Remember high school? That five-year period which was awkward for almost everyone, replete with cliques so exclusive from each other that you could almost swear they were physically cordoned off by invisible force fields. Nerds, jocks, popular girls who fell pregnant straight after matric finals, and then right at the back of the classroom (and everyone’s minds), seething with self-pity and My Chemical Romance lyrics, were the emo kids.
After years of torment and derision, the emo subculture seems to have mostly died out. What became of all those emo kids? Well, legend has it that after a brief retreat, they traded in all their black clothing for plunging V-neck T-shirts, oversized non-prescription spectacles and a flannel shirt for every day of the week and re-emerged as urban hipsters. Here are a few tips to help you decide if you (or someone you know) might be a hipster.
You know who Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are
Who? Exactly. If your favourite band is unsigned or sings in a language other than English that you specifically learnt so that you’d get the chance to condescendingly explain the lyrics to whomever dares ask what your most recent MySpace blurb means, you’re definitely deck (that’s hipster speak for trendy). You still listen to Run DMC. You’ve bookmarked Pitchfork.com on your iPad. You learnt how to play the ukulele. You think Coldplay is for losers. You only know how to dance the pogo.
Like their predecessors, the emo kids, hipsters are largely defined by the music they listen to – the more obscure, independent and unknown the artist is, the better. Sticking to their belief of having the monopoly on everything cool, once hipsters hear their favourite band’s music playing on commercial radio or featured on a Twilight soundtrack, it is officially uncool. Back to the Pitchfork drawing board to find the next “big” act.
You’re still on MySpace
Or Friendster. Or Bebo. Basically any social networking site that no one uses anymore. You refuse to get Facebook or Twitter because of how overpopulated and “mainstream” they are. One of the main characteristics of being a part of the hipster movement is to like things before they gain mass appeal and frequently smuggle into conversation how you knew about them “before they were cool”. Sometimes, however, hipsters will rescue outdated fashions like film cameras, Atari game consoles and rollerblades and claim to have made them cool again.
All of these defunct fads feature prominently on your Bebo Lifestream, usually captioned with “OMG, I’m such a nerd!” or “Look what I found at my neighbour’s garage sale. Tubular.”
You shop in your grandparents’ closet
There’s a fine line between vintage fashion and hipster fashion. Vintage is your mom’s old tweed blazer. Hipster is your grandfather’s corduroy waistcoat worn with nothing but lace stockings, one opera glove and John Lennon sunglasses with the lenses taken out. If you’re a hipster, you almost never dress according to the weather and you have a Tumblr account that documents each of your outfits by way of pictures taken with your film camera (or the iPhone application Instagram, which makes it look like you used one).
The terms vintage and hipster are often used interchangeably because, despite every hipster’s best efforts and the fashion industry’s tendency to commercialise underground styles, trends that may have been pioneered by hipsters manage to filter through into the mainstream. This is when hipsters flock to their grandparents’ closets and come out looking like they’re late for a 40s fancy dress party. If your whole outfit isn’t machine washable, you’ve already won the hipster style war.
Irony is your religion
Not since Alanis Morissette’s 90s hit “Ironic” has a rhetorical device been so greatly abused. Hipsters are infamous for having a hazy ideology that co-mingles elements of existentialism and liberalism. How that translates to using irony as an excuse for everything you do is still a mystery. But if you’re a white middle-class 21-year-old who claims to be a liberalist, walking around carrying a satchel emblazoned with swastikas, you’re doing it right.
The apparent logic behind hipsters and their love of irony goes a little something like this: by embracing something notoriously uncool or culturally taboo, you “ironically” make it cool (since you’re a hipster and a self-proclaimed herald of everything awesome). Strictly speaking, this is not how irony works, but maybe that’s the whole point. Perhaps in a few years the hipster definition of irony will also escape into the mainstream. And if you think about it, what subculture in history has ever claimed to have redefined part of a language? Just another notch in hipsterism’s long-running reputation of “doing it before it was cool”.
To be fair, most of these indicators can be seen as generalisations and a person can be guilty of one or two of them without necessarily qualifying as a hipster. Chances are by the time this article is published, hipsters will have long moved on to quirkier and kitschier things and this will just be a list of four things that are just plain midtown (more hipster speak).
Photo: Eleanor Harding