How the hipster lost its meaning

How much does a hipster weigh? An Instagram!

Actually, it’s not easy to work out what weight you can put on the word ‘hipster’, or whether the word means anything at all. The irony of hipster culture is that what began as a rejection of the mainstream has become one of the most mainstream cultures.

The stereotype is fairly well established: a 20-something, sporting a MacBook in a Starbucks café as they plan their novel, kitted out in glasses (though they don’t have eyesight problems), a scarf (though it’s not cold), and perhaps a pair of Doc Martens boots – a staple for any self-professed ‘alternative’ since the punk movement.

But ‘hipster’ is not just a few pieces of clothing and an air of superiority – or at least, it didn’t used to be.

Twenty-six-year-old Les Cycles Ratherbe was a hipster before the movement had a label, not that he’d ever admit it.

“No, I’m not a hipster. It’s not something you would aspire to be. The term itself is a negative one,” Les says.

“About four or five years ago it became an aggressive trend, about the same time TV started making fun of it.

“It used to be all about thrift shopping, and now you have shops like Factorie, which is pretty much a hipster Jay Jays.”

Fellow ‘not-a-hipster’ Vivien Mullen says mainstream trends have changed the definition of hipster.

“At the moment the world’s trying to encourage people to enjoy the alternate side of life, then all of a sudden that alternate side becomes mainstream, and so it’s all just this contradictory vicious cycle of things becoming hipster then mainstream, hipster then mainstream,” she says.

Yes, at some point ‘hipster’ was a genuine ideology and rejection of mainstream culture in the same way that grunge or punk were for their generations, but for hipsters, something has been lost in the move.

Nineteen-year-old Vivien says the ‘true hipster’, who knows who they are and represents it in their clothing and music is being blurred with the hipsters promoted through pop culture.

Vivien 'not-a-hipster' Mullen

Vivien ‘not-a-hipster’ Mullen

“Wollongong at the moment is being engulfed in this hipster way and I don’t know why, it baffles me,” she says.

“You have [local cafes and restaurants]* that follow this indie hipster model, but every time I go I feel uncomfortable because it’s just a bit of a pretentious crowd, because everyone thinks to be hipster gives you this crazy higher status.”

“You rarely hear the word ‘hipster’ without the word ‘f***ing’ preceding it,” Les says.

The rise of the term coincided with the growing independent arts scene in the mid ’90s.

Les says the movement was indifferent to non-alternative sentiments: “I was in Bathurst at the time when skinny jeans started picking up, and in Bathurst if you went out in skinny jeans people would ask ‘why are you wearing lady jeans?’ I wore them anyway.”

However, this earnestness has changed. He says the modern hipster is self-obsessed, or too concerned with fitting the mold.

Vivien says there isn’t really an ideological base for hipsters to stand on. “People aren’t doing it for the love of political change or the love of same sex marriage or anything like that,” she says.

“People just think it’s what they should be. They’re convinced by the media that being hipster is kind of expected of them if they want to be popular.”

I’m a girl that likes to wear Lowes jumpers when I get home from uni, I’ll happily wear double denim not because [a company]* says it’s cool, but because it’s the jacket on my door as I’m running out. I Op shop because it’s cheap, not because it shows that I’d rather not fund big organisations. I just hope I’m just me!”




*Company names removed by request

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