Graphic by Leslie Lee

Agnes Volland

10 March 2024
It’s the cusp of spring, and Haight-Ashbury is already in full bloom. Kaia and I step off the 7 bus and the main strip is an explosion of colors, lined with smoke shops, markets, record stores, tibets, and vegan burger joints. Street vendors peddle beaded jewelry, crystals, incense, and sheets of LSD. The murals are an escape from everyday life, an homage to Wonderland, Oz, and Neverland—rainbows and mushrooms and flowers and twinkling stars. Once the epicenter of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, Haight-Ashbury is now a thrifting hotspot, a day trip for college students seeking an excuse to blow their savings on second-hand leather jackets, and Kaia and I are no exception. We spend the afternoon sifting through racks of tie-dye, graphic tees, bralettes, and patched denim.

Today, counterculture is stereotyped as sunshine-inflected and colorful, a movement fueled by psychedelic rock and drugs, associated with movies like Almost Famous and Easy Rider. Growing up, I idolized Stevie Nicks’s bell-sleeve tops, Janis Joplin’s tinted sunglasses, and Penny Lane’s iconic fur coat. Pinterest associates the hippie aesthetic with Volkswagen vans, bouquets of wildflowers, and chakra stones. Flower children string together daisies, walk barefoot through grassy meadows, and pop acid squares on camping trips. An ideological movement that arose in the midst of political turmoil is now aestheticized, materialized, a fashion statement associated with bell bottom jeans, floral skirts, tie-dye, and loose jewelry.

Counterculture began as a revolt against mainstream culture, specifically pertaining to politics, sexual orientation, and artistic modes of expression. The hippie wardrobe was similarly a divergence from the clean-cut, formal look that dominated 1950s fashion, composed of saddle shoes, poodle skirts, and button-up cardigans. Counterculture deemed it “cool” to reject social norms, and consequently, the hippie wardrobe—which rejected traditional etiquette regarding fashion—became the epitome of “cool” style in the 1960s, popularized by icons like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Nicks, and Janis Joplin.

Hippies celebrated sexuality through revealing or loose-fitting garments, using thin, natural fabrics like silk and linen. In line with sustainable practices, they often recycled vintage garments and old fabrics. The hippie wardrobe was intertwined with the environmentalist movement that spurred during the 1960s, which recognized how the fast fashion industry is linked to air pollution, excessive waste, and proliferation of chemicals in waterways. Thrifting and hand-me-downs were popularized, and hippies accessorized outfits with hand-plucked daisies, iron-on patches, and handmade jewelry. Because the hippie wardrobe was “naturalized,” it was impossible for high-end, designer brands to replicate. However, it did give rise to disco, which dominated the late 1970s and early 1980s. The disco wardrobe was composed of strapless tops, flare pants, and platform boots. The hippie wardrobe emphasized sexual liberty, and disco merely dialed up the sex appeal with sequins and sparkles.

Counterculture in the 1960s reflected a naive optimism, a failure to balance idealistic visions with practical realities, as well as a failure to advocate specific changes within the political and cultural sphere. The hippie aesthetic is a reflection of this naive optimism. Its emphasis on natural beauty, childlike wonder, and mysticism reflect a mere privilege to “live outside the law.” Playing into cultural appropriation, “hippies romanticized indigenous and eastern cultures—without considering the suffering of poverty—for their lack of modernity, experimenting with communal living and imaginary bohemia, creating an artificial marginality” (Maldonado). (1) Evil eye jewelry, Native American patterns, and feathered headbands were often integrated into outfits. Music festivals such as Coachella and Stagecoach have popularized the boho wardrobe, also influenced by the hippie aesthetic and composed of suede fringe vests, cowboy boots, and feather headbands. The boho wardrobe exemplifies a broader trend in the Western world of appropriating elements from other cultures without fully recognizing or respecting their origins. Ironically, most boho-inspired garments are produced by low-paid workers in developing countries.

Despite its anti-consumerist roots, today, hippie garments are mass-produced and sold by fast fashion brands. A “hippie” search on Shein will lead you to an endless array of halter tops, flare-sleeve dresses, and peace sign-printed baby tees. In his thesis on the commodification of hippie culture, Zachary Graham writes that “what had once been considered a serious ideological or philosophical movement became increasingly defined solely by distinct material cues.” (2) While the legacy of counterculture lives on in modern society, it is commonly recognized in a material context: NO2 balloons and hand tie-dyed shirts sold outside Dead & Co. shows, an Urban Outfitters psychedelic-inspired spring collection, a dancing bear-printed beach towel.

Haight-Ashbury is becoming increasingly gentrified, with upcycled boutiques, breweries, and chain restaurants replacing historic coffee houses, apothecaries, and tattoo shops. Tourists flock to Haigh Ashbury for an increasingly commodified version of the past. While you can still buy a tin can of pre-rolls from Pipe Dreams, or a bundle of incense from the Twisted Thistle, or an American Beauty CD from Amoeba, culture and capitalism now clash at the epicenter of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.


(1) Maldonado, Devon Van Houten (2018) “Did the hippies have nothing to say?” BBC, May 28, 2018

(2) Graham, Zachary A. (2022) “Shakedown Street: The Grateful Dead and the Commodification of Hippie Culture” Honors College Theses, April 12, 2022