By Daniel van Voorhis –
The first rule of being a “hipster”: you never refer to yourself, or others as “hipsters”. Like Buckeye, Hoosier, or Protestant, it is a moniker given by those who disdain what they don’t like. And it’s still early in the development of labeling anyone with fitted clothes, thick frames and facial hair as “hipsters”; we are not all the same. Secondly, don’t be scared. After I describe this invented, or poorly defined and maligned social group, I will suggest why they might be our generation’s best hope.
As the Man About Town, I am writing to you, the ostensibly non-hipster, with a look at the North American indigenous and increasingly domesticated breed of young adult. I write, from the periphery of them, one who has lived with and amongst them for almost two decades. Consider me your Jane Goodall of this middle class, white and fashionably distinct hominid.
What you might call a “hipster” is somewhere between 20 and 40, and they grew up as Gen-Xers, the “Oregon Trail” generation or Millennials. They have rejected these labels (as should we all) and attempted to strike out on their own, but in a community. These communities have tended to be places\outside of major cities. They rejected West LA for the formerly maligned East LA. They left San Francisco for Oakland and Seattle for Portland (pre “Portlandia” satire). You might find them in New Jersey or Charleston, Toledo, or Austin.
Essentially, as the corporatization of America grew and the housing bubble priced many of my generation out of the suburbs or urban centers, a certain group flocked to the areas where “white flight” left cheaper housing options.
This particular group is as foreign as hippies were to the Waltons, or yuppies were to the Brady Bunch. And they are neither Hippy nor Yuppie. They can only be loosely described. And finding the legitimate fashionable, obscure and often artistic kind has bee made more difficult with the mass marketing of the “hipster-chic” persona.
They took degrees at Liberal Arts Colleges in film production and graphic arts. They are writers and artists, but also business owners and blue-collar workers. They are your neighbors that you don’t quite “get”, and while they might look like they are trying to be ironic, “cooler-than-thou”, and judgmental, they are essentially trying to live a life of sincerity and hard work.
You can distinguish them by clothing that tends to be more fitting as they eschewed the “sagging” pants and oversized shirts of the mainstream. They find frames that present an aesthetic rather than standard plain wire thin frames. They have spent hours listening to new music and attending live local shows to curate a play list of bands you have never heard. But it is likely that they listen to bands you have never heard of because they have spent more time listening to the music and enjoying it than embracing obscurity for its own sake.
But it wasn’t always this way. We (and I suppose I should identify with them more than I present myself) were cynical and embraced biting irony to distance ourselves from the mass-produced alternative music, clothes, and movies made “for us”. The Baby Boomers were too optimistic and tried too hard to “get real” with us. MTV was demeaning to our tastes, we worked hard to refine a slacker and artistic life because it was preferable to our parent’s paper pushing jobs. I am painting broadly, but please understand the general sentiment. We were tired of your news programs and anchormen and your sitcoms with laugh tracks. We preferred the more jaded “Mr. Show” and “the State”. We unfortunately held our noses too high and looked down at those who preferred top 40 music, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, and only drove through our neighborhoods with doors locked and windows rolled up.
But I think they… well, we, grew up. I think sincerity took the place of irony and we realized that Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles could be listened to without irony on playlists with Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth. My generation kept the aesthetic because it is what we actually prefer and we might not like the shiny ties at Macy’s or aesthetic that reminds of us Jimmy Buffett. Shades of Grey, Public School and Jack Threads offer something a little more sharp for the office that doesn’t draw too much attention, but doesn’t look like we’re wearing our dad’s suits.
Many of us, although we are not necessarily monolithic as we disperse and have families, do share distaste for the college kid in an ironic tank top or cry-for-attention moustache. But mostly we cringe because they are giving what we took so seriously, a bad name. But as we grew up, so too can they. So as we grew to understand and by sympathetic to boomers we should extend that courtesy to them.
But let me finish with a plea for the tribe that I have identified with, sometimes eschewed, but ultimately can’t (and don’t want to) escape. With the later writings of Chuck Klosterman, Rob Sheffield and David Foster Wallace we want to empathize and explore what it means to be human. We see that irony makes us bitter, and a disdain for our parents is both poisonous and cliché. Many of us have a willingness to embrace ideas and cultures (sometimes for better or worse) in a postmodern context where we don’t embrace a stifling “scientific” worldview without the possibility of something beyond.
So, as we might borrow your aesthetic (maybe we prefer your parents wardrobe), but we don’t ask you to embrace ours. Don’t try to “be real” with us, just talk as you’re comfortable and we’ll translate it for ourselves. Feel free to borrow our aesthetic, but we wont judge your business casual wear (I am biting my tongue… it’s hard, but graciousness usually is).
Let us hope as you once did (and might still). Let us forge an aesthetic and lifestyle. We might have moved to Omaha, and Minneapolis, and Boise because they had a “scene”, but we now have made communities and some of us have families. It might be a little vain to ask that you don’t identify us as hipsters (and lump us in with those knock offs in their late teens), but more importantly, don’t judge us by the width of our jeans, but by the content of our character.
All the Best,
The Man About Town
Written while listening to Stuff Like That There by Yo La Tengo (try it, you might like it)