In North America's current age of macramé plant holders, macrobiotic food, and ayahuasca ceremonies, the baja jacket is overdue for a mainstream revival. Its earthy, handmade texture and faintly shamanic silhouette appeal to a culture inspired by Instagram photos of adobe interiors and alternative theories of wellness.
Not that the woven hooded sweatshirt ever really went away. The baja hoodie has a timeless quality. Though it is iconic of 70s surf and drug culture, it is also an ageless signifier of life on the fringes. Present at 1969 Woodstock and at 2016 Phish shows alike, it represents enduring Anti-Establishment beliefs and, most prominently, a deep-seated appreciation of marijuana. Hence the garment's alternate moniker, the "drug rug."
In liberal small cities and large towns across the US, from New Hampshire to San Francisco, shops selling baja hoodies serve as evidence of thriving local cannabis cultures. When I went to summer camp in Bar Harbor, Maine, I visited one such store on daytrips. It was called the Hemporium and sold the usual inventory of tie-dyed dresses, amber jewelry, and incense—along with, of course, drug rugs. In the town square beyond the store's peace-sign-adorned windows, there was a bench where Vietnam vets wearing these drug rugs and ratty bandannas would congregate and occasionally shout pieces of un-asked-for wisdom in our direction. Ever since, drug rugs, for me, have conjured a bittersweet whiff of both maverick profundity and the sour disappointment of the mid 70s. (Also because of the Hemporium, I had mistakenly long assumed that the drug rug is made from hemp, when in fact it's usually woven from cotton and acrylic or recycled fibers.)
The baja hoodie was introduced to North America by a subculture of self-identifying outsiders: surfers. In the 1930s, when the sport was still a fledgling pastime on the West Coast, American surfers looking for new breaks and tourist-free beaches headed south, to Baja California, Mexico. They saw the pullover jackets worn by locals—striped like traditional Mexican serape blankets—and adopted the style (sudadera de jerga in Spanish) for themselves. Fastening-free, the sweater was easy to throw on after coming ashore wet and tried. Transplanted to California, the style soon became synonymous with a kind of experimental, drug-laced, transitory VW van culture that then traveled across the country with the hippie movement in the late 60s and 70s.
And just as the Grateful Dead has survived well beyond the Summer of Love, so too has the baja hoodie, a garment worn by Deadheads nationwide to this day. In movies about high school or college, when a new student's tour-guide gestures to the patch of campus lawn occupied by the hacky-sack-playing stoners, they are nearly always wearing drug rugs. In Fast Times at Ridgemont High, teen surfer Jeff Spicoli orders a pizza to Mr. Hand's history class while wearing a half-baked grin and a pink drug rug. The baja hoodie has become emblematic of this breed of American hippie dropout.
That sunny, stoned aesthetic has carried over into high fashion thanks partly to influential surfwear brands like Stüssy, which has offered its own logo-ed takes on the single-pocketed baja jacket since the 80s. The newer, more upmarket New York label Baja East sells a brand of laidback luxury in which the baja hoodie plays a recurring role, in various seasonal luxury (read expensive) fabrics. And on the runways, high-profile designers from Alexander Wang to Proenza Schouler have presented polished reincarnations of the drug rug in recent years. The cashmere baja sweatshirt, sold for $2,140 in 2014 by the California knitwear label the Elder Statesman, may best exemplify the high-end appropriation.
As weed culture blends ever further into mainstream culture, and states' bids for legalization are met with success, the drug rug is being more widely embraced. No longer the ratty shroud of Dave Matthews Band fans or a faded symbol of countercultural idealism, the baja hoodie is re-emerging as a costume for a new age of New Age hippies with their own, often legal, approaches to weed use. In the forthcoming movie Ocean's Eight, Rihanna's character, Nine Ball, will wear a green, gold, red, and black striped woven hoodie. What better ambassador for the drug rug's mainstreaming than a chart-topping artist who once rolled a joint on the head of her bouncer at Coachella?
Follow Alice Newell-Hanson on Twitter.