What is a Hipster?

Written by: Graeme Passmore / Photographer


Take a stroll down Brunswick street in the suburb of Fitzroy and you’ll be sure to see a speckle of
fashion-conscious twenty-somethings hanging about and sporting a number of predictable stylistic
trademarks: skinny jeans, cotton spandex leggings, fixed-gear bikes, vintage flannel and fake
eyeglasses. Exploring the contemporary subculture of “hipsters”, a stereotype generated, categorize,
and indie consumer culture, may sound fun and easy, but what’s it all about? What are they all
about? And what the hell is a hipster? These are some of the questions I have to ask myself in order
to explore the project “Hipster Revolution”. Should I start to think as though I am a hipster, in order
to become close enough to understand what it means to be a hipster? What is important? What
defines this subculture to any other? Through these questions I will start to understand their
lifestyle and where they came from, which will then reflect throughout my work.

I started to research the definition of hipster. What was the “hipster,” The term Hipster refers to a
member of a contemporary subculture based in trendy, middle-class, urban lifestyles. Like most
contemporary subcultures, hipsters have no exact definition; rather, they are identified by a series
of common traits. The most definable of these traits is the refusal for self-definition. The hipster
never self-identifies. As I look deeper into this subculture to find out whom these people living by
these common traits are that make them into the “un-self-identified” hipster. It was quite a confusing
idea, evolution you could say. No one, it seemed, thought of himself as a hipster, and when someone
called you a hipster, the term was an insult. Some who used this insult were themselves often said to
resemble hipsters — they wore the skinny jeans and big eyeglasses, gathered in little pockets in big
cities, for example a small suburb like Fitzroy and looked down on mainstream fashions and

Ok lets take a step back and look at the history and origin of the term hipster. The word hipster finds
its roots from the term “hip,” meaning cool. “Hip” originated from the term “hep” which refers to
“hop” which is slang for opium. Hipster began as a term used to describe enthusiast of a certain type
of jazz during the 1940s and 1950s. It developed into a description of certain members of the Beat
Generation, referring to individuals who lived outside of the mainstream culture and explored
spiritual lifestyles. The term was less commonly used in the 1960’s when “hippies” began their break
into culture. The term hipster regenerated into mainstream slang in the 1990’s in reference to
young, middle-class urban dwellers who adhere to the specific hipster trends. In the 1990’s, the
hipster term came back strong in communities of young, middle-class urbanities. The dress was
usual a causal mixture of grunge, jeans and tee-shirts that promoted Indie bands.

The idea of a hipster is to participate in a form anti-establishment culture. This means that they
attempt to reject mainstream trends for what is considered less cool or common especially in
regards to music, philosophy, and fashion. This means that in regard to their dress, politics, social
lives, entertainment, and other habits, Hipsters are doing whatever the rest of us are not.
Although most hipsters are middle level income, many choose to walk, bike, or take public
transportation. The popular option within Melbourne would be the bike, or to be more precise the
“fixie”. Fixie is a term used for the fixed gear bicycle. I read a quote from Douglas Haddow a 28-yearold
Canadian writer, designer, video artist and general media enthusiast, writer of Hipster: The Dead
End of Western Civilization. “This obsession with “street-cred” reaches its apex of absurdity as
hipsters have recently and wholeheartedly adopted the fixed-gear bike as the only acceptable form
of transportation – only to have brakes installed on a piece of machinery that is defined by its lack
thereof.” “Lovers of apathy and irony, hipsters are connected through a global network of blogs and
shops that push forth a global vision of fashion-informed aesthetics. Loosely associated with some
form of creative output, they attend art parties, take lo-fi pictures with analog cameras, ride their
bikes to night clubs and sweat it up at nouveau disco-coke parties. The hipster tends to religiously
blog about their daily exploits, usually while leafing through generation-defining magazines like
Vice, Another Magazine and Wallpaper. This cursory and stylized lifestyle has made the hipster
almost universally loathed.”

They seem to have adopted certain traits from the “hippie”. By this I mean their passion or spiritual
side to situations involving the planet. For example they like to eat organic products, save carbon by
riding and walking. A big part of my conceptual folio is the fashion sense of the way hipsters dress.
Hipsters are very anti-conventional and don’t like to wear current fashion trends. I believe this
spawns from a dislike for commercialization.

