There was an odd year in 1995 when Sid and I moved from Connecticut out to San Diego. He had left Ralph Lauren and had taken on a couple of freelance gigs – a swimwear line called ROWDY that the photographer Bruce Weber had envisioned; a random golfwear thing in Tennessee. The next thing was in California, and though I hated selling our sweet little federal style Yankee house with the winding staircase, the idea of "going out west" felt romantic, if not exactly practical, and we were young at the time, so – why not? We said goodbye to the house, packed up our three girls, and moved to San Diego.
It was a wonderful year - the beach, the zoo, the parks - and my job carting around a 5-, 3-, and 1-year old was heaven. The sky was always blue and there were all these beautiful pink flowers all over the backyard of our rental house. Bougainvillea. I didn't know what it was called and I had to muster up the courage to ask a neighbor. The whole thing felt adventurous. But before the flowers and before all the places to entertain small children, my first impression of our new life came when we stepped off the plane at the San Diego airport. Sid was there to greet us – he had already started working – and the girls rushed up to him. As he scooped up one of them, my eyes went straight to his feet. Birkenstocks! I had never seen him wear Birkenstocks before. He had the clog ones on – the "Boston" style (named, I suppose, for the colder weather there?) I could not get over it. He looked so cool. Preppy on top in a striped button-down, but hippie on the bottom in these new shoes, and he looked relaxed and happy and at ease. This place was going to be great. I had used the term preppie-hippie years earlier, but this was a new iteration, and at the time it seemed to perfectly represent the East Coast-meets-West Coast-ness of our new life.
I did not immediately run out and get a pair for myself, but 25 years later I am thinking it might be time. We made an elevated version at our tiny shoe factory in Northern Italy. (I know what you're thinking – they have assured us that they are all fine and healthy and thriving in their small, family-owned business. We are so grateful.) This is a riff on the Arizona style, the open-toed one with two straps, only it's made of croc-embossed leather with a sporty white sole and a chic stacked leather part layered in between. (I love black and light brown together.) I think they are perfect for right now. The weather here is a bit all over the place… burning hot one day, and then high 40s the next. So you can go bare, with your toes out, and embrace the springtime, or really step up the hippie thing and sport some cute socks with them if it hasn't warmed up. They might be my favorite shoe of the season – you just put them on and your cool factor jumps up five degrees. They look great with sweatpants… jeans… and if you want to show off your legs, they bring a sundress's sweetness down to a slightly less prissy level.
It may not have been Birkenstocks, but I have been sporting the two-strap look for a long time. In 1999, I had one of my girls carefully trace my foot with a pencil to send off to Barbara Shaum, a sandalmaker and leatherworker in the East Village. Barbara was the original hippie if there ever was one. She started her business in the 1960s in that very spot on East 4th street, and she was lovely and grumpy and always did things her own way. (Her other claim to fame is being the first woman allowed in McSorley's.) Sid became friendly with her way back when he was working for another designer, and luckily for us she adored him enough to allow us to sell her sandals when we opened our own shops. We were her only wholesale account ever – somehow he talked her into it. They are incredible and mold to the shape of your foot, and I would even say that they have a healthy amount of arch support. I have traipsed around so many cobblestoned streets and soccer fields alike in mine… they eventually grew more comfortable than bare feet! Sadly, a few years ago, Barbara passed away at the age of 86, but a couple of longtime apprentices have kept the tradition going. My favorite line of hers came when I called to order a second pair, and she just asked – why? Wow. (For the record, they really do last for ages, but I wanted a backup.)
If you're after a less sporty look, there are a few chic sandals with very 1970s-feeling stacked heels and topstitching. You still get the hippie vibe – especially with a flared pair of jeans - but with a bit more height. Another trip into hippieland is my favorite Paola bucket bag, trimmed with fringe. I have a camo one I have carried all winter but I am thinking this might be a good transition handbag… even if it is only for my occasional trips to the pharmacy and the grocery store! For your top half, the queen of elevated bohemian, Isabel Marant, has given us the go-ahead to sell her Étoile things online while our stores are temporarily closed. I am so used to flipping through these pieces in the store (until last week, they were only available in Atlanta and DC) and have been delighted to instead scroll through them from my computer! Silver linings. I am choosing between the Viviana and the Vivia, but the Valda is great too if you like a button front. And of course, almost everything from Ulla Johnson fits the theme, too - have at it. The thing about these kinds of tops, though, is that they are so easy and forgiving in shape… but we hear a lot of women say that they don't want quite so many ruffles or exaggerated sleeves. I have mentioned this top before, but we specifically designed the Cecilia shape with exactly this person in mind – it is a pared-down peasant top shape. Just as easy, but more refined, and you still get the hippie vibe with the tassel ties.
One last hippie-chic suggestion for the Novelty-Top-averse… there is this Britni Sweater that we brought back after it was a hit last spring. Nothing screams California to me more than cotton crochet… not that I would have been caught dead in a crochet bikini. (Lycra is so… helpful.) It reminds me a bit of that beach-crazy brand Hollister. They really captured that West-Coast-hippie mall vibe. We generally stayed away from Abercrombie when my girls were younger – I was born with the prude gene and found all that overt sexuality a bit embarrassing – but Hollister was like the PG version that didn't smell quite so strong, and it more or less scratched the same itch for them. The buildout and merchandising of those stores really was fantastic. Dark, cool, cavelike… it made me want to shake the sand off my feet and light a clove cigarette. Anyway, for a slightly slouchy cotton sweater that feels like grown-up beach hippie – Britni is it.
In this season of remoteness, we can't travel far in real life, but we can go anywhere we want in our minds. Picture yourself back in the 70s, whether you were there or not in the first place. Maybe fire up Google Image search and and browse some pictures of your favorite style icons from that time. That will give you a spark, but it won't feel like a costume if you just think of your own life and reality right now. Most of us are at home, and this is PERFECT homewear. Loose, easy shirts… soft jeans… sandals easy to slip on if you need to run outside and get the mail. You may only be dressing for yourself, or your family, but you can make it fun, I promise.