The Summer of Love: Still Relevant Fifty Years Later!

Fifty summers ago, in 1967, 100,000 youngsters converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. What began as a concert in Golden Gate Park developed into the Summer of Love and the resulting Hippie Movement that changed the United States, and the world, forever.

I heard about it, of course, and, like everyone else, associated it with sex, drugs and Rock & Roll. But I didn’t really know the details, and never thought any of it was relevant to my own life. The Summer of Love felt far removed, something that happened at a great distance and long ago.

Recently I visited the excellent Summer of Love exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, and realized just how wrong I was. Cruising through the exhibition, guided by the many signs and the audio guide (highly recommended!!!), I learned that what happened fifty years ago actually shaped my own life (and yours, too!)  in ways big and small.

The young hippies rebelled against what they considered to be the constraining lifestyle of their parents (think 40’s and 50’s), and against the Vietnam War. Their rebellion involved lots of drugs and free love, yes, but also a shakeup of concepts related to religion, lifestyle, art and fashion. As you might imagine, I found the later two to be the most interesting.

Graphic artists began designing new kinds of posters during the Summer of Love. At first they drew them by hand:

Then they started printing them, inventing new printing techniques on the way. Their posters drew elements from old circus posters, among others, and were meant to express the experience of being on a drug-induced trip. That involved using bright, neon colors, and juxtaposing contrasting colors with the explicit intention of irritating the eye:

Influenced by tie-dyed clothes, some artists began experimenting with tie-dyed canvases. This beautiful piece, for example, is by Marian Clayden:

Hippie art found its most creative outlet in fashion. The fashion of the 1950’s involved tailored, tight-ish outfits. The hippies were going for loose, flowing clothes, designed to make the wearer feel as if they were wearing nothing at all:

Whereas many clothes in the 50’s were made out of polyester (an exciting new material that was invented during WWII, at the beginning of the 40’s), the Flower Children wanted to go back to natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and linen (in essence, they rebelled against a material that was relatively brand-new, but seemed ancient to them since their parents used it). They turned fashion into art, and broke all the existing rules of color and texture. They incorporated textiles from all over the world into their clothes, often from several cultures in one outfit. By doing so they expressed their growing interest in foreign (mostly Eastern) spirituality and religions. The outfits in the picture below, for example, have Indian, Thai, Panaman and Chinese motifs, to name some:

Many outfits at this time were hand made, hand painted, hand appliqued, hand embroidered. This hospital scrub, for example, decorated by a “bad trip” patient, must have taken numerous hours to create:

The hippies took a staple, iconic American piece of clothing, jeans, and tweaked it. In essence, they were the inventors of denim art (not to mention bell bottoms!):

They incorporated art into each and every item of clothing, such as these boots, which were made by hand for drummers:

This applied to accessories as well. This purse by Linda Gravenites, for example, must have taken days to embroider:

The Flower Children brought crocheting into the limelight. Although this isn’t one of my favorite art media, I couldn’t but appreciate the work and creativity that went into making some of the exhibited pieces. The pictures below is of a wall-sized bed spread:

Sadly, not all was sunny and happy during the Summer of Love. The exhibition sheds light on some of its darker sides, too. As a parent, the below poster, for example, broke my heart. These are pictures of runaway teenagers that parents from all over the country sent to the SF police, in the hope that they would find their kids:

And the following announcement talks of other dark aspects, such as rapes, STDs and “Bad Trips.” The latter were drug-experimentations gone wrong, which sent many Flower Children into hospitals and months-long recovery (hence the elaborately embroidered hospital garb shown above):


Have you taken a yoga class or tried meditation? Did you ever shop at Whole Foods or buy organic foods? Are you taking nutritional supplements? Are you recycling, composting or upcycling? Do you own any Anthropologie, Free People, Urban Outfitters or Sundance Catalog clothing? Do you wear a fashionable pair of jeans? If so, you are the unknowing beneficiary of the Summer of Love! Many aspects of our current lifestyle, it turns out, are a direct result of the hippie movement!

On a more personal note, I left the exhibition realizing that ANY Texture would not have been what it is had the Summer of Love not happened. Eco-friendly art? Sustainable accessories? Purely handmade items? Bright colors? Ethnic fabrics? Denim art? Turns out, to my great surprise, that ANY Texture has everything to do with what happened far away and long ago! The Summer of Love is still relevant. It’s relevant to you, to me, to all of us!

If you are curious to learn more, the exhibition runs until August 20th. Just make sure to get an audio tour! If you go, please go ahead and post your impressions in the comments 🙂

One last suggestion: If you do see the exhibition, go grab lunch (or dinner) at Haight-Ashbury. Some things haven’t change much over the last fifty years…

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