It has been nearly 25 years since the Summer of Love blossomed in Golden Gate Park, and tie-dyed, beaded, bell-bottomed and barefoot became the uniform of a generation of self-proclaimed freaks and flower children.
At the epicenter of this style revolution was the hippest corner of them all--Haight and Ashbury, a few minutes' stroll from the meadow in the park where, on June 21, 1967, the likes of Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead played a free concert to usher in a hopeful era of peace, love and joy.
Except that the jeans are mostly straight-legged now and the street crowd is more homeless than hippie, it could still pass for 1967 at the famous intersection. It's the ultimate time warp, a nonstop costume parade, a year-round Mardi Gras, a curious mixture of then and now.
Now, as then, anything goes.
"Clothing yourself is a means of expression," said Cornelia Reich, a German-born merchant with two clothing shops on Haight Street. "It's almost like painting a picture."
Indeed, in the 1960s, fashion trends practically bubbled up from the streets. Designers and department-store buyers came to Haight-Ashbury to sketch the Indian-cotton dresses, dashikis, wildly patterned mini-dresses and embroidered denim. Then they translated them for Middle America. Hence the Gypsy look, the peasant look, the layered look.
Much of that goes on today in the Haight, even if rainbow-haired punksters and Dockers-clad suburbanites--many far too young to remember the distant war that spawned the peace symbol as fashion statement--mingle with the neighborhood regulars.
To be sure, there are monumental differences. Perhaps the most obvious is the presence of the Gap, which moved in a few years back, right at the famous crossroads. Such an Establishment chain store on Haight would have been unthinkable in the psychedelic '60s. But this store bustles and "brings a better-quality customer to the street," said Alex McMath, owner of one of the Haight's many vintage clothing and memorabilia shops.
The idea at many of the area's other shops is to play up the unusual nature of the wares, with proprietors describing them as innovative, exclusive, unique, alternative.
At Dharma, brightly flowered velvet mini-dresses mingle with updated tie-dyed tops and skirts in dark jewel tones and batik jackets from Indonesia. The cotton and rayon clothes have a handcrafted feel and are moderately priced.
"Fashion has gone full circle on styles and hemlines," said owner Jackie Wilson, who sold beads to Joplin and a love medallion to Smokey Robinson in the '60s. She numbers many mother-and-daughter duos among her customers.
Across the way at Reich's Solo Fashion, flower power takes on a new meaning in long, romantic--yet somehow contemporary--rayon chiffon dresses by Alexander Brown of Los Angeles. Dresses by Citiculture, also of Los Angeles, are long or short, and lacy without being frilly. A deep-purple fringed suede jacket described as a "Groovecoat" was, at $374, one of the costliest items in the shop.
Reich showcases her own Solo Cornelia line down the street at her intimate smaller shop, also called Solo. Other lines at that store include Kweejibo by Cindy Cho and Resilience by Jeannette Iacopi, young Bay Area designers. Both shops feature whimsical hats.
"Our customers like the fact that the clothes are not mass-produced," Reich said. Some styles, she added, are one of a kind.
For the rock 'n' roll crowd, the Haight offers Backseat Betty and Daljeet's, with avant-garde lingerie and studded black leather. And then there's Distractions, a '60s throwback with the aura of a head shop, featuring tie-dyed T-shirts, psychedelic posters, Guatemalan shirts and clouds of incense.
So much the same, yet somehow so different. Freedom of choice seems to be what the Haight is all about.
"I still believe Haight-Ashbury stands for tolerance, openness and compassion," said Wilson of Dharma. "It is a Mecca for people from all over the world."