Mankind's first ornaments were leaves, flowers and strings of beads. Examples of beads have been dated to Stone Age caves and ancient burial mounds. And we can string the pattern of civilization by following the progress of man as he carried and traded beads across many continents.
The '60s brought beads back into light and into fashion when flower children chose to exchange love beads as a token of universal understanding. Now that same spirit of simplicity has captured a new generation.
The children and grandchildren of that flower child generation are now adopting some of the styles and values of that naive time. There is a new appreciation of workmanlike, unpretentious clothes in natural fibers and traditional patterns.
"The customers who buy our beads are more sophisticated now. They're not all hippie craftsy. They may wear radical chic one day, country blue jeans and cowboy boots the next, a flowing earth mother dress on weekends or a top label suit to work," says Bronwyn Thompson-Henry, owner of Beadworks in Fells Point, one of the new bead shops that have sprung up in the area in the last year.
Fashion magazines and love beads are not necessarily strangers now. Top designers are showing a new global sensibility and drawing from rich patterns and shapes found in the bazaars of the world. They bead bustiers in wood and shells, they trace blouses with passementerie and wrap skirts and hems like a pareo or sarong.
"Now that they're seeing elements of the flower child look in the magazines, some of my customers say, 'I wish I had saved my old things,' but the look is a little different now," says Elsie Ferguson, owner of Something Else boutique in Mount Washington, which specializes in clothes and accessories with a hand-crafted look.
"The look is being worn by youngsters and some of the same generation who wore it the last time around and never stopped. I, of course, never stopped," says Ms. Ferguson.
"Some of the youngsters are dressing just like hippies from way back then, right down to the Birkenstock sandals," she says, "but the tops are a little looser."
She says her customers have a worldly fashion sense. "They know about printed sheers from India, Indonesian pattern, and Ikat weaves and they are very sophisticated in putting together an eclectic look. They're being creative and not at all afraid of mixing texture and patterns."
Ethnic looks can be seen in the city and the suburbs. There has been a renaissance in African-inspired fashion and city street vendors are stocked up with Kente cloth designs in clothes and accessories and African amber necklaces.
"What wasn't around the last time were harem pants in Indian prints, but they're very popular now," says Ms. Ferguson.
What has come full cycle is tie-dye. She says she sells a lot in T-shirts and shorts to the pre-teen crowd. But among her best sellers are tie-dyed infant and toddler sets.
Perhaps the cute tykes are even singing "Kumbaya" in kindergarten.