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.