Today, counterculture is a term used to define any cultural movement with values and morals that are opposed to those of the established society. However, the term was first used in 1968 to refer to the political and social movements taking place on many American college campuses, which sparked the hippie movement and have had an enduring influence on both fashion and art.
During the 1960s, in response to the Vietnam War, many American youth took up new values and beliefs that were contrary to those of their parents or of the governing parties. Young students expressed their opinions on college campuses with rallies and antiwar demonstrations. They also attended music concerts which focused on fostering values of love and peace. This new culture of rebellion became associated with an alternative lifestyle characterized by drug use, liberal values, sexual freedom, and political involvement and protest.
The counterculture movement focused on political and lifestyle philosophies, and style provided a way of expressing these values visually. The movement claimed that American values had been corrupted by a capitalist and materialist culture, and they sought to experience life outside of these paradigms. Any statement which broke from the expected societal norm was preferable. Clothing visually broke from societal expectation, and clothing styles were free-flowing and relaxed. Art was similarly rebellious, and the counterculture embraced the use of new art mediums.
Artists who were influenced by the countercultural movement tended to favor alternative modes of expression. Conceptual art, earthworks, improvising and performance art were all part of the counterculture's art scene. Artistic expression extended into their lifestyle and musical tastes as well. At the time, the VW bus was seen as a symbol of the counterculture, and many people would repaint their buses with unique graphics. Artistic expression through music favored psychedelic artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. Many people also performed music casually as part of their lifestyle, playing songs on guitars at home or at small social gatherings.
The values of the counterculture were manifested visually in the group's fashions and style. Visual statements of rebellion included long hair, tie-dyed garments, loose-fitting prairie dresses or tops, and flared pants or jeans. In a statement against consumerism, many members of the counterculture opted to buy vintage items or shopped at flea markets. Grooming also strayed from the social norm, and long hair and beards were common among the group. In an effort to appear more natural, people wore sandals and homemade jewelry. Women usually abstained from makeup and often did not wear bras. These modes of dress became known as the hippie aesthetic, which still endures today, although usually in a more restrained form. Flared pants and other hippie styles have gone in and out of fashion over the years, and many fashion designers cite the 1960s as an influential period of personal style.
Stacey Howell has a bachelor's degree in English and media studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She currently works as a writer in New York City, and has covered fashion for various blogs and publications, including "BARE" and "Twenty6 Magazine."