Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion/American Counterculture

By Andrew Andrews

The Performance section of MAD’s Counter-Couture exhibition includes clothing worn by performance artists of the late 1960’s counter-culture movement.

Being too young to have known life in the sixties first-hand, it’s hard to imagine the clothing of the era as anything other than costumes for an American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. But to those who grew up in those tumultuous times, the threads on your back were, as they can be today, an important expression of personal identity, political opinion and even self-sufficiency.

Today, a new exhibit at The Museum of Arts and Design (a.k.a. “MAD” or “The MAD Museum”) helps us put the unique clothing trends of fifty years ago into context. Labeled Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture (pun intended), this exhibit highlights the meaning and purpose of home-grown fashion in hippie culture. Invited to the Members Opening Reception, we just had to check it out!

Upon arrival, the lobby was jammed with guests. Although many of them were, like us, too young to have known the style as anything but hand-me-downs or the clothing we saw on old TV reruns like The Partridge Family or The Brady Bunch, lots of others were there to recall the glory days of their youth, dressed specially for the occasion in favorite “groovy” outfits full of studs, fringe and everything crafty. Of course, there was plenty of tie-dye, too!

The exhibit itself is divided into sections across two floors, featuring, for example, mannequins donning complete ensembles worn by performers at famous music festivals and the winning entry in Levi’s® Denim Art Contest, sponsored in part by MAD (under their previous name, The Museum of Contemporary Crafts). During the opening, the floors were peppered with similarly-clad “living relics” of the era, creating the effect that many of the exhibits had come to life. We don’t know if there will always be costumed docents present during the run, but if anyone from the museum is listening: it seems like a great idea!

Whether you experienced the hippie movement personally or simply want to indulge in a blast from the past, Counter-Couture is a must-see retrospective of what was arguably the grandest protest period of the last century. 3

Andrew Andrews attended Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion/American Counterculture at Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 @ 7:00pm to write this review.