A Few Folksy Fashions

Far out outfits from the Haight-Ashbury

A man and woman embrace while standing near a pick-up truck in a public park in the Haight Ashbury area of San Francisco, California, in 1968. Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty

Jeanne Colon is a thin, vaguely Polynesian-looking girl who lives in the Haight-Ashbury and makes clothes, mostly for musicians. If you walked into her house, you might see her sitting on her bed wearing an intricately embroidered shirt from the Yucatan and a pair of "peyote pants" she made herself, winding gold braid around a Dr. Strange collar on a cape for Peter Albin of Big Brother & The Holding Company–a stiff, shiny gold collar that would stand up behind the wearer's head, outlining his face with points and curves.

"Isn't it far out?" she says. "Far out, Mommy," agrees her three-year old daughter Amber Rose.

She is, as she says, "really on a clothes trip. I have this theory; I believe if you can free your body you can free your mind." The test of her clothes is that wearing them should be easy; ideally you should feel naked in them. "I used to be dragged by the kind of clothes I had to wear," she says. "They were constricting and uncomfortable and didn't seem as though they had been designed for humans. Clothing is like breathing; it should be a natural, easy thing to have happen."

She calls the clothes she makes "organic": made of natural fabrics, most of them washable rather than dry-cleanable, in flowing, comfortable styles that fit the soft round curves of the body rather than molding them into geometric shapes. Her basic styles for men are "peyote pants," pants that wrap around at the top and have no buttons or zippers, a variation of the pantalones worn by Mexican peasants, and collarless, pullover shirts, a style she probably originated. The shirts are made mostly in velvet or velour, trimmed with colorful ribbon, and each one is unique. She dislikes pockets because "they ruin the line of the clothes, but I do put in watch pockets and stash pockets," the latter "in secret places."

The logo for New Age Creations, Jeanne's company, is a snail, the spiral of its shell. A symbol for eternity, and a snail because Jeanne had her training in marine biology. She did her undergraduate work at San Jose State and almost finished a master's degree at University of Miami, but quit because she felt it was "segregated by sex. I was dragged because I was always in competition with them; I wanted to love them."

Even now she says, "I don't dig making clothes for girls. In every species the male is the one with the beautiful plumage. Men are really beautiful creatures. I enjoy dressing them because they look so gorgeous in bright colors."

After she left Florida, she "hid out at Big Sur for three years and learned about reality." She got into making clothes for rock musicians when Ron McClure of Charles Lloyd ordered a shirt from her. Now she dresses the entire Quartet. On the jacket of their Journey Within album, all the members of the band are seen dressed head to toe (except for Charles' jacket) in clothes made by Jeanne.

"One night while I was at a dance digging Charles Lloyd I ran into one of the Rascals. I said, 'That's a nice shirt, but why don't you buy some shirts from me?' I made some clothes and eventually sent them to New York, and Felix liked them so well he said, 'Wow, baby, you can make anything you like and bill me.'" Last fall the Rascals flew her to New York as their guest to make them some clothes.

Felix of the Rascals is, like Jorma Kaukonen, one of the special customers who completely trust Jeanne's judgment and for whom she makes what she wants. "For the people I really care about, I make hand-embroidered shirts. I don't figure I can sell hand-embroidered shirts, so I give them. They're embroidered all in symbols. Really they're good luck shirts. I told Jorma, you don't even have to wear it, just have it with you." She also does a lot of bartering, trading clothes for records and posters with some of the bands.

"The rock people are the most fun to dress," she says. "They have the bread, and they can afford to wear outrageous clothes because everyone expects them to. Rock people are some of the few people who can feel really comfortable in far-out things." As well as being decorative, her clothes are designed for the more practical aspects of being a rock musician. "What the clothes are like depends on what instruments the guys play. Some guys need reinforcing on the shoulders for guitar straps; shirts have to big in back so musicians can move around a lot; and drummers need really lightweight clothes because they sweat so much. All the linings of my clothes are of cotton, because synthetic linings would make you sweat more. The linings may not look as aesthetic as those in the stores, but they're more practical."

Jorma, Jack and Paul of the Airplane, the Charles Lloyd Quartet, and Felix of the Rascals are among Jeannie's customers. At the moment she also has orders from all of H. P. Lovecraft, Harvey and Buddy Miles of the Electric Flag, Peter Albin, and some of the guys in Butterfield. But she's still not completely satisfied. "Put this in your article," she said. "I really want to make a shirt for Jimi Hendrix. He's a person I really have some ideas for. Maybe he'll read this and come to me."