Everybody has an identity crisis at least once in their life. I didn’t expect mine to come in one of the places where I thought my identity was safe and secure: watching a concert of a band I had vetted and approved of with two of my close friends in tow.
When my friends and I walked into the concert venue earlier that night, one of them off-handedly mentioned that the entire place was really cool and stylish. I nodded my head in agreement and commented that the place had a distinct vibe to it. After I said this, I began to inventory both the subtle and overt touches that made the venue so “hip”: a couple sofas and tables lining the mezzanine, the grate-like covers on every light on the walls, and the brightly colored beer & drink menu drawn onto the wall behind the bartender. I shifted my gaze towards the crowd and began to inventory the things that made them fit in so well with their surroundings. Most girls were wearing either waist-high mom jeans, dresses with floral designs interrupted by a skinny belt strapped across the bellybutton, or a wool hat that sat precariously on the top of their head and was very obviously not designed for a cold winter day. Most guys were wearing either jeans with holes in them that were too well-placed to be done on accident, a dark colored v-neck shirt, sporting some form of facial hair, or glasses that looked like they could have belonged to Buddy Holly. Flannel was equally popular with both sexes, appearing more often than any other outfit and with too many different patterns of plaid for me to count.
I jokingly mentioned to my friend that I forgot to wear my “hipster outfit” tonight, and that I clearly didn’t fit in without it. Once we both stopped chuckling, I became hyper-aware of my own wardrobe: a corduroy flat-brim hat with “Park City, Utah” brightly emblazoned on the front in a flourish of early 90’s typography that was clearly found in a long forgotten corner of a Salvation Army, a shirt from a college-sponsored function that took place during fall semester of my freshman year, jeans that were just a touch on the tighter side and with multiple holes in both knees, and a pair of well-worn Chuck Taylor high-tops that had seen better days. I was no better than the rest of them. How could I have unintentionally embodied the topic of too many poorly written trend pieces and the butt of too many bad jokes about irony?
Before I could comprehend and process all of the information I had collected, the opening act had come on. Their music was an uneventful blur to me. The only thing I noticed about them was that the image they were trying to create was just as important as the music they were playing. Both the lead singer and obligatory guy standing next to him hitting buttons on some unidentifiable machine were wearing tighter than normal pants, long sleeve shirts buttoned up to the neck, and hats that you would find in those boxes that Urban Outfitters puts on the floor in really weird places in order to enhance that visceral feeling of “finding” something cool. The drummer sported a tank top with a deep neck and neon colors arranged in a post-modernist fashion, which stuck out from his black tattoo of some cursive writing etched on his upper chest that outlined the neckline of his tank top perfectly.
My thoughts were occasionally interrupted by people walking in between me and the stage to snap a couple pictures on their phones. But what I noticed was that they weren’t even taking pictures of the band members. Instead I saw one girl gracefully sneak between the neatly formed lines of people just off to my left only to snap a picture of the lead singer’s trumpet purposefully lying on its side two feet away from the microphone stand. Another girl weaved her way directly in front of me and Instagrammed the keyboardist’s legs and feet artfully placed inbetween the legs of his two keyboard stands.
When the opening act left the stage, I took a sip from my tall-boy of Narragansett and admitted to something that I had been denying for the entirety of my life: I think I just might be a hipster.
Ever since age 15 I have been both purposefully and unintentionally skirting around the fringes of hipsterdom. I consistently found myself attracted to the typical trappings of hipsters: the underground and/or indie music, a unique sense of fashion, constantly trying to suss out the next upcoming trend, and a penchant for learning obscure knowledge that not many others yearned for. Yet, I would refuse the label in order to protect my image. Being labeled as a hipster was something that I wanted to avoid as best I could, partly out of an attempt to avoid getting lumped into a stereotype and partly because of the negative adjectives and characteristics associated with hipsters.
Naturally each stereotype has its advantages and disadvantages, but for me the disingenuousness that came with the title of “hipster” was something that irked me more than any other aspect of the term. In my (and many other people’s) experiences, the term “hipster” was used mostly in a derogatory fashion, with other words like “unique”, “cool” and “up and coming” being used to describe the good things associated with hipsters. I had tried to craft my personality a certain way and purposefully curate my image in a particular fashion that made me look and feel good. To have all of that get completely co-opted under the guise that I was just doing it to look “cool” and “hip” and “trying too hard to fit into a group that was defined by inauthentic individuals” felt like a personal affront that was harder for me to brush off than most other insults that have been thrown at me. Nobody wants to have their image get degraded and ruined, and for me getting labeled as a hipster was the most likely way that was going to happen.
In high school I only had a vague idea of how I wanted to shape my image and how to avoid falling head first into the deep, dark, unending depths of hipsterdom. Once I got to college, I made more purposeful decisions in my attempt to find the balance (or if one even existed) between being a typical college student and being a card-carrying hipster. Depending on who I was with, what I was wearing, and what we were talking about, I could easily shift into and out of being a hipster. The “hipster” activities I participated in took up as much time as the “non-hipster” activities.
