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A tie-dyed T-shirt, flared jeans, a jersey maxidress: Closets are filled with such whiffs of hippie, whether vintage or brand new. Either way, the fashion mood they represent hit the mainstream consciousness during those three dirty, sunny, music-soaked days in Bethel, N.Y., from Aug. 15 to 17, 1969, a reminder of the let-loose, come-as-you-are ethos of the era. Woodstock, in its tribal vibe and aesthetic, was the antifashion fashion event — no labels, clothing-optional, and a whole lot of style.
In fact, the unfolding of the hippie-chic look, so often attributed to Woodstock, the 40th anniversary of which is this coming weekend, dates more accurately to the Summer of Love and 1967 San Francisco, where Levi’s and peasant blouses spilled out of Haight Street storefronts and onto Dolores Park frolickers. By the time the look moved east, in 1969, it had been appropriated by a youth culture bent on upending the modest uniforms — knee-length skirts, sheaths, paneled suits — of the early Sixties. (Also, it was incredibly hot that summer, as revelers have attested, which accounts for some of that skin.) “[The hippie aesthetic] was more motivated by an idea that you were going to get away from the whole fashion system,” explains Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “And instead, you were going to express yourself. It’s just that everybody happened to be expressing themselves in very similar ways.”
That expression, of course, was about many things — among them embracing earthiness and DIY style — and while the labels might not have shed a light on any particular Seventh Avenue star, the clothes turned a generation of twentysomethings onto the joys of casual dressing. The annals of fashion are full of hippie-inflected collections (not to mention shownotes and reviews peppered with Woodstock references), from Yves Saint Laurent’s late Seventies haute-hippie “gypsy” line, with its loose beaded gowns, to Marc Jacobs’ spring 2005 collection for Marc by Marc, which featured patchwork knee-grazing dresses and cuffed patched jeans, on over to Anna Sui, whose fall 2002 outing was replete with crocheted babydolls and shoulder bags.
Even those designers whose aesthetics don’t exactly sing flower power felt touched by event. Betsey Johnson, who says she was “too chicken” to attend Woodstock, nevertheless designed clothes at one point for headliner Janis Joplin — velvet bellbottoms and silver tunics — and recalls the do-it-yourself attitude about dressing for the occasion, an approach she considers apt for these economic times. “I think it’s very relatable to right now because it’s doing what you want to do with the stuff you have,” Johnson says.
For the Elmira, N.Y.-raised Tommy Hilfiger, “Woodstock solidified the fusion of music and fashion. It was the moment when I began to look at musicians not only for their music, but also for their style.” Hilfiger was 18 that summer. “[I] vividly remember,” he says, “how the music inspired me to create clothes that embraced this freedom of expression.”
It would seem as though that freedom, an enticing mix of rebellion against sexual norms, military power, and, if one goes by pictures alone, tailoring, are the enduring influence on a contemporary crop of designers, too — those who weren’t even a twinkle in their parents’ eyes while Jimi Hendrix was rocking out. Lyn Devon, a designer known best for her tailored Uptown-girl creations, remembers “watching the footage, girls in loose flowing dresses, tanned and barefoot, a seat of prints and colors.” To Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, Woodstock, with its challenge of the “status quo,” is a reminder of the importance of approaching every collection “with freedom in terms of ideas and execution.”
A dominant theme of the festival was the sense that one could dress “locally” and don a mash-up of pieces, from a beaded necklace bought from a guy on East 4th Street to a blouse embroidered with daisies by one’s great aunt to a pair of crisp 501s suitably worn in after a few days of tent-dwelling. “There’s a mixing element, from all over — different ethnic pieces, with a pajama top, big jewelry, body paint,” says Vena Cava’s Sophie Buhai of the way she and partner Lisa Mayock have created traces of Woodstock in their collections.
Imperfection, another key part of rebellion, strikes a chord. “Mainly I think hippie style was the burst of having dirty hair and being grunge. We definitely love the idea that dirty things can be beautiful,” Buhai notes. And the Nepal-born Prabal Gurung, a designer who skews more ladylike than wash-’n’-go cotton, admits that “rather than the specific styles that they wore during this time, I draw the most inspiration from the underlying themes of women’s liberation and female empowerment. Woodstock is about being strong, standing up for what you believe in, taking risks, and not just accepting things at face value,” Gurung continues. “To me, that is how I see fashion could be and how I design.”
Back to the festival: It was a long three days, requiring comfort and durability, which the Costume Institute’s Andrew Bolton also attributes to the ushering in of recyclable, reusable duds. “Ecological fashion was something the hippies very much forefronted,” Bolton says, adding that Woodstock itself was the most visible upending of “clothing etiquettes.”
“The mid-Sixties were still pretty much bourgeois,” he says, “and recycling clothes, and the tactility of those clothes, the exposure of the body, made [Woodstock] one of the most visible forms of subcultural dressing.”
Ticia Agri, who was the assistant to Woodstock producer Michael Lang and 24 at the time, recalls precisely what she wore. “Working, I wore jeans — there were only one or two brands back then — a halter top, a hat to keep the sun and rain off my face, given to me by Joyce Mitchell [a fellow staff member] and a man’s watch and cowboy boots,” she says. “During the three days I might have added a shirt.” Agri, who is played by Mamie Gummer in the upcoming Ang Lee film “Taking Woodstock,” is now a meditation teacher and Rolfing therapist in New Hampshire (a post-Woodstock career if there ever was one). She says that the clothes she wore in those years have been “gleefully” recycled, not in some SoHo vintage store but by her daughter, who discovered her tie-dyed pieces in the attic.
Further proof that, at this festival, the clothes set a casual movement in motion. And the Woodstock fashion beat goes on.
STYLED BY ROXANNE ROBINSON-ESCRIOUT AND KIM FRIDAY; PHOTOGRAPHED BY TALAYA CENTENO AT BRIDLE HILL FARM, JEFFERSONVILLE, NY; MODELS: BETTINE AND HEIDE LINDGREN AT MUSE, KELLEY LYNCH/ROCKET GARAGE, ADAM CRIGLER/MAJOR AND WILL LEWIS/RED; HAIR BY SEIJI FOR TRESEMME; MAKEUP BY TALIA SHOBROOK AT THE WALL GROUP; PHOTO ASSISTANT: SUSANNA PATRICK; HAIR ASSISTANT: NAOKI OKAYASU; FASHION ASSISTANT: LANI TIBERGHIEN; ACCESSORIES ASSISTANT: ELISSA ROBERTS