Picture a Gap commercial, with dancing celebrities wearing the clothing we now consider classic: khakis, striped tops, leggings, Ray Bans. This style has it’s roots in the “Beat Generation” literary movement of the 1950s to mid-1960s. The Beat poets, musicians and artists had a style that was in opposition to the 50’s middle class look of crinolines and rhinestones for women, corporate clothes for men. The Beat aesthetic was anti materialistic; they consciously avoided consumerist fashions, adopting more egalitarian, simply styled clothing . The Beats developed an understated look that captured a cool, casual view of trends.
The key to Beatnik style is avoiding fuss – keeping things simple. Let’s look at two avatars of beatnik style, trumpeter Dizzy Gilispie and poet Diane DiPrima.
Men of the fifties creative class wore corduroys or jeans, button-down shirts, and sport coats, which is essentially the semi casual uniform of the midcentury young adult. Add in some thick/dark glasses, a beret, loafers and lots and lots of black and you have a style that we now call classic.
For women, it’s pencil skirts, stirrup pants, black capris or cigarette pants worn with an over sized sweater, cowl neck or slim boat necked top and flats. Now and then, a Mexican skirt or peasant top might be part of this look. Hair would be either very short like a young Shirley MacLaine or long with bangs, like French actress Anna Karena. Showy jewelry or consciously couture looks ran the risk of coming off too bourgeois.
Of course, the anti fashion look became fashionable and the counterculture itself became chic. Here is a wonderful ad for stockings that trades on the beatnik look, including a bottle of chianti on the checkered tablecloth:
In contrast to the photo at the start of this post from the Goddard film Band of Outsiders, here is Hollywood’s version of fifties hipster cool from the movie Funny Face: