Lauren Whitley
MFA Publications, Boston, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Fashion Design
10.8 x 8.3 inches, hardcover, 152 pages
ISBN: 9780878467952
Suggested Retail Price: $35.00

From the Publisher. The 1960s saw a revolution in fashion that was born, like most things new and hip in that era, of youth rebellion in the streets. For the first time, designers didn't dictate the trends. Instead, the latest looks trickled up into the top fashion houses (Halston and Yves Saint Laurent among them), by way of bohemian boutiques and avant-garde labels with names like Granny Takes a Trip and Cosmic Couture, and musicians like the Beatles, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Defying easy definition but becoming an international phenomenon all the same, hippie fashion twisted and turned from trippy to retro and crafty to ethnic. The accompanying idea that one can express a personal style with clothing went against everything about the previous generation's notion of matching suits or ladylike ensembles dictated by social class or profession. Sumptuous photography, dynamic design, and far-out images from the era make Hippie Chic a must-have book that goes past peace signs and patchouli to unearth how hippies forever changed the way fashion functions.

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Norman Weinstein

Perhaps the most discerning and fair-minded reviewer of this exhibition catalogue for the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston’s wildly popular textiles and fashion exhibition “Hippie Chic” would be someone who didn’t actually experience that decade wearing some of the clothing represented in this show. On the other hand, this reviewer, having been there and done that, is quite enthusiastically willing to deal with the multiple virtues and vices of this catalogue, facets that might be overlooked by those who have simply studied the era with a degree of scholarly detachment and generational distance.

As curator of the MFA Boston’s impressive collection of 45,000 textiles and costumes, Lauren Whitley brings a generous awareness of the forerunners of sixties garb, particularly the sinewy Art Nouveau roots of the wildly patterned, shockingly colorful, psychedelic dresses, blouses, suits, and robes of the time. She is equally sensitive to the DIY trends in which those without fashion design training reconfigured indigenous people’s clothing designs that soon became appropriated by mainstream fashion houses and publications. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and The Beatles, familiar musical icons of the hippie era spanning the mid-1960s to early ’70s, appear in their rainbow-hued and dazzling splendor, along with many obscure and forgotten figures. Swirls of radiantly layered leathers, beads, and fringe, often on shirts and jackets androgynously contoured, emphasize the era’s spirit of surrealistically exotic hedonism.

Where Whitley trips (sorry about that!) herself up occurs through her questionable categories of “Trippy Hippie,” “Fantasy Hippie,” “Retro Hippie,” “Ethic Hippie,” and “Craft Hippie.” In actuality, the designs inspired by drugs, music, and indigenous peoples, and neo-Art Nouveau accents constantly intertwined, and were juxtaposed as well as even superimposed on one another in both individual and group wardrobes. Although Philippe Garner in Sixties Design (TASCHEN) puts sundry varieties of hippie fashion under one sprawling chapter heading of “Pop Culture – Pop Style,” an arguable category, I think it does less harm to the anarchistic spirit of hippie chic than Whitley’s hair-splitting that fragments a complexly knotted zeitgeist into sentimental moments of fad fashion.

Hippie clothes were about shout-out abstract color masses with Pop Art sinewy typography in motion. This was clothing intended to dance in when going to a Joplin or Hendrix concert—not clothing worn to emulate the look of musical stars. To dance in hippie clothing was to become a human kaleidoscope. Seeing it on pale white mannequins enervates instead of stimulates.

But I’m holding on to my copy of Hippie Chic nevertheless. It makes me wish I had never given away my purple velvet cowboy shirt or my Peruvian poncho that seconded as a dandy’s cape.

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