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Cannabis & Counterculture: A Stylistic History

What are you wearing to your 4/20 party? This is the last(!) year we'll be treating cannabis as a 'counterculture' as legalization approaches this summer. But cannabis - and fashion - have long been connected to progressive, alternative movements. Here we explore that throughout the decades.

One subgroup historically known for using cannabis? ‘Hippies.’  

Originally a counterculture emerging from the political climate of the 1960s, ‘hippies’ represented things like peace and love, as well as a radical change in fashion and in politics. However, those deemed 'hippies' were also subject to discrimination and stigma; some saw them as drug users and who were anti-authoritarian; a threat to the status quo.

But the term 'hippie' also came to represent a style of fashion which embodied the ideals of being laidback, low-maintenance and open minded. ‘Hippies’ impacted fashion and society as a whole.

What you didn’t know is the long history of where ‘hippies’ came from, and the longstanding connection between cannabis and fashion, which started in the 1920s.

1920s: The roaring clothing revolution

In the 1920s, women’s fashion really began to stand out due to the start of the clothing revolution.

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At this time, young, fashionable ‘flappers,’ who listened to jazz and pushed social norms -- something our ‘hippie’ friends were later famous for -- wore knee-level hems, coloured stockings and large pieces of jewellery, and shockingly, even started to wear pants. Cannabis became illegal across North America between 1916 and 1931, and as we know, ‘Flappers’ were famous for breaking boundaries in terms of prohibition.

1940s: The relaxed jazz lifestyle

In the 1940s, a new BeBop jazz sound started to spread throughout North America, moving away from the swing dancing sounds of earlier years into a faster subtype that evolved with the creativity of young people at the time. These jazzy music aficionados were labeled as ‘hepcats,’ or ‘hipsters.’ Cannabis use was a staple of the very first hipsters -- despite its illegality.

In the meantime, in the next decade, the countercultural ‘hipsters’ basically transformed into the ‘beatniks,’ another counterculture social group often related to and based on jazz.

And you know what goes especially well with jazz, don’t you?

1960s: The flower power movement

By the 60s, the counterculture of the Beatniks had evolved and spread onto college campuses. In response, some cities began to close coffee shops to quell the gatherings of young people that listened to poetry and jazz, causing the Beatniks to take to the streets.

The 1967 “Summer of Love,” when thousands of hippies moved to San Francisco, was the  beginning of a music revolution that included the launch of Woodstock music festivals and spread the messages of cannabis-friendly artists such as the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Throughout all of this, cannabis was slowly becoming more illegal -- in 1962, in Canada there were only 20 criminal cases connected with cannabis.

Towards the end of the 60s, the ‘hippie’ movement of the west coast began to spread into fashion, causing experimentation with colours, patterns and textures with psychedelic and floral features. The early 1970s style evolved into subdued tones, flower-patterned dress shirts, bell bottoms and sandals that we might think of as ‘hippie culture’ today. This was also the first decade of women from all walks of life wearing pants regularly!

But by the end of the decade, there were only a few flowery memories left behind of the hippie era, tinged with aromas of cannabis, and amped into activism.

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In the 1970s, demonstrations such as ‘sit-ins’ and even ‘smoke-ins,’ began to be held by hippies and activists across North America, gathering to protest injustices just as racism, poverty, and the lack of women’s rights. By 1972, in Canada, there were nearly 12,000 cannabis convictions in Canada, an increase of 600% in a decade. Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, the first cannabis coffee shops were being established.

1980s: The hippie switch to ‘yuppie’

With the end of the hippie era, the ‘retro look’ took over: neon signs, clashing colours and over-digitized commercialized fashion style. Enter grunge, glamour wear and the slow disco-fashion die-out, slowly replaced by young urban professionals with the ‘American Dream’ state of mind.

For this period in America, the original ‘hippie’ style stayed deep underground, alive almost exclusively on college campuses. Free-thinking ‘hippie’ styles had been fashionably replaced with a professional-minded workforce.

In Europe, however, the ‘Second Summer of Love’ was held in 1988, from which spawned what might be known as house and electronic music or rave culture -- also heavily integrated in drug and cannabis use.

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2000s: The return of the ‘hipster’

The new millenium fused styles together from ethnic clothing to music-based subcultures, landing comfortably in a ‘hipster’ fashion that recycles vintage looks from grungy jeans, printed tee-shirts and flannel to lace dresses, bell bottoms, rompers and jumpsuits. By 2010, style moved away from bright colours again, replaced with a more intellectual style that we often characterize as that casual, hipster look, with a progression from tee-shirts, jeans and Tweed jackets to bohemian dresses, velvet jackets, flannel and heavy boots, bringing together the ‘old school but modern’ hipster style we see today.

hipster-fashion-cannabis

The word, like many of its slang ancestors, is sometimes used as a derogatory term to describe somebody pretentious or overly trendy, but has also been reclaimed and redefined as a term of pride. And, unsurprisingly, this counterculture subtype is well-known, like the famed hippies before them, for their cannabis consumption.

If you’re a hipster, this 420 look at the past and remember your ‘hippie’ roots! If you’re not, what style do you identify with and why?


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