My History With Hipsters

I remember the first time I ever heard the term “hipster.” It was in reference to an acquaintance of mine in high school who liked to wear parkas in 80 degree weather and talk incessantly about bands like Spoon and Pavement. I guess it made sense that he be referred to as a hipster. He was very hip, especially in comparison to the Abercrombie & Fitch zombies that dominated the hallways at my high school. His fashion choices were always ironic and reeked of calculation. Nobody really liked him but at the same time, we were intrigued by his tastes. In a way, it was like he was ahead of the curve and everyone wanted to figure out how he knew so much about “cool stuff” when we lived in Ventura, California.

Hipster, as I remember it, was always sort of a derogatory term but when I first heard it in 2004, it also had a certain level of cachet. Unlike today, not everybody could just be called a hipster. You had to, as embarrassing as it sounds, earn the label. You had to consciously live this hipper than thou lifestyle and be dedicated to always knowing the latest cool music or fashion trend. I mean, chances were you were a total douchebag and people hated you but some of that stemmed from their own feelings of inadequacy.

When I was a junior and senior in high school, the main stereotype for alternative youth was a label called “scene.” Scene kids were basically people who hung out at every local show, had disgusting hair, and listened to bands like H.I.M. or Further Seems Forever. Being called scene was #NotChic and I feel like “hipster” developed as a necessary extension of “scene.” It was for the people who were also alternative but didn’t need snakebites to prove it.

Around my senior year of high school, my main exposure to hipster culture was through my Livejournal. I was friends with all of these rich girls in L.A. who took polaroids of their friends in Marc Jacobs dresses. They all looked so cool and I tried desperately to emulate them. Back then, being a hipster meant wearing cowboy boots, oversized sunglasses, and taking so many hazy polaroids. It still felt like a definite subculture. In my small city of Ventura, California, it was rare to find anyone who would identify with being a hipster or even know what it meant. Then, slowly, that started to change.

When I went away to college in San Francisco in the fall of 2005, hipsterdom seemed to rise a little bit and by 2006, it had startled to trickle into the mainstream. Websites like The Cobrasnake and clothing stores like American Apparel had started to become popular and broadly define what it meant to be a hipster. (Spoiler: it wasn’t good!)

Like I said before, hipster was never a positive stereotype. It always seemed to be shorthand for “you’re pretentious” but at least it was exclusive. Hipster used to be synonymous with elitism but when everyone and their mom started wearing American Apparel v-necks and listening to Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it shifted into something more all-encompassing. Gone was the elitism and exclusivity of the stereotype. Now even your mom could be called a hipster if she listened to Florence + The Machine!

It’s funny to think of how “hipster” has evolved (or devolved) throughout the years. I started college during a time when being a hipster was still “a thing” and by the time I graduated, it seemed like THE ONLY THING. Besides being a bro, hipster was really your only option. It became a total blanket term for young people that listened to Radiohead and shopped at Urban Outfitters. In other words, it defined almost every young person ever.

When people are abashed to be called a hipster, I can’t help but laugh because, really, what other choice do you have? If you’re wearing something as innocuous as a flannel shirt, you make the cut. It’s silly! Like, call me a hipster. That’s fine because what other stereotype have I been given to work with? I HAVE NOWHERE TO GO BUT HERE. So you know what? Until another subculture comes along that’s more narrow, exclusive, and SPEAKS TO ME, I’ll gladly identify as a hipster. It’s not my fault my generation was too lazy to come up with something else. It’s not my fault that someone is automatically considered to be a hipster if they’re 24 and have a Sonic Youth song on their iTunes. TC Mark

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.

Trace the scars life has left you. It will remind you that at one point, you fought for something. You believed.

“You are the only person who gets to decide if you are happy or not—do not put your happiness into the hands of other people. Do not make it contingent on their acceptance of you or their feelings for you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if someone dislikes you or if someone doesn’t want to be with you. All that matters is that you are happy with the person you are becoming. All that matters is that you like yourself, that you are proud of what you are putting out into the world. You are in charge of your joy, of your worth. You get to be your own validation. Please don’t ever forget that.” — Bianca Sparacino

Excerpted from The Strength In Our Scars by Bianca Sparacino.

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  • Kat

    Exactly. Thank You.

  • Han shot first

    hahaha truth, the term “hipster” has become almost innocuous in and of itself at this point. and when it comes down to it, who really cares?

