According to How I became a Hipster by Henry Alford, “You know you’re in hipster Brooklyn when someone who looks like a 19th-century farmer tells you that his line of work is affinity marketing.” Alford spent a weekend in Williamsburg, NY trying to educate himself about what he calls Kings County’s artisan-loving, kale-devouring hipster epicenter. Alford wanted to blend among rooftop gardeners and sustainability consultants, doing as hipsters do. He shopped for cardigans, work boots and flannel trying to complete what he called the Mumford and Sons look. He visited a barber to achieve a straight-edged razor shave and soak up some culture. He rode a fixed gear bicycle, something hipsters are notorious for. He passed up one café with espresso soda and another with all-artisanal-mayonnaise to wait in line for an hour at a local pizza spot. Then followed that up with chocolate from a shop that gets their cocoa beans directly from the Dominican Republic. Not enough? How about a 3-hour culinary knife skills class? He then capped his tour off with a visit to a bookstore where you can trade used books in for beer and wine. Pretty cool, eh? So is this what being a hipster is all about? It certainly sets the tone for some of the typical characteristics that embody being a hipster. Although, not all hipsters are created alike in my eyes and this is just the tip of the iceberg. While most of the pop culture portrayals of hipsters hold up, I think there is too much diversity within this sub culture to use just one common label. Let’s take a further look at some of these stereotypes and how they hold up.
Hipster is defined online by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a person who is unusually aware of and interested in new and unconventional patterns (as in jazz or fashion).” I find it interesting that this definition even exists, but I think the part about the interest in new and unconventional patterns is pretty accurate. An interesting site to find terms you may not find in your average dictionary is the Urban Dictionary which claims “Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.” The Urban dictionary also points out that New York, Chicago and San Francisco are some of the nation’s hipster hot spots. Many also include Portland on this list of cities. Additionally, Wikipedia says:
“A contemporary international subculture primarily consisting of Millennials living in urban areas. The subculture has been described as a “mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior[s]” and is broadly associated with indie and alternative music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility (including vintage and thrift store-bought clothes), progressive, independent or far-left political views, organic and artisanal foods, and alternative lifestyles. Hipsters are typically described as affluent or middle class young Bohemians who reside in gentrifying neighborhoods.”
In comparison, the seemingly less official sources mentioned above give a little more context with the definition. This is most likely due to the fact that there isn’t a formal definition (Merriam-Webster) of what a hipster is. In turn, we look to pop culture to help shed light into what it means to be a hipster.
From creators and co-stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen Portlandia was born. Portlandia is a satirical sketch TV comedy that screams Portland culture with a good dose of hipster. One scene features Armisen getting a tech overload, he finds himself so absorbed and consumed in his own media co-star Brownstein has to intervene. He’s checking email on a computer, doing social media on his phone, doing a software update on his tablet, and worrying about watching Netflix movies and sending them back. Overall it says that tech is a big part of an urbanite’s life, so much that it can take it over at times. Another piece I like from Portlandia was the opening scene from the first episode, a description of Portland built into a catchy ‘90s themed song, “Dream of the ‘90s:”
“Getting piercing and tribal tattoos was cool. When people were singing about saving the planet and starting bands. The tattoo ink never runs dry. Being content to be unambitious, sleeping in until 11, hanging out with your friends, having no occupation whatsoever, or maybe work a few hours at a coffee shop. It’s where young people go to retire. All the hot girls wear glasses. They encouraged you to be weird. Portland is like an alternative universe. You can a bird on something and call it art.” As well as the echoing chorus of “the dream of the 90’s” in the background.
Most of the crew is dressed in mellow threads, Armisen is wearing a beanie, a few people are wearing black rimmed glasses. Custom bicycles, flannel shirts, clowns and costumes get sprinkled in too. To me this sums the Portland sub-culture pretty accurately, yes it’s a little over the top but it captures a many elements of Downtown Portland.
