The beatnik look of the 1950s and early 1960s tried to capture the attitude of the Beat Generation as a movement that was anti-materialism and anti-mainstream culture. Just as the beatniks sought freedom in music, literature and self-exploration, their fashion reflected less concern with appearance and more attention to the inner workings of people.
The Beat Generation took its name from the idea that young people were downtrodden, exhausted and disillusioned with the materialism of post World War II America. It was an attempt to reach intellectual and spiritual enlightenment by accepting loose, free-flowing development, whether it was music, literature or drug use. As a result, beatniks embraced freeform jazz, open verse poetry, modern art, cutting edge literature and liberal politics.
The beatnik look, like rebellious movements before and after it, chose black and other monochrome clothing to set themselves apart from mainstream culture. In the 1950s, women were generally ultra feminine, wearing multi-layered petticoats under circle skirts as well as frilly accessories. By contrast, beatnik women wore tight-fitting pants and thin pencil skirts, with tight turtleneck or leotard tops. Beatnik men likewise wore clothing counter to the popular culture, such as tight pants, turtlenecks and European-style berets and scarves. Both men and women avoided flashy jewelry and women often chose heavy black eye makeup and stark red lips rather than the peaches and cream current makeup trends of the day.
Mainstream culture for the 1950s chose clean-cut men and feminine women. Therefore, the beatnik look evolved as a direct contrast to those standards. For men, longer hair and goatees reflected a European artist influence popular with beatniks. Women avoided salons and the teased beehives. Instead, they wore their hair long and unadorned.
Although stereotyped in film and television, the beatniks developed their own kind of slang to express themselves. Words like "cool," "hip," "pad," "cats," "kittens" and "Daddy-O" were often inspired by jazz musician's slang and used in everyday life.