What is a Hipster? Hipster Fashion Explained to the Mainstream
by Tina Boomerina (Christina Gregoire)
I am going to try to explain hipsters and hipster fashion to you using mainstream American English, even though it’s a massively difficult undertaking and no one else has been able to adequately define the term so far. Hey, I am not a hipster. But, I am a hipster… if you use the classical definition, “One who is exceptionally aware of or interested in the latest trends and tastes.” But that's a stupid thing to say because it makes me sound like a total dork.
And... I know better than to say I’m a hipster, because I am a hipster.
No, I don’t live on the hipster side of town, but I’m from Seattle, so I kinda know a little about the look… and I think I can explain the torn-jean-vintage-plaid-band-T-shirt-shredded-shorts-retro-peter-pan-dress-mixed-print-tattooed-pierced-plugged-colored-hair hipster style in my own undeck way, as long as I don’t add any wit or sarcasm. If I try to fill this article with humor, my small and limited definition of hipster might become an exercise in esoteric futility… like the rest of my life.
Warning: Don’t Call People Hipsters:
First of all, after you understand a little about the hipster style, don’t go up to some girl or guy and say, “Gee. You’re such a cute little hipster. Can my friend take a picture of me standing next to you in your native element (Capitol Hill or Ballard or Portland or London), so we can show all our friends back in Kansas?”
Hipster is often used as a derogatory term (in Seattle and possibly wherever you are). Well, I don’t know if it’s always been thus, but calling someone a hipster these days can be a slam in some cities. However... even if you say you're NOT a hipster, if you’re into trendy fashion, you’ve probably incorporated quite a bit of hipster style into your wardrobe, whether you know it or not.
What is a Hipster?
A hipster is someone who lives the nontraditional, countercultural, indie life of a hipster.
But, what the heck is a hipster? Well... the answer is complicated.
The best hipster definition I’ve read so far is something like, “A hipster is anyone more hipster than you.”
Hipster is a Fashion:
But, to make things even more confusing, “hipster” has also become shorthand for explaining a particular fashion style.
So, there are two ways to be a hipster. You can be a hipster by living the indie lifestyle or you can be a hipster by wearing the trendy clothing and accessories worn by "real" hipsters.
Hipster is not a derogatory word when you're talking about fashion. We all know what hipster style is once we've seen it a few times. It's hip... and it's based on clothing that the original hipsters found in thrift stores. You can still find classic hipster items in thrift shops if you're lucky, but most of the best stuff is found online (new) and in the trendiest vintage stores (used) because the good stuff is highly coveted.
I Am/Am Not a Hipster:
I've been around a few hipsters. I have nieces and nephews and indie friends. So I don't want you to think I don't understand hipsters just because I'm older.
Yes, I am too old to fit the hipster mold (and I can’t fit into their skinny jeans), however I understand the genesis of the hipster mindset all too well, because I was an indie bohemian - now called a hippie BEFORE IT WAS COOL to be a hippie, and I had a vinyl of Are You Experienced when The Jimi Hendrix Experience was an obscure band YOU’D NEVER HEARD OF, and I wore bohemian print dresses from India BEFORE ANYONE EVEN KNEW WHAT A BLOCK PRINT WAS… and blah blah blah etc. etc.
That was supposed to be funny... but it's not, so I stayed true to my word.
So, I totally get the hipster ethos due to my own teenage rebellion against the mundane mainstream mindset. (Note: I stopped watching TV and listening to mainstream music in the late 60s before you little hipsters were born… so don’t try to out-hipster me just because I don’t know what kind of tennis shoes are fashionable and you do. I try to create fashion trends, not follow them.)
My Indie Credentials:
I am currently a mall-hating (although I like online stores in the UK and a few others), subtitle-loving, anti-suburbanite woman stuck in the suburbs, so I freely admit to being an outcast… even though I once lived a secret life as a Brownie Mom, mimicking mainstream customs by joining the PTA and ferrying soccer kids to games in my Landcruiser. (I love my children, but it was hard to fit in.)
I understand that the powerful elite (of all persuasions) want to control us through television reality shows, mainstream music, and hustling cable newscasters. I totally get the reasons why anyone hip to the mainstream game would want to find an alternate path.
