi bus decorated with hand-painting

As in the beat movement preceding them, and the punk movement that followed soon after, hippie symbols and iconography were purposely borrowed from either “low” or “primitive” cultures, with hippie fashion reflecting a disorderly, often vagrant style.[69] As with other adolescent, white middle-class movements, deviant behavior of the hippies involved challenging the prevailing gender differences of their time: both men and women in the hippie movement wore jeans and maintained long hair,[70] and both genders wore sandals or went barefoot.[38] Men often wore beards,[71] while women wore little or no makeup, with many going braless.[38] Hippies often chose brightly colored clothing and wore unusual styles, such as bell-bottom pants, vests, tie-dyed garments, dashikis, peasant blouses, and long, full skirts; non-Western inspired clothing with Native American, Asian, Indian, African and Latin American motifs were also popular. Much of hippie clothing was self-made in defiance of corporate culture, and hippies often purchased their clothes from flea markets and second-hand shops.[72] Favored accessories for both men and women included Native American jewelry, head scarves, headbands and long beaded necklaces.[38] Hippie homes, vehicles and other possessions were often decorated with psychedelic art.

Travel

Question book-new.svg
This section needs additional citations for verification.
Please help improve this article by adding reliable references. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (May 2009)

Housetrucks at the Nambassa 5 day festival 1981.

Travel, domestic and international, was a prominent feature of hippie culture, becoming (in this communal process) an extension of friendship. School buses similar to Ken Kesey’s Further, or the iconic VW bus, were popular because groups of friends could travel on the cheap. The VW Bus became known as a counterculture and hippie symbol, and many buses were repainted with graphics and/or custom paint jobs — these were predecessors to the modern-day art car. A peace symbol often replaced the Volkswagen logo. Many hippies favored hitchhiking as a primary mode of transport because it was economical, environmentally friendly, and a way to meet new people.

Hand-crafted Hippie Truck, 1968

Hippies tended to travel light and could pick up and go wherever the action was at any time; whether at a “love-in” on Mount Tamalpais near San Francisco, a demonstration against the Vietnam War in Berkeley, one of Ken Kesey’s “Acid Tests”, or if the “vibe” wasn’t right and a change of scene was desired, hippies were mobile at a moment’s notice. Pre-planning was eschewed as hippies were happy to put a few clothes in a backpack, stick out their thumbs and hitchhike anywhere. Hippies seldom worried whether they had money, hotel reservations or any of the other standard accoutrements of travel. Hippie households welcomed overnight guests on an impromptu basis, and the reciprocal nature of the lifestyle permitted freedom of movement. People generally cooperated to meet each other’s needs in ways that became less common after the early 1970s.”[20] This way of life is still seen among the Rainbow Family groups, new age travellers and New Zealand’s housetruckers.[73] A derivative of this free-flow style of travel were hippie trucks and buses, hand-crafted mobile houses built on truck or bus chassis to facilitate a nomadic lifestyle as documented in the 1974 book Roll Your Own[74] Some of these mobile gypsy houses were quite elaborate with beds, toilets, showers and cooking facilities.

On the West Coast, a unique lifestyle developed around the Renaissance Faires that Phyllis and Ron Patterson first organized in 1963.

Hippie Truck interior

During the summer and fall months, entire families traveled together in their trucks and buses, parked at Renaissance Pleasure Faire sites in Southern and Northern California, worked their crafts during the week, and donned Elizabethan costume for weekend performances and to attend booths where handmade goods were sold to the public.

The sheer number of young people living at the time made for unprecedented travel opportunities to special happenings. The peak experience of this type was the Woodstock Festival near Bethel, New York, from August 15 to 18, 1969, which drew over 500,000 people.

One travel experience, undertaken by hundreds of thousands of hippies between 1969 and 1971, was the Hippie trail overland route to India. Carrying little or no luggage, and with small amounts of cash, almost all followed the same route, hitch-hiking across Europe to Athens and on to Istanbul, then by train through central Turkey via Erzurum, continuing by bus into Iran, via Tabriz and Tehran to Mashhad, across the Afghan border into Herat, through southern Afghanistan via Kandahar to Kabul, over the Khyber Pass into Pakistan, via Rawalpindi and Lahore to the Indian frontier. Once in India, hippies went to many different destinations but gathered in large numbers on the beaches of Goa,[75] or crossed the border into Nepal to spend months in Kathmandu. In Kathmandu, most of the hippies hung out in tranquil surrounding of a place called Freak Street[76] (Nepal Bhasa: Jhoo Chhen) which still exists near Kathmandu Durbar Square.

