If you have lived in New York within the past 10 years or so, you've undoubtedly had to encounter, the hipster. The hipster's goal is to try to turn themselves into a moving canvas of stylistic, visual art, so that they can advertise to the world that they're cool. They pay very close attention to their hair and clothes, and every look is carefully designed to have significance, with an often historical context. For example, a hipster might be trying to achieve a look straight out of an obscure 70s film that garnished a cult following, or they might be trying to emulate their favorite post punk or rockabilly band. Being a New Yorker, I too of course have always been the type that has cared a little more than average about my style. Fashion to me is a means for expression that you give to the outside world. You might be the type that wants to say "I don't give a shit" and your fashion sense might reflect that, but I've always wanted to look cool, even if I wasn't.
Now the origin of the hipster, perplexes me. "Hipsters" or people fitting the generally agreed upon definition, have their roots at least as far back as the 1940s Jazz culture. These music aficionados didn't sport asymmetrical haircuts, or drink PBRs, but they use an in-group slang and were hip to things average folks new nothing of, like heroine. Then there was the beatniks of the 1950s and 60s, who often lived in the bohemian areas of cities in sort of urban communes. They were artsy, often into poetry, into left-wing politics, and had hair styles and facial hair that the "squares" of the day disapproved of. The beatniks evolved into the hippies, who grew their hair even longer and took their style even further than what was considered mainstream. The 70s and 80s brought in a lot of new styles, ranging from the yuppy, to the punks rockers, to the disco style. There was a small trace of the urban hipster in the most bohemian of neighborhoods through out the world at this time. I was a child of the 90s and looking back at the fashion back then I can tell you I would never want to revisit that style. The Hip Hop culture had seeped in, and everything became over-sized and baggy. There was an alternative skater culture that I remember well in the mid to late 90s that I did enjoy. I remember when side burns were in style wanting them so bad before I could actually grow them. They came, but just a little too late.
For me personally, since I was just about the right age at that time, the hipster revival came in the form of The Strokes. When The Strokes came on the scene, they had a style that was so retro, and so cool in such a New York downtown way, that I was instantly drawn to them. I never really got into their music that much personally, but their style inspired me and totally changed my direction fashion-wise. They made tight jeans cool again. I suddenly hated baggy pants and hated name brand fashion. I grew my hair longer, and I began shopping in vintage clothing stores downtown, looking for anything cool and retro that wasn't some commercial name brand ghetto hoodrat or preppy Abercrombie and Finch type shit (commercial retailers eventually caught up with this trend with mimicry, as is always the case when something becomes fashionable). And I wasn't alone. Suddenly all over New York's hipper neighborhoods, throngs of young people were tightening their pants, and adopting the retro styles that The Strokes had laid down for us. From my experience, this was sometime around 2001-2002, and the modern hipster was reborn.
With so many people, especially men, becoming so fashion conscious, it was only a matter of time before the "metrosexual" emerged. Now the metrosexual is not necessarily a hipster, in fact there are many significant differences. While a hipster and a metrosexual will both wear tight jeans, the hipster will often have longer and messier hair (usually in a very deliberate manner) while the metrosexual will often have his hair short and styled. The hipster will often have a scruffy or full on lumberjack beard, whereas the metrosexual will usually be clean shaven or sport a very neatly trimmed beard. The hipster is more retro, more vintage, and the metrosexual is more into designer fashion, often European in origin. They both are often skinnier than average, and might act a little more effeminate than the average male, but the metrosexual definitely takes the time to workout.
10 years after this cultural revival, hipsterdom is not dead as some critics have suggested. The epicenter of the scene in New York moved from the East Village, to Williamsburg sometime on the middle of the last decade. Hipsterdom has become a popular topic for discussion when with friends. I'm often asked, "are you a hipster?" "No", I reply, "I'm a fucking world travelling, cosmopolitan, intellectual. I just have a sense of style." According to legend, no self righteous person, however fashionable, could admit to being a hipster.
Aside from the fashion sense of hipsters, let's look at the bigger cultural impacts. Unlike the hippies, hipsters had no draft to dodge, no cultural squares to rebel against. The war in Iraq, although it paralleled in some of the animosity against the Vietnam War, failed to mobilize the hipsters in large numbers, probably because there was no draft. The 90s culture full of its angry Nu-Metal and Hip Hop was just as sexually charged as any indie rock band. In fact, many of the indie rock bands that came out during, and in the wake of The Strokes, were softer and more romantic in their approach towards sexual relations than the bands of the 90s. The indie rock revival, of which the hipsters are synonymous with, was not a rebellion to push for more violence or more sexuality, that had already been pushed. I will say however, that homosexuality during the last decade has made a leap forward into mainstream acceptance, in part with help from the sexually liberal hipster culture.
What will the future hold for the hipster?
Some are saying that the hipster culture is dead. I just see it evolving into the mainstream like every other subculture until there is a significant backlash against it. What will the future bring in terms of fashion? The hipsters have already brought retro back. Even the clean cut looks of the 40s came back into style. Who knows? I don't really dwell on fashion as I do on topics of intellect. Drinking in Williamsburg today one does not see evidence of the hipster dying, and hipsterdom appears alive and well.
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