Many generations contain groups that are easily lumped together as one, caricatured and objectified. Rarely is this generalized summation done in a friendly tone. Ironically, these groups often end up defining important times in history. The Beats, in the 1950s, became parodied as “beatniks;” the hippie serves as the logo for the 1960s. To a lesser extent, the suffragette ad the flapper define two different eras in women’s history in the early 20th century. These oft-derided groups have become essential to any survey of their times.
Enter the hipster.
There is much to dislike in hipster culture, particularly the upper-class gentrification that seems to define too much of their lifestyle – the $9 bowl of cereal in Times Square kind of thing. Too many people are being priced out of their homes, and the very nature of cities has changed with this gentrification. Money isn’t bad intrinsically, but the fatuous use of it, especially when it impacts society in a broader sense, is infuriating to many.
But the same mistake made with many other groups is being made with the hipster. What do you think of when you hear the word? Creative facial hair, the “man bun,” some fashion choices? These have become as emblematic as the leather jacket was for the 1950s beatniks and Teddy Boys, or the tie-dye for hippies. But do these things really define these groups? Not at all. Each became a simplified language, an emoji of sorts, to use as shorthand. Indeed, in the case of hippies, their best years came before the hippie style had gelled; afterward, when it was seen as a defining trait, the decline was inevitable. When a group goes from “Hey, you like this? So do I!” to “If you want to be one of us, you have to dress like us” the end has begun.
I’m very amused by some of my peers, who were criticized by their parents for their fashion choices – and please note, I’m not defending late 1970s and early 1980s fashion in any way – now emulating their parents and looking down their nose at people who dress in a particular way. Condemn hipsters for their economic choices, if you will, but the man-bun is hardly worth commenting on. Worse, history shows us that, in 30 years or less, surveys of this decade will feature hipster fashion the way bell-bottoms and fringed jackets show up in museum surveys of the 1960s. You will end up on the wrong side of history, complaining about things that do not matter.