Over the course of time I started to tally things I did that were and weren’t hipster. In the pro-hipster column, I found myself working as a barista at the entirely student-run coffee shop, routinely attending any and all concerts that came to our campus no matter how well known they were, hosting multiple radio shows with a variety of friends, and participating in the occasional outing club sponsored event. In the anti-hipster column, I was in the 1st varsity boat on the rowing team (a sport stereotyped for its old money and popularity at pompous New England prep schools, one of which I also attended), played hockey during the winter, befriended a couple hard-core republicans and even lived with a few of them for a year (one of them an ardent supporter of Newt Gingrich during the primaries), and non-ironically enjoyed wearing Sperry boat shoes and Brooks Brothers bow ties. But at the end of it all, I was even more confused and had even more questions then when I originally started the list.
On more than one occasion I found my nights beginning with video games and half a 30 rack of Natty Ice with my Vinyard Vines button-down shirt wearing Republican roommates and ended my night by passing out on a friend’s couch in a run-down off-campus apartment surrounded by people that were smoking and snorting things I couldn’t recognize while singing an a capella version of some obscure song you’ve probably never heard of. It was a recurring theme; the only thing that changed from one weekend to the next was that I would start at one location and finish at the other.
Now that I’m out in the real world, my double life is more pronounced and obvious than it’s ever been. Leaving the small bubble of a tiny liberal arts college made me realize the desire to put people into boxes is far greater than what I had previously been exposed to. My friend circles have become more segregated between hipsters and non-hipsters. My two identities have become more pronounced. Friends that I go to see a hockey game with are radically different than the people that I live with who are radically different than my friends that I go to concerts with.
I became aware of the fact that I can change my identity depending on where I was going, who I was seeing, and what we were doing. In high school I had no clue what I was doing, and in college I maintained some sense of neutrality because I never knew if my night was going to start and end in the same place. I was more dependent on where I was going instead of what I actually was. Now that I’ve gotten to a point where I can pick and choose my own image and what I get labeled as, I can’t seem to reconcile my hipster tendencies with the rest of my identity. Do I still need to cleverly disguise my inner hipster with terms like “music geek”, “craft beer connoisseur”, and “hipster tendencies”? Or can I finally let my torn jean-short flag fly?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all of my rationalizations and soul searching, it’s that what I’ve worn, said, and done has more to say about how I want to be perceived as opposed to who I actually am. If that isn’t one of the core tenets of being a hipster, I don’t know what else it could be. I guess I’ve gotten to that point in my life where unless I completely change who I am, “hipster” is just going to be one of those terms some people use to describe me.
But the problem now is that the concept of what constitutes someone being a “hipster” is so nebulous. Could I just be trying to describe myself into category so large that it’s lost its meaning? And if that is true, then what’s the point of even having the category to begin with? The term has been used so much that almost anything could be described with the adjective of “hipster”. Despite this widespread usage in society and my own immediate surroundings, whenever I found myself engaging in a hipster activity with others, nobody in that group ever used the term “hipster”.
This lack of usage by people who fit into the most commonly used metrics of hipsterdom can probably be attributed to the combination that nobody really wants to define themselves in a negative fashion (which is what the term “hipster” has become in today’s cultural lexicon), and that most hipsters want to stand out and not be defined by one solitary, simple, and downright basic label.
However, thanks to popular culture, we seem to have agreed upon a handful of traits and attributes that align themselves with hipster culture. Which brings me to the question that I’ve been struggling with ever since high school: at what point do you become a hipster? Since hipsters are too focused on chasing after the trends they’re perpetuating to realize that they’re “hipsters”, does me becoming aware of my eclectic tastes and tendencies automatically disqualify me from being a hipster? Can it be boiled down to something superficial like a sense of fashion or taste in music? Or is a deeper mindset and ideology required? Is there a specific algorithm that can be generated to determine who is and isn’t a hipster? Which specific accessories and interests are more hipster than others? Where is the tipping point?
Thanks to this ambiguity, it’s very easy for people to create their own definition of what a “hipster” is and then describe themselves out of that label. I can accept the terms and conditions of being a hipster just as easily as I can reject them. I can simply undo everything that makes me a hipster by wearing a different outfit, buying groceries at a Stop & Shop instead of a nearby co-op, and listening to some Top 40 music that Pitchfork would never dream of putting on their well manicured website.
Yet at the end of the day, hipsters still exist, and for some unknown reason the general public is fascinated with their existence. So how do we define and create this group if there’s no set way of doing so? After a considerable amount of searching, I finally found my answer in in the government of all places; more specifically, the Supreme Court. I’ve found that their definition of porn can be applied just as well to hipsters: you can’t exactly define it, but you’ll know it when you see it.