Hipster – What does it even mean?
No, seriously. ‘Hipster’? Really? It’s sort of all shallow and mysterious at the same time. Or is it? Just what hides behind those thick-rimmed glasses?
A quick Google search unveils the vague Wikipedia definition…
‘Hipsters are a subculture of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers with musical interests mainly in indie rock that appeared in the 1990.’
I first came across the word when I discovered the style blog ‘Hipster Musings’ where the author Isabel Slone chronicles her fashion adventures, favouring thrift store finds, vintage clothing and 90s fashion, music and film culture.
Yet I had no idea what the word actually means.
Then, when I joined Tumblr, I discovered these images with big thick-rimmed glasses superimposed on them with ‘quirky’ slogans. For example, Sarah from the movie LABYRINTH wearing thick-rimmed glasses and telling us ‘You probably haven’t been to the Labyrinth. It’s so underground’. She’s not the only fictional character to have been ‘hipsterized’ with these glasses – check Ariel from Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID!
Then there’s this craze for people posing while wearing these glasses in The Real – not for any visual benefit, but to indicate that they are a ‘hipster’ or unique and individual in some way. This must be so, because their face is swallowed up by the large frames. Is it meant to make them look intellectual? It doesn’t. It makes them look pretentious, or like they want to follow in the footsteps of Garth from WAYNE’S WORLD (which isn’t a bad thing, but probably not their intention!)
The thing is that no-one seems to come up with a concrete definition or fully understands what it means to be a hipster, making the concept feel potentially shallow and mysterious at the same time.
Is it an underground by-product of the grunge movement in the 90s, inspired by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins along with others? Nirvana caused a sensation through contrasting the punk spirit incorporated in their raw and sometimes disturbing song lyrics to upbeat music tinged with a dark edge. Equal parts gentle, equal parts fierce. They were not the first band to do so, but one of the first to take it into the mainstream and make it part of pop’s lexicon.
Despite fears of the band being seen as ‘selling out’ Kurt Cobain admitted: ‘It’s really not hard to keep your dignity and sign to a major label. Most people don’t even have any dignity in the first place.’ The irony is that if being a hipster means you listen to underground, unknown bands then it doesn’t make sense to make the most well-known grunge band of the 20th century your poster child.
Does ‘hipster’ have feminist connotations fueled by all-female bands in the nineties like Babes in Toyland, Bikini Kill and Hole? A political agenda of any kind? Isabel Slone – along with other alternative style bloggers – is an open supporter of feminism and issues fanzines which are distributed among the blogger circuit and contribute to online feminist blogs such as ‘The Shameless’ and countless others. ‘Hipster’ may also be attributed to being eco-conscious, trying to preserve the world’s resources by reusing materials.
The word ‘hipster’ may even have emerged as far back as the 1940s, with the upsurge of jazz culture. All the cool cats listening to ‘in’ music were termed ‘hip’ and trying to break away from their (mostly) middle class backgrounds and adopt a new lifestyle similar to that of their favourite jazz musicians.
Whereever this term evolved from, being a hipster seems to encompass a whole range of ideas and lifestyles. Maybe even Mookychicks could be classed as hipsters? Through all the stigma and stereotypes attached, it seems that this subculture is still flourishing and some people embody what it may be to be a hipster. As for all those glass-wearing posers? They’re just too mainstream!