  • http://gravatar.com/onyae onyae

    THANK YOU

  • http://joeswanbergcompleteme.it MUMBLECORE IS BETTER THAN JEAN RENOIR

    As bloody stupid as anything any early-twentynothing writes. First idiocy: “hipster” did not “develop from the phrase ‘scene,'” you dolt, it was around in the fifties. John Coltrane. Lenny Bruce. Ever heard of them when you’re not Livejournaling?

    If I hear one more young punk write another “Whatever, so? We’re stupid! What EVER!” essay, I’m gonna scream.

    • Mercedes

      Haha, I thought I was the only one who noticed the poor reference to the origin of the word “hipster”. I learned about the real origin of the word in grade eight history class.

      • Ryan O'Connell

        honey im not saying that was the actual origin! im talking about the origin in the context of my own history! i know hipster wasn’t est. in 2004

      • Mercedes

        Is this a response to me or the original commenter? Either way, I think the way it was worded could easily catch someone off guard.

    • Drew

      These two are the TRUE hipsters.

    • http://twitter.com/ramos_tiff Tiffany (@ramos_tiff)

      Hold-up. He wasn’t talking about where the word originated from he was talking about where the culture stemmed from. He’s trying to say that “hipster” came from “scene” like how Catholicism came from Judaism.

    • watts

      he never said it developed FROM “scene” he said that “hipster” developed as “a necessary extension of scene.” for someone who knows so much, your ability to properly quote something and not plagiarize isn’t so good

      SURELY there are more appropriate things than this to get so upset about?

    • Jon

      “As bloody stupid as anything any early-twentynothing writes.”? Really? Should young people just not even write unless they came out of the womb a fully-formed Faulkner? Also, he was making the point that the current iteration of the word “hipster” arrived out of a need for a term whose meaning would go beyond the limits of the previous catch-all subculture, “scene”. Here’s a bit of advice: Your vitriol might be more effective if dispatched more judiciously. And how old are you that you can declaim twentysomethings as a whole, yet still come up with such a lazily arch screen name?

  • ad3

    aahah nobody talks about scene kids anymore! I think still exist in small exurban enclaves!

    • http://baileypowell.com Bailey Powell

      I mean, SOMEone’s gotta hold it down on MySpace.

  • Mercedes

    When it comes down to people dressing according to the “hispter” stereotype, I really couldn’t care less. Then again, when I see flannel I tend to think more about early Pearl Jam rather than RAGING HIPSTER, I MUST JUDGE YOU! That being said, pretentiousness and elitism are still very alive in a lot of young people. There are still the select few who claim to be special snowflakes and feel higher-than-thou for their *~obscure*~ lifestyle/food/clothing choices, and that’s fine. But hipster isn’t the phrase for it, asshole is.

    • http://baileypowell.com Bailey Powell

      Mmhmm I hEaRd dAt~*~

    • http://baileypowell.com Bailey Powell

      (but seriously)

  • http://baileypowell.com Bailey Powell

    Eh, I feel like you’re being too forgiving.

  • Februarys

    I wish hipsters took more showers. I’m sick of smelling their BO.

  • amanda

    Every generation has their stereotypes; this piece is interesting but it only skims the surface for what could be a really interesting sociological study. What about punks in the 90’s, or Valley Girls, hippies, beatniks? I only just learned that “geek” used to meant the people at carnivals/freak shows who would bite the heads off chickens.

    It’d be cool to learn how each movement develops and flows into the next, as well as how these stereotypes reflect our society. Maybe that’s too ambitious a project for now, but a brief overview would be nice. Sometimes I feel like modern bloggers/writers (even those earning steady paychecks from major newspapers) are too lazy/impatient to invest time and energy in serious research.

    TC should start including more current events and educational articles – real information, not “How to Be a Twenty-Something When You’re a Twenty-Something.” Those articles, while occasionally amusing, rarely say anything, especially when repeated every other day.

    • Cascadia

      Yes! I agree completely with all of this.

      While entertaining at first when I first started reading this blog a few years ago, I think as I have matured a bit and care less and less about How You Left Me And Broke My Heart (and all other incarnations of these types of articles that are recycled every, single, week) I think more work should be put into the quality of the articles rather than the quantity being cranked out every day.

    • Primrose

      Ah yes, I say we get together and start our own spinoff of TC v 2.0 about real issues, useful information, as well as dabs of scholarly research.

      Would love to see some research as well as some thought put into the articles. There needs be more useful topics discussed…or maybe TC needs new, non-hipster writers.

