What is (a) hipster? Is it a fashion? A way of life? A cry for attention? A term for haters? Is it an ‘I-don’t-care’ attitude? Or maybe just the next insult in line after Emo and Hippie? Is the guy with the out-of-bed look which probably made him stand in front of the mirror for ages, on the skateboard leaving a trail of marijuana smoke behind him hipster? Is the girl wearing an H&M basic top for approximately 5€ but holding the overpriced fair-trade coffee in the one and the Iphone in the other hipster? Or does the term only refer to people who call themselves hipster?
It seems nowadays the word “hipster” applies to or can describe almost everything. The term “being mainstream” has been replaced by the word “hipster”. After hearing the word approximately a thousand times a day in Maastricht, in a hundred different situations, I searched the internet for it to find an exact definition of what hipster actually is. To my own surprise, even dictionaries are confused with being hipster. Oxford Dictionary only very simply calls a hipster “a person who follows the latest trends and fashions”. Apparently though, there are just as many definitions of hipster as there are uses for it.
The actual American word hipster had two meanings. It was used in the early 20th century with the arrival of modern Jazz and early Rock culture. The members of this new Beat Generation called themselves “hip”. A recovery of the word followed in the 1990’s. This time hipster described the alternative/indie youth culture which were politically left orientated, rejected consumerism and were stereotyped as vegans, bicyclists or skate punks.
Recently though, the use of the word got a really negative attribute. In the 21st century hardly anyone would actually say about him/herself that he/she is a hipster. Surprisingly, there are quite hostile and insulting definitions of hipsters, such as “hipsters are often former Emos who have jumped ship to the next dying trend” and they are identified with “wearing pants that are dyed with a colour not yet invented” and “they lack the ability to apply deodorant”. Regarding these statements, hipster is maybe the successor of hippie for some people…
Interesting enough were the web pages “how to be a hipster” and “which lingo to use as a hipster”. Here a little self test if you can call yourself a hipster: ever heard of the words “frado” or “chipper”? No? You better catch up on your hipster slang then! A “frado” seems to be an ugly guy that thinks he is good looking and a “chipper” is an easy going woman… Further, the World Wide Web also offers quite some handy tips on how to be/dress like a hipster. Keywords like denim, throw whatever together and manage to look half-decent, wear nothing that can be found in a mall, scarves and the word vintage pop up most of the time. Also, listen to Kanye West, be a vegetarian and become a freelancer. Other tips are a bit more disturbing such as “you and your girlfriend should look like a lesbian couple” or “it should take you longer to comb your beard than your hair”. But is being hipster all about the looks then? Can you define somebody as a hipster by what they look like?
Personally, I doubt that people who are identified as hipsters read these pages and fill their daily schedule studying the “hipster slang” or trying to look like their respective girlfriends. Through the Jazz generation up to the anti-consumerism culture, it applied to people who were trying something new, refreshing and different. Up to now, being a hipster or being hip was associated with things that were on the one hand new, but on the other hand not always welcomed by defenders of the status-quo, for example classical musicians in the case of the Beat Generation, and the traditional consumer society in the 90’s.
Today, I have the feeling that some so called hipsters are more acknowledged than others, what is probably connected to their authenticity. From the things mentioned above, you could generally say that hipster are usually associated with people that are politically left oriented, express their individuality through an extraordinary way of dressing, have certain eating and buying principles that separates them from the majority and probably a million other things that differ from person to person. However, there is a thin line between actually being actively politically left-oriented, eating and buying organic food, wearing fair-trade clothes and then only pretending you are alternative, listening to Avril Lavigne and buying your hipster outfits at H&M, cheaply produced by child labour in developing countries. The latter one being the less authentic hipster. Of course, there is the possibility of dressing like a hipster, whatever that might involve wearing, and not agreeing to the other things that are associated as being hipster at all. Maybe that is also where all the confusion comes from.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the word still got something about being different and extraordinary, doing things not everybody does, having an opinion not everybody has and dresses somewhere between skate punk and hippie – which apparently is today’s fashion, which causes only more confusion about the actual meaning of the word.
So, whenever we use the word hipster ironically in contexts like “See the guy with the nerd-glasses?” – “Such a hipster!”, or “Have a look at Ms out-of-bed hair drinking overpriced organ coffee” – “So wanna-be hipster, isn’t she?”, do we mean to make fun of people that are actually trying to change the status-quo of society or of those people that are trying too hard to be different and thereby lose their credibility as being hipster?
After searching the internet for an exact definition for quite long and being more confused than before, I think Oxford Dictionary did a good job in choosing such a wide definition. Hipster means different things to different people. Another way of putting it is:
A Hipster is somebody who self-expresses in a way that doesn’t fit into previously accepted social or subcultural categories.
Photo courtesy of: Jelly London