And, that’s exactly where this story is heading. From what I’ve read, the original hipsters were highly intelligent, highly educated young people who decided to opt out of the preprogrammed American Dream of conspicuous consumption and predefined goals. In other words, the hipsters dropped out and made it hip to be different.
For Mainstream People:
There is nothing wrong with being different.
Constantly growing and changing and evolving is good. Hipsters should be cherished, not mocked. If I were in my 20s, I would have been one... so you'll have to get by me before you make fun of anyone who is unique and artsy and looking towards the universe, rather than the TV, for the meaning of life.
Hipster Fashion Begins:
Well, whatever the reason, hipsters decided they didn’t want to buy into the mainstream lifestyle they had been force-fed throughout their youth. (Sounds normal to me.)
And, although I didn’t know there was an actual taxonomic classification for the tattooed and pierced indie kids who were blooming all around me, and I just thought their intriguing fashions and extravagantly colored haircuts were an esthetic outgrowth of Goth or Punk, I guess I was surrounded by hipsters… about fifteen years ago… without even knowing it.
However, I didn’t think about those tattooed kids all that much. I’m an artist. I love people who live outside the box. Indie is normal to me.
And, I just assumed that ink was an urban tribal thing... a way to flash one's calling card to other like-minded people.
Vintage Thrift Store Fashion:
Well, a lot of the clothing those tatooed kids wore was stuff that came from thrift stores. Nope, I didn’t think about it at the time because I didn’t go shopping with random strangers.
So, I don’t really know if those hipsters bought secondhand clothing because it was cheap, because it was anti-mainstream, because it was anti-label, because it was a form of recycling, or because some guy woke up one day and decided he wanted to look like James Dean… and everyone else followed. You tell me. I wasn’t there.
I do know that a lot of men started dressing in homage to the beat generation… with a few additional tattoos and a few fewer berets. And, a lot of women started wearing tight-waisted, good-girl dresses with little buttons and frilly Peter Pan collars… the kinds of dresses that used to make me puke in the 60s… but somehow didn’t seem so square anymore when worn with stark black hair and stark black tats.
And, I started liking those retro dresses that I had hated in high school. And THAT was a strange phenomenon.
Hipsters Can Be Smug:
I didn’t know that hipsters thought they were better than the mainstream, but I did know it. Of course, there wasn’t a lot of social interaction between the hipsters and me (age related), however I sensed that hipsters were not “outside” the mainstream, but rather "ahead" of it… or "above" it. Well, I suppose I intuitively knew they were laughing at conventional culture… just as I had laughed when I first realized I might be happier if I stopped trying to conform to the normal, mainstream, Suzie-Homemaker, bouncy-cheerleader persona that was expected of me during my formative years.
Hipsters, Hipsters, Hipsters
I’m rambling, but I’m not rambling. It’s important to understand the idea behind the hipsters, because what's hipster today may not be hipster tomorrow.
That’s because hipsters have a general disdain for mainstream sensibilities. Once the hipsters find out their latest, hip, edgy trend has been abducted and adopted en masse by the bourgeoisie, it will no longer be cutting-edge.
And, the avant-garde have reputations to uphold. Therefore, a true hipster will always be on the lookout for something newer and better... just like any artist.
So, why do you care? Well, it means that the hippest hipster fashion may soon be something else… and the hottest thrift-inspired ensembles (of this very moment) could morph into a simpering polyester collection at Wallymart.
But, the Wallymart outpourings (in adult sizes) usually take about five years to materialize… so you should consider embracing more of the current hipster trend, because most of it isn’t even on the radar in Middle America... and hipster is here to stay... for as long as it stays.
What Exactly Is This Crazy Hipster Fashion People Keep Talking About?
Okay. You’ve heard enough about the genesis of the hipster tribe to get a general understanding of the hipster mindset. So… let’s talk about artsy hipster clothing.
This “new” fashion trend makes sense when you understand that the hipster look is all about artfully combining vintage clothing in a new, meticulously casual way that’s formulated to mock the traditional consumerist lifestyle.
If you continue reading, you'll find a partial list of what to look for in the vintage department of your friendly neighborhood thrift store... if it hasn't already been wiped out by trendy teenyboppers and underground hipsters.
Click to keep reading and to find out exactly what hipsters wear according to the current paradigm.
Photo credits page 2.