The freaky high school fashion of the hippie era, 1969

The high school fashion of 1969.
The high school fashion of 1969.

These photographs, taken for LIFE magazine in the fall of 1969, explored the “freaky new freedoms” of fashion seen on high school students across the United States. Some of the women show the strong influence of the “hippie” movement—long hair, beads, fringes and bell-bottoms. Others wear outfits that connect to psychedelia—luminous colors and loud patterns. Some have even fused elements of both—and more—to create their own personal expression. The shoot focused almost exclusively on women, but the few men who can be seen, by contrast, are wearing clothes almost indistinguishable from today. Their hairstyles are a different matter.

Cultural transformation was an irresistible force during the Sixties, and across America and around the globe civil rights, women’s and gay liberation, the sexual revolution and, of course, the explosive soundtrack of R&B, soul and rock and roll informed everything from politics to fashion.

Unceasing change, meanwhile, is the one constant in human affairs — and by the 1960s, technology had advanced to the point where events and movements in one corner of the world were instantaneously accessible on campuses and in communities everywhere. As global telecommunication networks grew at-once larger, faster and more sophisticated, America grew, in a sense, much smaller. The vast and near-visionary national highway system had spread across the country in the post-World War II years; more households than ever owned a car (or two); and for the first time, plane travel was becoming a viable option for many American families. Over the course of the 1960s, air passenger numbers more than quadrupled from the previous decade.

This mobility opened both literal and figurative vistas to countless Americans — and even if most weren’t able to drive to Haight-Ashbury, or explore the Far East in person, they certainly saw these places on television and in the great photography being published in myriad weekly and monthly magazines and, increasingly, in newspapers. Fewer than a million households owned a TV in the late 1940s; two decades later, that number had increased more than forty fold. The August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech; the immediate aftermath of JFK’s assassination (and MLK’s, and RFK’s); the Vietnam War; the 1969 moon landing — all of these era-defining people and moments, and so many more, were broadcast into living rooms from Maine to California, Alaska to Florida.

By 1969, America’s youth had not only soaked in more visual and auditory stimuli in a few years than most previous generations combined, but had re-imagined virtually all of that input in the form of sartorial self-expression. In light of that new, global sensibility, Beverly Hills high schooler Rosemary Shoong’s homemade “stunning leather Indian dress” (pictured below) wasn’t just a dress. It was a time and a place, man. And it was out of sight.

Beverly Hills High School student Rosemary Shoong, in a fringed dress she made herself. Rosemary memorized the pattern of a store dress and made this one within 24 hours. Her dress cost $14.95, the store one—$95.
Beverly Hills High School student Rosemary Shoong, in a fringed dress she made herself. Rosemary memorized the pattern of a store dress and made this one within 24 hours. Her dress cost $14.95, the store one—$95.
Woodside High school teacher, Sandy Brockman.
Woodside High school teacher, Sandy Brockman.
Corona del Mar High School students Pam Pepin, Pat Auvenshine, and Kim Robertson. All wear Pucci tights.
Corona del Mar High School students Pam Pepin, Pat Auvenshine, and Kim Robertson. All wear Pucci tights.
Southern California high school students.
Southern California high school students.
Student Lenore Reday, Newport Beach.
Student Lenore Reday, Newport Beach.
Two Southern California high school students.
Two Southern California high school students.
Woodside High School students.
Woodside High School students.
Southern California high school students.
Southern California high school students.
A Southern California high school student.
A Southern California high school student.
A Southern California high school student.
A Southern California high school student.
A high school student marching band and a trio of women students.
A high school student marching band and a trio of women students.
A trio of Woodside High School students.
A trio of Woodside High School students.
A group of Beverly High School students.
A group of Beverly High School students.
A high school student among other classmates while wearing black bell bottoms.
A high school student among other classmates while wearing black bell bottoms.
Beverly Hills High School student Erica Farber and an unidentified friend.
Beverly Hills High School student Erica Farber and an unidentified friend.

(Photo credit: Arthur Schatz / LIFE magazine).

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4 comments
  • Wow, remember the days when the self=improved jeans were hip and all. So inspired times, so special, never to come back…

  • These “freaky new freedoms” of fashion seen on high school students across the United States….that is quite not true since it only focus the FASHION in California. In New York, where I attended high school the fashion was TOTALLY different borrowed from the Mod Scene at Carnaby Street in London…the look was or we though it was sophisticated…. Swinging London Style.

  • Many of what was worn in California was worn in Long Island .N.Y.I was really younge at the time but remember my older brothers friends wearing this style.It flowed into the 70s as well.

  • Wonderful times & changes with everything! I loved the clothes & wore any crazy new fashions I could get!
    The bell bottoms on girls jeans & pants got bigger, dresses got shorter. Hair was blond as possible & curls were OUT! Music was so varied and good, and cassette tapes came out the following year. Wild & fun times…. Just loved it!

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