When a pretentious lifestyle intending to proclaim originality and nonconformity becomes an overused cliché, isn't it time for its proponents to move on? In the past months I have spotted the easily recognizable members of the hipster community in L.A., Berlin, England, Spain and even beautiful Bella Italia. In the Amsterdam airport I even saw a Muslim hipster sporting a topknot and tight jeans with a veiled woman in tow.
The look has little geographic variation: lumberjack beard, hair that's long on top with short sides, skinny jeans, new multicolored Nikes, plaid shirt, Smurf hat and intellectual glasses. I wonder how many really are original in their expression and how many are simply trying to look like they are original for lack of their own personal style or beliefs.
Hipsters aren't a new phenomena, the term "hip" was noted as early as 1902, with the meaning "aware" or "in the know." Jack Kerouac described 1940s hipsters as "rising and roaming America, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere [as] characters of a special spirituality". Back then, hipsters were mostly middle-class white kids trying to mimic the lifestyle of the jazz musicians whose cutting edge music they admired. (This could explain today's hip-hop styled outfits that are also a worldwide phenomena amongst suburban youth who never saw a ghetto.)
Every generation has had hip people pushing the boundaries of being unconventional. As we live in an ever more commoditized world, with significant parts of our lives lived in the sterile universe of bits and bytes, the need to express our individuality is even more necessary. And hipsters historically have represented an anti-standardization. But when major brands use hipster images to push everything from jeans to cornflakes, where is the cutting-edge relevance? There is even a hipster parody using Barbie dolls on Instagram. Could it be that actually being square is more challenging to the social norms than acquiring a funky haircut? Or like the phenomena of tattoos, you look more one of a kind if you don't have one these days. Perhaps button-down collars and chinos are signs of the new groundbreaking free-thinkers.
The community has become so standardized there is even an annual hipster convention in Germany attracting thousands of people. Doesn't this mean that the cultural group has gone mainstream and no longer the anti-establishment, uber-cool trendsetters they hope to represent? If you call yourself a hipster are you really a hipster? That's like proclaiming 'I'm cool" which in itself is an uncool thing to say in front of your cool friends. They will give you the cold shoulder if you do this. Cool people don't need to announce their coolness - it is recognizable by those who are in the know or sensed by others who are oblivious to trends.
A friend of mine from high school has been touring the past many years with the band Tower of Power. Seeing them perform their trademark song from 1973 'What is Hip?' is always a highlight and they were already skewering the hip culture of that time. The song ends with:
'What's hip today
Might become passé'
But even if that was prophetic or only wishful thinking, 'hippie chic' is still a style choice for aspiring cool people everywhere from the Glastonbury Festival in the UK to Coachella in Southern California. Not sure if we will see couture designers doing 'hipster chic' in a dozen years but the world is full of surprises. Perhaps the hippie culture was more enduring with their back to nature environmental concerns plus their call for peace and equality. The hipsters todays are supporting... themselves as role models? What happened to speaking out against the war(s) in Iraq or the greed on Wall Street?
As we wait to see how the next wave of individualism expresses itself as it rises up against the mainstream, we can have solace in an effortless, natural coolness in just being ourselves. The pop group from the eighties, Huey Lewis and The News, nicely expressed this concept in their song: 'It's Hip To Be Square.' No need to worry about being in the know - that boat has already sailed. Just put on a nice shirt (with buttons), ditch the beard, get a decent pair of shoes and write a check for your favorite socially aware organization.