Peter Fauria, of Seedwell Digital Creative Studio in SF, makes an interesting point that was recorded in an NPR article The Hipsterfication of America with “cities are known for setting trends; hipsterism is about anti-trends.” Fauria also states “What’s funny is that people who aren’t hipsters generally express distaste for them and those who appear to be hipsters hate to be identified as such. Everybody hates hipsters … especially hipsters. And the ironic part is that hipsters’ opposition to pop culture has become pop culture.”
‘I hate hipsters. How they always talk about everything being too mainstream, and wear plaid shirts, beanies, handle bar mustaches, and silk screen print totes. All they do is eat organic gluten-free artisan cupcakes…and Instagram pictures of their kale smoothies,’ according to a South Park mash-up video of Cartman I found on YouTube. Does Cartman really hate hipsters or is he portraying the view of the general public as the show commonly does? Perhaps a little bit of both, although the general sentiment that I’ve found is that people are not very fond of hipsters. This might be partly due to the level of exclusivity that hipsters seek. By distancing themselves from others, it creates a polarizing attitude amongst the community towards hipsters. Comedian Dan Soder points out similar stereotypes in a 30-minute Comedy Central routine. “Mustaches, beanies during the summer, gluten-free cupcakes,” and he also came up with the conclusion that people hate hipsters. Soder also points out that there is a connection to music and New York, the birth place of the hipster.
Why do people hate hipsters? Perhaps there is a self-absorbed vibe that comes off of hipsters, or a level of self-derived exclusivity. Maybe it’s trying too hard to be different and being an individual that they can alienate themselves from others. Maybe it has something to do with this stereotype of gluten-free artisan cupcakes that is portrayed in the South Park scene and in Soder’s comedy routine. It’s just a cupcake, but to a hipster it’s much more than that. It’s an artistic expression that has character and meaning, and drives to have a healthy non-mainstream approach with it being gluten-free. From Drew Warner, Co-Founder at Just Good Chocolate (Plumstead, Artisan Food):
“Artisan food is unique; it’s defined by the fact that nothing else on earth exists that is exactly the same. Artisan food is created with love, with attention to detail, not mass produced on factory lines with only quantity in mind rather than quality.”
Very hipster, right? Or Cartman’s notion of Instagramming a kale smoothie, finding glory and praise in an $8 cup of puréed vegetables and wanting to share that with others. Some see it as an overpriced sludge and other see it as a clean, revitalizing, gift to one’s body. It’s finding something that is devalued by some, and implying value to something that is pretty nominal. It’s kind of a similar concept to gentrification which we’ll take a look at later. You could look at fashion the same way, finding and making chic costumes out of thrift shop threads. These types of approaches could drive a mainstreamer crazy.
The past typically helps shape current and future times. Journey back to the ‘40s when jazz was hitting night clubs and a new subculture was emerging. According to an article by Time Magazine (Fletcher, Hipsters) the name itself was derived from the jazz age when the word hip started to emerge, some say it came from the word hop, another word for opium back then, and some say it was derived from the West African word “hipi,” meaning to open one’s eyes. Over time the word transformed into the noun we now know as “hipster.” Time Magazine also goes on to say those hipsters were typically white middle class youths trying to emulate the lifestyle of the largely-black jazz musicians they followed. Years went by and the first generation of hipsters was replaced by hippies in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was quite a few years until the hipster movement was back, but it made its way back in the early ‘90s. Middle-class youths were heavy into the alternative art and music scene, and borrowed looks from the past. Fletcher says, “Take your grandmother’s sweater and Bob Dylan’s Wayfarers, add jean shorts, Converse All-Stars and a can of Pabst and bam — hipster.” Some say the commonly tagged mustaches that hipsters wear are attributed to the music and art scene and as an expression of one’s artistic ability. One name that comes up a lot is Buddy Holly who was known for wearing black rimmed glasses, which are a staple and stereotype look of the modern hipster.
