I absolutely adore Beatnik style. The Beatniks for me conjure up images of seriously cool cats and kits in the late 50’s early 60’s. Effortlessly cool and stylish in their black, stripes & denim. Androgynous in their silhouette, think Audrey Hepburn dancing in ‘Funny face’. The 1957 film, directed by Stanley Donen, presented Beatnik culture, with the coffee shop conversations, jazz music and the mighty Beatnik style. The Beat movement existed in the post war years of counterculture as creativity blossomed in poetry, novels, music and artwork. The style was seriously fabulous!
* Image via Pinterest – Audrey Hepburn in a scene from Funny Face, 1957
Origins of the Beatniks
The term ‘Beat’ came from Herbert Huncke, a writer and poet, who used it in conjunction with the underground slang “beat” for beaten down or downtrodden in the underground world of drugs, hustlers and petty crime. ‘Beatnik’ was a term used by Herb Caen, a San Francisco Chronicle columnist is 1957. He wrote “Look magazine hosted a party for 50 Beatniks, and over 250 bearded cats and kits were on hand”. It is thought the he combined the term ‘beat generation with the Russian Space missile – Sputnik 1. The Beatnik crowd were not impressed. Allen Ginsberg, the poet, wrote “the foul word Beatnik”. The Beatnik term was basically a media created word and none of the Beat writers wanted to be associated with it.
* Image Via Pinterest – A vintage Apache Roman stripe stocking ad from 1960
The Beatnik Writers
Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs dominated the literary world at this time. Jack Kerouac wrote ‘The Beat Generation’ in 1948 to describe the underground world and anti conformist group of people he was hanging out with in New York. He was observing the post war tough times following WWII and he saw a connection between his generation and the lost generation post WWI.
Kerouac then went on to write the celebrated ‘On the Road’ in 1957, with Ginsberg writing ‘Howl’ in 1956 and Burroughs writing ‘Naked Lunch’ in 1959. This mighty trio was hugely influential at this time. By the end of the 50’s, the terms ‘Beat Generation’ and ‘Beatnik’ had stuck and were becoming familiar within mainstream life. People were inspired and wanted to be a writer or a poet and rebel against the constraints of American society.
* Images via Pinterest – clockwise: Edie Sedgwick & Allen Ginsberg, poets Michael McClure, Ginsberg and Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs
Jack Kerouac on Beatnik culture
In “Aftermath: The Philosophy of the Beat Generation”, Kerouac wrote:
The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late Forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way—a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word “beat” spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America—beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction. We’d even heard old 1910 Daddy Hipsters of the streets speak the word that way, with a melancholy sneer. It never meant juvenile delinquents, it meant characters of a special spirituality who didn’t gang up but were solitary Bartlebies staring out the dead wall window of our civilization…
The Beatnik Attitude
The Beat generation were against materialism. The counter-culture of the post war years focused on the inner self rather than what they regarded as ‘shallowness’ of material possessions. Some Beat writers, such as Alan Watts, began to delve into Eastern religions such as Buddhism or Taoism. Politics tended to be liberal, left-wing and anti-war.
The Beatnik Music
The soundtrack of the Beatniks was modern jazz. Kerouac and Ginsberg spent a lot of their time in New York jazz clubs such as the Royal Roost, Minton’s Playhouse & Birdland. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis rapidly became what Ginsberg dubbed “Secret Heroes”. Cool dudes playing the Bongos are often seen in vintage photos from the underground venues like the Gaslight cafe, in Greenwich Village.
* Images via Pinterest – Left: Dizzy Gillespie in round horn glasses, beret and goatee Right: Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
The Beat philosophy of anti-materialism and soul-searching influenced 1960s musicians such as Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, the Grateful Dead, the early Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. It is considered that The Beatles, used the word Beat, in their name as a way of reference to the movement, instead of using the insect spelling of The Beetles.
