During the summer of 1967, I was a teenager in Indiana, more interested in a lake vacation, my transistor radio, a boy and the fall edition of Seventeen Magazine than what was happening on the West Coast.
San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, ground zero for the hippie movement, seemed to be in a far and distant land from the conventional Midwest. The world discovered the Summer of Love through news reports from grim broadcasters warning of society’s demise; fashion editorials that were not enamored with counterculture designs, and Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" playing nonstop on the radio. From Scott McKenzie's hit song named for the City by the Bay, I knew that if you went to San Francisco, you better wear flowers in your hair.
Allen Ginsberg, American poet and leading figure in the movement said, "What is called the hippie movement involves an alteration of consciousness towards some kind of greater awareness and greater individuality. Hopefully the future will see a spread of that gentleness and consideration, poetically and artistically.” Fifty years later, as a long-time Bay Area resident, I find myself wondering what happened to the flower power generation and its idealistic goals of peace, harmony and gentleness. I asked my two great friends, Patti Baron and Patty Gavin, to help me discover how it all began, at The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll, a special exhibit at the de Young Museum. To get into the moment, we dressed in our version of "mature" hippie attire: maxi dress (me), peasant top (Patty Gavin) and flowing wide legged pants (Patti Baron). Listening to the audio tour, the exhibit told the story of the movement's roots in art, fashion and rock and roll.
Besides music of the era, the walls are filled with rock posters promoting bands and concerts of the 1960s. Bill Graham and others commissioned posters that became sought after due to their unique brand of bold color, imagery and stylized lettering. The three of us were taken by the amazing fashion displays. The story goes that psychedelic rock band, The Charlatans, was inspired by 19th Century Victorian dandies and Wild West cowboys. Looking for something unique and inexpensive, band members began to wear vintage clothes with a twist. Using San Francisco's storied past and evolving present, the bohemian look was born.
Denim became the statement fabric for the era; jeans were individualized with paint and embroidery. One display shows a design by Peggy Caserta, owner of a Haight-Ashbury boutique in the 60s. Her clients were widening their jeans to fit over cowboy boots by cutting the side seams and sewing in extra fabric, so she took the idea to San Francisco based Levi Strauss & Co. and asked them to produce the wider leg jean for her shop. Amazingly, Levi's listened, resulting in bell-bottom jeans.
Protest buttons from the Summer of Love are a reminder of the era’s social causes. Make Love Not War, Give Earth a Chance and We Shall Overcome are still relevant in 2017. Although the hippie era did not solve the world's problems, it did encourage the women's movement, the birth of the natural food industry, concern for the environment, and sexual liberation.
My friends and I did not experience that infamous summer first hand, but the day spent together gave us new appreciation of a movement that changed the world, and confirmation that you don't have to wear flowers in your hair to visit San Francisco.