Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Why I don't mind being called a hipster

Image sourced here

Time was, to have something be described as "cool" - a bar, a clothes shop, a city, a restaurant - in a guidebook or a newspaper, would have meant that it was definitely not for me.  Cool, in the later 90s and early 00s, usually meant an expanse of white space and house music playing and vodka cocktails in tall glasses.  It meant beautiful people dressed in designer clothes and perfect hair and all of the things that I, gawky and tattooed and clutching a book and a broken down satchel, was not.

And then, suddenly, cool - in the mainstream sense of the word - started to mean just what I had been for years*.

It was dressing in vintage clothes and shopping in charity shops.

It was carrying a canvas tote bag filled with organic vegatables.

It was being into photography and reading and films and art.

It was body art and beards, and bands with beards.

It was knitting and sewing and riding a bike.

And all of these things meant you were a 'hipster', except no-one wanted to be called that because it implied that you were trying too hard, that you were jumping on a bandwagon, that you were only dressing a certain way because it was fashionable.  There was a sense that all hipsters are the same, and how terribly tedious and uncool, how very un-alternative and fashion victimy it was to dress and act alike. 

However, within all subcultures there is a huge degree of uniformity.  As a teenage indie kid, my friends and I used to sneer at the townie kids at our school and call them "sheep", apparently oblivious to the irony of saying that while dressed in identical skinny fit band t-shirts, corduroy skirts and Adidas Gazelles.  When I worked in a rock club in Leicester, every single patron would no doubt have made much of the fact that they were 'different', they didn't subscribe to the mainstream, they were unique.  But in their little groups - skate punks, hair rockers, goths - they were just as homogeneous-looking as the lads in smart shoes and shirts going to the townie club next door.  Of course hipsters all look the same to an outsider: so does any subgroup (there was actually a great article about this phenomenon, called out-group homogeneity bias, on io9 recently).

And there has always, too, been an insistence within these subcultures that the members of said groups were into x before it was cool, whether x was a band (I once heard a skate punk at Alcatraz - the nightclub, not the prison - say the words "I was into Blink 182 before they were cool" with a totally straight face), or a brand of trainers.  Hipster is just another label, like indie kid or grunger or shoe-gazer before it, and like every label the people to whom it's applied tend to squirm and protest and say that, really they've liked this stuff for years so they can't be a hipster or an indie kid or whatever, because what they are is purer and more real than this fleeting fashion.

Unlike the other examples, though, hipster fashion has been appropriated by the mainstream in a way that is unprecedented.  Yes, back in 1992 Marc Jacobs took grunge onto the catwalk and into stores, but it still wasn't the prevalant fashion of the era in terms of what made money.  But just one glance at the summer's festival roster, or at the racks of clothes in Topman filled with flannel shirts, or the packed vintage markets around the country every weekend, will tell you that the hipster lifestyle sells.

And you know what?  I'm ok with that.  If the mainstreaming of alternative culture, now packaged under the hipster label, means that there's more vegan options on food menus, and more bars where I can listen to Grizzly Bear instead of house music, and more handsome men in beards and checked shirts, and more cute girls with tattoos and vintage dresses, then I for one am all for it.

It means that I can pick up a travel guide and know where to find places I'm likely to be interested in - London's Brick Lane, Manchester's Northern Quarter, Portland's... well, the whole of Portland.  All described as "hipster", all full of the kind of street art, independent cafe bars, record stores, vintage clothes shops and artsy hang-outs that I enjoy. 

So fine, call me a hipster.  I'll still be here, eating my organic vegan food and reading a battered paperback in the corner of the funky little bar that sells handcrafted beers, long after it stops being cool, and that's fine too.  Because for me, it's not about being cool, it's about doing the things I love.  I'm just lucky to be in fashion right now.

* And yes, I am well aware that this statement is the most uber hipster thing to say, like, ever.

1 comment:

  1. Hehe. It is funny how things change over the years. Yesterday I was discussing how I loved Manchester's Northern Quarter with someone at work from there and he said how horrible an area it was years ago and how much it has changed since. I agree that's a good thing!