    • Mercedes

      The Internet is a vast place and if you look hard enough, I’m sure you can find the kind of articles you’re looking for. That being said, I feel like a lot of bloggers (and this isn’t an attack at Ryan, just more of a generalization of bloggers as a whole) aren’t willing to do the research because the “long read” writing style just isn’t something people want to get into right now. While some people would want to read those kinds of articles, some do not. It’s just another side effect of living in a world with differing interests. TC’s audience isn’t comprised of people who are here for editorial writing. It’s comprised of people who find comfort in reading about things that they felt alone in experiencing, or people who enjoy reading more personal writing pieces. So it makes sense to me that TC doesn’t have these kinds of pieces. Even though I’d LOVE to hear some TC writers take on that kind of writing style, I don’t really see it happening. Until then, I’m just satisfied with doing a quick Google search on whatever interests and seeing what blog or editorial website it takes me to.

      • arbietheastronaut

        Exactly.

    • arbietheastronaut

      The ‘sociological’ exploration of the hipster sub-culture has pretty much come to a threshold since, like, two years ago. So many big publications (like Time, if I’m not mistaken) have done them already. Academic journals, too. Google it.

  • dang

    I’m a hipster, but fuck it, I don’t care. I read this blog and watch Anthony Fantano reviews. Also, the thing about Urban Outfitters, Radiohead and Sonic Youth? Yeah, me as well. Oh well.

    • Pattie

      Isn’t Anthony Fantano the greatest?

  • Pattie

    “It became a total blanket term for young people that listened to Radiohead and shopped at Urban Outfitters. In other words, it defined almost every young person ever.” – Basically.

  • I was a wannabe hipster in 2004-2007

    I was a wannabe hipster. I never knew how to fully become one. Maybe because I didn’t have cowboy boots that were 10x too big for me but wore them anyway because they were the only pair at Goodwill…or because i didt have a proper hipster mullet as a result of my mom’s 55 year old hair stylist couldn’t mullet-fy my naturally thick,wavy hair that took almost an hour to flat iron. Or because I didn’t know how to apply MACs “electric eel” nasty mat eyeshadow or any shocking color at that matter.

    Don’t even get me started on the ways that hipsters danced! Arms all out and tucked in as if they were dancing chickens. Thank god I didn’t have the proper tools aka friends who were hipsters to show me the way! So glad I’m my normal self now. It’s emrarassing to look back at old wannabe hipster photos of myself.

    • Crystal

      Hahahahahahaha so true

  • http://twitter.com/jcp__art JCP Art (@jcp__art)

    omg. Further Seems Forever. haven’t thought about them since i was 20.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thetkproject Theadora Kelly


    Indie Hipster Kid… sound familiar?

  • sullivan

    hipster culture is constantly evolving. when everybody moves into the previous hipster culture, real hipster would have moved on to another subculture that the mass have yet to discover. sorry, but most people who think they are hipster, arent

  • bosshog

    “It became a total blanket term for young people that listened to Radiohead and shopped at Urban Outfitters. In other words, it defined almost every young person ever.”

    *every upper-middle class, suburban, white person ever. (your welcome for the clarification)

  • mode

    What irks me is when people listen to bands because it’s “cool” to listen to them, and they attempt to project “cool” through their “music taste”…. and not because they ACTUALLY find the band musically appealing. And they judge you for not appreciating their tastes. Yeah, I don’t like those people…

  • Hipstahstank

    scene kids don’t listen to H.I.M. Goth hipsters do. silly!

  • MM

    for me I use hipster in many different ways.

    some people can be music “hipsters” –they listen to bands that are very obscure, not known (like REALLY not known, and REALLY into music on a different level than most people).

    some are fashion “hipsters”–they may love top 40 beats and are on facebook/tumblr all day long and very ‘mainstream’ but love the hipster “look” all the Urban Outfitters/American Apparel/ whatever that fits their fashion style. They think it’s cool.

    then we come to these intellectual “hipsters” or “pseudo-intellectuals” that are very pretentious and try to act like they “know” about the issues or act like they are above everything, when they are just pricks. THESE are the hipsters I hate.

    sure people can just wear something and I will ride them off as hipsters, but when you Actually get to know someone and know it’s something deeper and more horrible, then you know you have got a hipster.

  • http://itsyowyow.com/2012/08/19/thought-catalog-roundup-12/ Thought Catalog Roundup « Yow Yow!

    […] My History With Hipsters […]

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