Another interesting trend is this idea that Hipsters chase gentrification. Gentrification is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” Jokingly, Soder points out in his Comedy Central special that people hate hipsters, but he loves them because “they move into the toughest neighborhoods and force everybody out. Some gangster shit. White people being white people.” Weeks in the NPR article goes on to say “In the past couple of years, Hipsterdom has entered — and in some cases, dominated — dominant culture. Hipsters, after all, know how to adapt: how to make the cheap chic, the disheveled dishy, the peripheral preferable. A shaky, shabby economy is the perfect breeding ground for hipsters.” I interpret that similar to the portrayed look that hipsters carry; it’s taking something simple and driving value to it through attitude and style. The Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg serves as a great example of this and is often referred to as the mecca of hipsters. Taking a look back to post WWII, the borough was in tough economic times. There was a big push in the early ‘90s and into the mid-2000s to drive value back into Williamsburg. And now is considered a moderately upscale community. I feel like pockets of Portland have taken this on as well. NE and SE Portland have been known for being tough parts of town and they still are, but there is definitely some gentrification going on and are hipster hot spots. It’s almost like there are little subsets within these neighborhoods too, from Hawthorne, to Alberta, and Mississippi to name a few. Upscale eateries, thrift shops, coffee shops and theatres provide ideal hangout and habitats for young urbanites. So I think in certain circumstances the portrayal is valid. What were once undesirable neighborhoods are some of the hottest neighborhoods in Portland.
Like many things in this world the labels hipsters achieve by way of pop culture are not entirely true or false. As much as people like labeling things and labeling people, there is just too much diversity to try and place people into buckets. While many of the stereotypes and media portrayals hold up from time to time this sub culture is constantly evolving and common labels just can’t keep up. I chose this topic in part because of the fact that I’ve been called a hipster myself. I would beg to differ with the association, maybe it was my skinny jeans or black rimmed glasses that gave away that vibe, but I would argue the association. Maybe it’s the hipster in me that is in denial of fitting the stereotypes. I strive to be an individual and have my own style, although in the end my non-conformity probably conforms to many others like me. It’s a vicious cycle and a tricky assertion to pin down. Like you’ll find in many articles, hipsters hate being called hipsters, so whatever the current definition is, a new one is in the works. Deep within the general stereotypes I think there are some core values that serve true from time to time, but as one checks out another one is not valid. I don’t think it’s fair to place a label on someone just because of the way they appear. Being independent and driven I take pride in and I definitely see those values reflect in hipster culture. Ideas of non-conformity and anti-mainstream are at the front of that idea and constantly evolving young urbanites. Most of all is an idea of self-expression and individualism. So if you wanna be a hipster, be yourself.
Alford, Henry. “How I Became a Hipster.”The New York Times. The New York Times, 1 May 2013. Web. 14 May 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/fashion/williamsburg.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&>
Parasuco, Trey. “hipster.” Urban Dictionary. N.p., 22 Nov. 2007. Web. 29 May 2014. <http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hipster>
Fletcher, Dan. “Hipsters.” Time. Time Inc., 29 July 2009. Web. 28 May 2014. <http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1913220,00.html>
Weeks, Linton. “The Hipsterfication Of America.” NPR. NPR, 17 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 May 2014. <http://www.npr.org/2011/11/16/142387490/the-hipsterfication-of-america>
Plumstead, Norm. “Artisan Food.”Gourmet Gift Baskets Traverse Gourmet Artisan Food. Web. 15 May 2014. <http://blog.traversegourmet.com/artisan-food/>
“Hipster (contemporary subculture).”Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 May 2014. Web. 14 May 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hipster_(contemporary_subculture)>
“hipster.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hipster>
“Episode 1, Season 1, Farm.” Armisen, Fred, Carrie Brownstein, and Jonathan Krisel. Portlandia. IFC. 21 Jan. 2011. Television.
“Episode 1, Season 2, Dan Soder.” Comedy Central’s the Half Hour. Comedy Central. 3 May 2013. Television.
“Cartman Hates Hipsters.” Marina Korotun and Patrick O’connor. YouTube. Web, 23 May 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sk_qfke1wN0>