Where would a hipster purchase their clothes? If you don’t know where your local Savers or Op
shops are by heart, then you’re probably not a hipster. Hipsters wear their own personal style, many
of them shopping at Opportunity shops. These are mainly located on Brunswick Street and Smith
Street in the Fitzroy, Collingwood region. Also a popular hot spot is “Savors” on Sydney Road in
Brunswick. “Savers” is a opportunity shop the size of K-mart! They like to find something
nontraditional or designing their own clothes to create outfits that are truly unique. Because the fact
is, nothing represents hipster fashion more than some old school tight fitting shirts, jeans that are
wickedly tight and well worn, and retro Vans, Converse or pointy shaggy slick brown leather shoes.
All clothing is of course fitted from your shirts to your jeans to your jackets, if you’re baggy, you’re
not hipster.

The problem, of course, with this particular idea is that as soon as enough people attach themselves
to an uncommon fashion for example, the once outcast fashion becomes mainstream and loses its
hipster appeal. This makes hipsters into a type of abstract nomad, constantly moving from idea to
idea. This constant flux is the reason hipsters can be so difficult to define in the first place. But this
also makes hipsters into trendsetters.

So what does this make the hipster? The unintentional trendsetter. Because of their unconventional
nature, hipsters tend to do and wear what they want without care for what others think.
Hipsters are not paying attention to what is in fashion.

What exactly is hipster fashion? To dress like a hipster, you must understand first what counterculture
is. I say this because in order to have a hipster fashion sense, your style must reflect that of
one who deviates away from what society determines to be the norm. So most like to make a
statement with their dress or T-shirt of some sort, or have some spiritual meaning, political or
artistic all the while constructing the cool image.

So I can’t remember the last time I looked at my wardrobe and really thought about what sort of
statement I was going to make for the day. Is this normal? Should I be thinking deeper on how I
match my T-shirt with my jeans in order to create some sort of poetry that sings to people? Well to
become a hipster, it sounds like I’ll have to. If it comes naturally to you, congratulations, you likely
are a hipster at heart.

One might wonder if the Hipster way of life is just a fad or if it will be here to stay for a long time. Will
all those hipster clothes you bought so you can be fashionable and seen be put to good use? That’s the
risk some are willing to take. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be as popular as it is
today. Of course, being a hipster is going against mainstream, so even if most hipsters move onto
something else, if you want to maintain your hipster fashion, then you’ll simply be that much more
hipster. Interesting how that works, isn’t it?

Anti-fashion trends like the hipster look cannot be found in magazines, because the second these
looks become trendy, or even acceptable any self-respecting hipster drops this mode of dress and
adopts another. Though such magazines such as “The Smith Journal” and “Frankie” do produce
hipster fashion, but this would be the minority. This is why the look is so difficult to follow, or adopt
for one’s own without understand the culture behind it. It might sound easy to say to avoid what was
hip to be hip, sound weird? Well it is but I believe it’s the truth. Instead, look to individuality and
quality of clothing instead.

If you stop and think about it, movements and counter cultures such as goth, punk, and skater are
still around, just not in the high populations that they once were. Some years they experience
resurgence and others it seems like only a couple people are engaging in such fashion and culture.
Douglas Haddow’s lead essay, “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization,” “We’ve reached a
point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum,”
“So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its
subversion and originality, and is leaving a generation pointlessly obsessing over fashion, faux
individuality, cultural capital and the commodities of style.” “But ultimately, I suspect hipsters are
simply kids in a phase they’ll eventually grow out of, just like the Gen-Xers, punks, hippies, beatniks,
and flappers before them.”

One might argue anyway that hipsters are just an evolution of other cultures that have been around
for decades. As such, while the name might slightly be different and even the fashion might not be
the same, the essential way of living and conducting oneself in order to fit into the scene is basically
the same. I tend to agree with Haddow’s view on hipsters, simply just a phase that eventually will
fade out just like previous subcultures that have come before us. Yeah hipsters may be so hip and
cool for now, yeah they may have tattoos, but so do bikies, pirates, indie kids, emo kids and Goths,
the list goes on. Yeah hipsters ride bikes, but so does Cadel Evans and my best mates mum, everyone
rides bikes.

Really what I have learnt is that hipsters are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that
feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. A defeated generation, resigned to the hypocrisy of
those before us, who once sang songs of rebellion and now sell them back to us. Eventually they’ll
morph into multiple other subcultures and disconnect themselves from the term hipster. As Douglas
Haddow said “The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and
disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.”

Well they are here to stay, for now. They will slowly fade away like a feather in the wind, only to be in
our memories and laugh about it one day on how we all use to dress. Like the Incas they will
disappear, but this time I will be there to photographically document their ways of life.

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