Before there were hipsters, there were Beatniks. Arguably the mid-century’s best dressed counter culture, The term was given to hip youth in their early twenties looking for an edge in the late 1950s and early 60s.
The Beatniks were known for their existentialism and intellectualism. In fact, the name came from the “Beat” generation. The term was mostly annointed to the kiddos who read Kerouac and Sartre. They were pretentious and fashionable – a perfect recipe for starting powerful style trends. Today, their style influences several subcultures. Getting creative with the Beatnik style is a great way to add some vintage spice to your everyday attire. Integrate staples of the era into your modern wear, or go full-throttle with a full outfit inspired by the mid century’s rebellious young adults.
In the early ‘60s, women’s body ideals were girlish. Young women like Twiggy were defining the colorful pop culture at the time, while stars like Audrey Hepburn (seen below) were the pixie dream girls of Beatnik couture.
All Black Everything
The Beatnik crowd had to have been some sweaty folks in the summertime. Donning all black was an easy way to reject the popular pastels of the time and instead say “forget the system and read a book!” To really achieve the look, one should opt for a goth-like look (minus the makeup). A black shirt, black slacks, some penny loafers (preferably black), and sunglasses will get you the Beatnik look no problem. If it’s a little chilly out, opt for a plain black satin jacket, blazer, or cardigan. Finish the look off with cigarette pants and some ballet flats.
Check out actress Jean Seberg is this funky, striped boat neck tee. This look was all the rage for students reading Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir – two influential french philosophers and writers in the 1960s. For the striped top, boat neck is best, but if you can snag a loose crew, that will do, too. Most shirts were long sleeve or paired with a blazer or black satin or cotton jacket. Lastly, try and stick to thinner stripes – bold print was not in the Beatnik’s repertoire and too large of stripes could be considered flashy.
The Beatnik kids were too cool for any light – they’d even wear their sunglasses inside. Circle frames were the most popular style and everyone had a pair. Some classic rectangle frames will work just fine.
This Beatnik staple quickly shuffled into the mainstream thanks to hip celebrities donning the underground style. Here’s Marlon Brando with the iconic black turtleneck that defined the subculture. Take note of the bongos – those little drums were an absolute indie hit in the 1960s. To sport this look now, make sure the weather is right and pair with some chino pants.
If there was anything Beatniks were shooting for, it was avant-garde. Like most “hipsters,” the goal was subtle and achieved with angst and purpose. Look like you are smart, but don’t over do it. This was a great opportunity for young fashionistas to chop their locks off as an act of rebellion in the name of art and independence. Men grew their hair out into mop tops – often even longer.
If you’re a dude lucky enough to grow a hefty beard (or, if you’re going to give it a shot anyways) – now’s your chance to sport the look. A rejection of constructs like shaving was huge in the Beatnik community. Some were maintained carefully while others were left to go wild. Whichever you choose is up to you as long as you pair it with some retro shades and a faux cigarette.
Berets are the French hat. In the early 1960s, everyone was going gaga for french intellectualism and a beret was a great way to show you were up to speed on philosophy and culture. These hats are easy to find at your local thrift stores or on Etsy.
Next time you’re stepping out to a local coffee shop or pub, don some Beatnik essentials to look wise and cool. This culture’s fashion is nearly timeless thanks to its use of neutrals and simple ensembles – so it’s truly easy to pull off! (Well, maybe not the beret…)