Religion

Many hippies rejected mainstream organised religions in favour of a more personal spiritual experience, often drawing on indigenous beliefs and folk religions, among others. If they adhered to mainstream faiths, they embraced Buddhism, Hinduism and the Jesus Movement. Many hippies embraced neo-paganism (especially Wicca) as well.

Politics

The peace symbol was developed in the UK as a logo for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and was embraced by U.S. anti-war protestors during the 1960s (though it is copyrighted). Hippies were often pacifists and participated in non-violent political demonstrations, such as civil rights marches, the marches on Washington D.C., and anti–Vietnam War demonstrations, including draft-card burnings and the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests.[77] The degree of political involvement varied widely among hippies, from those who were active in peace demonstrations to the more anti-authority street theater and demonstrations of the Yippies, the most politically active hippie sub-group.[78] Bobby Seale discussed the differences between Yippies and hippies with Jerry Rubin who told him that Yippies were the political wing of the hippie movement, as hippies have not “necessarily become political yet”. Regarding the political activity of hippies, Rubin said, “They mostly prefer to be stoned, but most of them want peace, and they want an end to this stuff.”[79]

In addition to non-violent political demonstrations, hippie opposition to the Vietnam War included organizing political action groups to oppose the war, refusal to serve in the military and conducting “teach-ins” on college campuses that covered Vietnamese history and the larger political context of the war.[80]

Scott McKenzie’s 1967 rendition of John Phillips’ song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”, which helped inspire the hippie Summer of Love, became a homecoming song for all Vietnam veterans arriving in San Francisco from 1967 on. McKenzie has dedicated every American performance of “San Francisco” to Vietnam veterans, and he sang at the 2002 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Hippie political expression often took the form of “dropping out” of society to implement the changes they sought. Politically motivated movements aided by hippies include the back to the land movement of the 1960s, cooperative business enterprises, alternative energy, the free press movement, and organic farming.[60][81]

The political ideals of the hippies influenced other movements, such as anarcho-punk, rave culture, green politics, stoner culture and the new age movement. Penny Rimbaud of the English anarcho-punk band Crass said in interviews, and in an essay called The Last Of The Hippies, that Crass was formed in memory of his friend, Wally Hope.[82] Rimbaud also said that Crass were heavily involved with the hippie movement throughout the 1960s and Seventies, with Dial House being established in 1967. Many punks were often critical of Crass for their involvement in the hippie movement. Like Crass, Jello Biafra was influenced by the hippie movement and cited the yippies as a key influence on his political activism and thinking, though he did write songs critical of hippies.

Drugs

See also: Spiritual use of cannabis and History of LSD

Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs, California, 1969, sharing a joint

Following in the well-worn footsteps of the Beats, the hippies also used cannabis (marijuana), considering it pleasurable and benign. They enlarged their spiritual pharmacopeia to include hallucinogens such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline while renouncing the use of alcohol. On the East Coast of the United States, Harvard University professors Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) advocated psychotropic drugs for psychotherapy, self-exploration, religious and spiritual use. Regarding LSD, Leary said, “Expand your consciousness and find ecstasy and revelation within.”[83]

“According to the hippies, LSD was the glue that held the Haight together. It was the hippie sacrament, a mind detergent capable of washing away years of social programming, a re-imprinting device, a consciousness-expander, a tool that would push us up the evolutionary ladder.”

Jay Stevens[84]

On the West Coast of the United States, Ken Kesey was an important figure in promoting the recreational use of psychotropic drugs, especially LSD, also known as “acid.” By holding what he called “Acid Tests”, and touring the country with his band of Merry Pranksters, Kesey became a magnet for media attention that drew many young people to the fledgling movement. The Grateful Dead (originally billed as “The Warlocks”) played some of their first shows at the Acid Tests, often as high on LSD as their audiences. Kesey and the Pranksters had a “vision of turning on the world.”[83] Harder drugs, such as amphetamines and heroin were also used in hippie settings; however, these drugs were often disdained, even among those who used them, because they were recognized as harmful and addictive.[68]

Previous Next

Leave a Reply