Let me set the scene for you: you’re sitting on a wooden chair, reading a tattered copy of Catcher in the Rye under the dim yellow light of the bare lightbulb that hangs above you. You take a sip of your turmeric latte, when something bright red catches the corner of your eye. You look up: it’s a lumberjack. Oh wait, never mind, it’s just another edgy man in his mid-thirties typing on his MacBook as he adjusts his man-bun. You notice his jeans are the same as yours, Urban Outfitters, 9,284 GBP (on sale). Just then, the waiter arrives with your smashed avocado on sourdough…
You know exactly what I’m talking about: the ironically familiar, yet “hipster” look most of us are in a love-hate relationship with (I’d take an iced matcha any day, but I’d probably mock you if you wore mismatched socks on purpose). A word once used to describe those who deviate from the norm and lead revolutionary movements, “hipster culture” has now evolved into a grossly commercial parody, and ironically, a trend in itself.
The word was coined in the 1940s to define those who rejected societal norms, namely middle-class white people wanting to join the “Jazz Age” movement. Later, the American novelist Norman Mailer defined hipsters in his essay “The White Negro”, describing them as the post-war white generation of rebels, disillusioned by the tragedies and horrors of World War 2. Ultimately, “hipster” was used to describe those who chose to “divorce [themselves] from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self.”
Today, the word is thrown around a lot when describing the “trendies” – those who are anything but authentic in style. Anyone can be a hipster provided they buy the right oversized jacket and roll their own cigarettes, and thus it has become a carefully crafted fashion statement more than anything else. There certainly are different types of hipster looks out there (the scruffy classics student, the au natural, the sporty and the all-American throwback to name a few), but the fact that we can categorize them only goes to prove the point. The significance of hipsters was the fact that they avoided labels altogether, yet nowadays, they dress the same, seek out the same places and conform to their non-conformity in a never-ending cycle of vintage accessories and “exotic” tattoos.
Hipster cafes are a prime example of what I’m talking about (Brew Lab being a personal favourite). They’re often called edgy, yet they provide familiar, comforting surroundings for a wealthy, mobile elite, who want to feel like they’re visiting somewhere “authentic”. They don’t realize that they’re just craving more of the same: more rustic interiors, creaky wooden floors, brick walls and sans-serif logos. Through replication and globalization, hipster cafes are almost just as popular as Starbucks, and are now found in all major cities. That doesn’t sound too unconventional to me.
People should, of course, dress and act however they want, whether it’s “revolutionary” or not. It just seems like “hipster” in its original sense is now a misnomer, or has changed meaning altogether for the purposes of this day and age. To an extent, it shows the power labels have on how we perceive others: we call something “hipster” and remain convinced that it has an authentic edge, but deep down we know that the mainstream has killed anything distinctive about hipster culture. What we’re left with is another category we can use to distinguish the “other”, or alternatively, to feel a sense of belonging and identity.
There’s one thing I know for sure: whatever the new hipster is, and as inauthentic as it may be, I’m not giving up my daily artisan roast coffee even if my life depended on it.
Image: Jamesdemers via pixabay