Unlikely Style Icon: Dennis Hopper in ‘Easy Rider’ Is the Man, Man
Made for peanuts and making millions, ‘Easy Rider’ opened the door to the new Hollywood that catered to the young. In the bargain, Dennis Hopper became a trendsetter.
More than just another celebrity actor with a pretty face, Dennis Hopper personified the countercultural wave that was crashing in the ’60s and ’70s. An accomplished filmmaker and photographer as well, his work is known for depicting an insider’s perspective of an era that often finds itself romanticized. No single piece of artistic work better illustrates this than Easy Rider, which he directed, co-wrote, and co-starred in.
“You know, this used to be a hell of a good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.” —George Hansen (Jack Nicholson)
“Man, everybody got chicken, that’s what happened.” —Billy (Dennis Hopper)
There aren’t a lot of movies that can be described as cultural landmarks, and fewer still that retain their power as the generation they were made by—and for—slowly fades away. Easy Rider, released in July 1969, checks all the boxes. Following a pair of bikers on a post-drug-deal road trip through the Southwest, it paints a picture of the countercultural unrest that stirred just beneath the surface of American society. Stripping away the peace and love glam attributed to the hippy movement, it anticipated the Summer of Love’s lethal demise at Altamont, which would violently close out the decade just months later. The film is also credited with ushering in a new style of independent filmmaking, with lower budgets and both grittier production values and content.
Inspired by the fringes of America’s melting pot cultural mashup, Hopper’s character—and often he himself, in those days—looks equal part outlaw biker, dusty Southwestern shaman, cowboy, and travel-tested roadie for the Grateful Dead. It’s a style that worked and one that, to this day, can still be found everywhere from hipster saloons in Williamsburg and basement recording studios in Nashville to truck stops and watering holes along every lonely stretch of Interstate. Here’s a handy guide to doing it right.
OK, you don’t really need a motorcycle. But, just in case you’re the “all or nothing” type, do it right. Make it an American bike. Seriously. No crotch rockets, no gently purring Honda Goldwing with heated grips and satellite navigation system, and no glorified dirt bikes. It can be battered, it can be customized, and it should be loud. If you’re looking for a good place to start, try the Harley-Davidson Iron 883, or hit up Craigslist. Just be careful if someone tries to sell you Captain America, the original star-spangled Harley Panhead from Easy Rider — even if the price seems crazy, like, say, $1.35 million, it could still be a fake.
You can go suede if you really need to (don’t), but we recommend authentic buckskin. And if you’re gonna do it, do it right—make sure it has fringe, a button front, and big ol’ collar. Handmade online marketplace Etsy has plenty to choose from, with a large vintage selection to boot. Western style stores have new versions as well, but you have to drag it behind your motorcycle for a few days to get it really broken in and looking perfectly scruffy.
Big and black, make sure they hide your eyes from not just UV rays and the open road’s dust but also your level of stoniness from any square who tries to make contact with ’em. You can go aviator, like the Ray Ban Classic, but that’s taking the easy way out. Once again, your best bet is to take to the Web and track down some vintage numbers that are uniquely your own. As Billy, Hopper’s character in the movie, says, “It gives you a whole new way of looking at the day.”
Hopper’s chapeau from the film is equal parts Indiana Jones, Billy the Kid, General Custer, and psychedelic medicine man. With a flipped up brim and adornments that might very well include embroidery, snake skin, and unidentifiable mammalian road kill, it’s somewhere between Tilley’s iconic T3 and an Akubra Bushman hat. Start there, and add your own sweat stains—and flair—as you go.
These are rugged individuals; thus they require rugged clothing. You don’t go selling boulders of cocaine and hitting the highway on your Harley wearing linen or Rayon. A solid canvas work shirt will have your back for countless miles, and only get softer and more comfortable as it breaks in. Outdoor staples like Patagonia’s All Season Field Shirt or Filson’s Buckhorn Field Shirt will keep you classy even as you’re being cool.
For much of Easy Rider, Hopper is rocking buckskin pants, which provide a bit of added safety when tearing around on a motorcycle. While admittedly supple and wholly authentic, trousers made out of deerhide likely aren’t always going to be the best choice for a modern day-to-day, so we recommend either jeans, like Imogene + Willie’s signature Willie Rigid, or work pants, such as Prana’s beefy-yet-well-cut Bronson pant. For those of you on a budget—and who isn’t?—the Carhartt Work Khaki is both hard to beat and, fair warning, break in.
There’s a particular piece of DNA required to farm a proper swooping mustache like Hopper’s, and you either have it or you don’t. Be honest with yourself about this. For those of you who can pull it off, it’s a bushy bumper of masculinity, especially if you treat it right with proper grooming techniques. For those who can’t, yet lack the self-awareness to admit it, well, there’s a reason they call ’em dirt ’staches, and they’ll turn a hunky dude into super creepy rape van driver in no time.