* Images via Pinterest – Clockwise: The Beatles in the early days, Ringo Starr & Astrid Kirchherr, Andy Warhol and Nico from the Velvet Underground and Mick Jagger.
The Beatnik style
The underground youth of America wanted to be seen outside the mainstream. In the late 50’s, American women were wearing billowing hour-glass skirts under the heavy influence of design houses like Christian Dior. The Beatniks embraced a simple streamline silhouette. Androgynous style was seen in the Greenwich Village clubs. Men and women wore black berets, dark sunglasses, black roll neck sweaters and the iconic black and white stripe top. Cigarette pants and brogues along with denim and white shirts, looked effortlessly cool and were a stark contrast to the curvy silhouette in luxe fabrics parading on 5th avenue. Bloody fabulous in my book.
* Images via Pinterest – A Beatnik girl dancing on the table, Audrey Hepburn and Edie Sedgewick
This underground style gradually went on to influence mainstream style and fashion and not just within New York. The epitome of the French Beatnik influence style queen has to be Francoise Hardy and Brigitte Bardot in the early 1960’s.
* Images via Pinterest – Françoise Hardy and Brigette Bardot
The Modern Day Beatnik Style Queens
Alexa Chung & Kate Moss ring the modern-day Beatnik bell for me. They ‘own’ their style. Never afraid to be themselves, they wear luxe pieces thrown together with old denim. They scream ‘effortless’ as they embrace the notes of a monochrome wardrobe palate. Their personality, cool persona, ‘finger on the pulse’ talent has them ringing the bell for todays Beatnik look.
* Images via Pinterest
Bella Freud the Beatnik Design Genius
I’m a huge fan of Bella Freud. Absolutely bloody love her designs and have written blog posts about her genius creations here and here . One of Bella Freud’s iconic knit wear pieces is her infamous ‘Ginsberg is God’ jumper. A firm favourite of Kate Moss and……..me! I love the story she tells of its creation, on her website bellafreud.com
“I made a short film with John Malkovich called Hideous Man about Beatnik girls waiting around at a club for their favourite poet to arrive for a reading. I wanted the leader of the group to wear a jumper showing her devotion to literature and art, a bit like a band t-shirt. I was throwing out names with my assistant, and Ginsberg is God tripped lightly off the tongue. ‘But what about Godard is Dog, I mean God?’ she said. Godard is Dog is what is written on the back of the jumper.”
These are the pieces from her range that scream Beatnik to me!! I love the little nod towards: Nico (The Velvet Underground), classic Beatnik stripes, the great beatnik poets and the mighty monochrome tones.
Channeling your Inner Beatnik
When considering pieces for your Beatnik influenced wardrobe. Peek at these iconic classics of the Beat generation movement. Don’t forget your: beret, fisherman cap, black sunnies, stripe tops, black tops, black turtleneck, black leotard, straight leg jeans, black slim trousers, mens jeans, brogues, flats, pointy flat boots, loafers and ballet flats. Bingo……you’re a Beatnik!
How I wear mine……
The nod towards the Beatnik poet, Allen Ginsberg. Here is the new Bella addition to my wardrobe thanks to some lovely birthday pennies from my parents! I absolutely bloody love it. A classic in the ‘Flic’ wardrobe. xx
Wearing: Bella Freud Ginsberg is God jumper, The Castings crop flare jean from Aritzia, Zara pony hair pointed flats and aptly holding the 40th anniversary copy of Jack Kerouac ‘On the road’. Don’t I look bloody clever?! not really, I confess its my husbands copy!
The nod towards the stripe and beret from out of the shadows. No Goatee beard but apparently, give it a few years, that will be something to look forward to?! wtf?!
Wearing: Black Aritzia beret, Zara stripe top, Levi 501c, Zara stud brogues & Asos Cat eye sunnies.
I think we all have a little style nod to the Beatnik style in our wardrobes. What’s in yours?
Thanks for reading.