Summer of Sartorial Love

A new MFA exhibit shows how hippie garb went haute couture.


Photographs by Ronald Traeger, courtesy of Tessa Traeger and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (“Fashions and Interior by the Fool at the Beatles’ Apple Boutique”); courtesy of David Nutter and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Tommy Nutter); © 1971 Rex USA and courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (“Patrick Litchfield wearing Mr. Fish”).

“Hippie Chic,” the name of the latest exhibit at the MFA, conjures up thoughts of macramé and patched jackets. But this show—which runs from July 16 to November 11—actually explores how that era’s haute couture and ready-to-wear fashions emerged from the ’60s counterculture. “We’re not showing the real street hippie,” says the exhibit’s curator, Lauren Whitley. “We’re not showing someone’s embroidered jeans or homespun stuff, but how all of that was incredibly important in percolating up to high fashion.” This means visitors won’t see a collection of Grateful Dead T-shirts, but they will see a tie-dyed silk-velvet pantsuit by the legendary ’70s designer Halston. The hippie movement’s influence on the era’s high-end apparel makes sense: Revolution and protest were in the air, and it’s a designer’s job to embrace new looks. Besides, it’s not like the couturiers making the clothing were the stone-etched icons they are today. As Whitley points out: “Yves Saint Laurent was a young guy in his early thirties then, and he very much wanted to feel the pulse of the time.”

The loudest pulse, of course, was rock ’n’ roll, and “Hippie Chic” showcases outfits from the iconic London shops where the rock stars got their duds, like Granny Takes a Trip and the Beatles’ Apple Boutique, which is pictured at left (the blonde is Pattie Boyd, who would later marry George Harrison and, after that, Eric Clapton).

In order to make sense of this delirious time for fashion, Whitley and her team have dressed more than 50 mannequins that show the progression of styles from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Amping up the grooviness quotient even more, each mannequin will be fully accessorized with vintage boots and scarves and have custom-made afros, mutton chops, and lanky flaxen locks. “This is the first fashion exhibit where we’re going to use wigs,” Whitley says with a laugh. “We just felt they wouldn’t look right bald.”