A History of Counterculture: Hipsters

Think nerdy glasses, fixed-gear bicycles, and suspenders.
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From poodle skirts to Instaglam, and cloche hats to bell bottoms, the history of mainstream fashion is well-known to the everyday fashionista. But not all aspects of fashion are mainstream. This semester, I'll be exploring the history of counterculture movements - and how they differ from the fashion history you already know.

This week, I'll be talking about a subculture you've almost certainly heard of - one that took off in the late 2000s, with nerdy glasses, suspenders, and fixed-gear bicycles. These hipsters' style was in stark contrast to the uniformly fake tanned and straight-haired looks of the day. 


The term 'hipster' originated in the 1940s as a term for followers of jazz musicians. The term was then taken on by young middle-class adults who wanted to follow their lifestyle. They co-opted the fashion and activities of the lower class (including those of urban blacks) as a way of demonstrating their rejection of mainstream ideals

Hipsters re-emerged in the late 1990s, as millennials in their 20s and 30s turned to social consciousness and independent thinking in the face of economic downturn and rapid social change. 


A key facet of hipster style was anti-materialism: the rejection of the value of possessions. This meant that the hipster movement was strongly associated with the revival of vintage, particularly items and styles from the 1960s as a throwback to the bohemian Beat movement. Hipster style was also obviously influenced by the grunge and emo movements that preceded it, with flannel shirts, Doc Marten boots, and Converse sneakers remaining popular. The hipster notion of 'ironically cool' was also reflected in their fashion choices - with items such as Hawaiian shirts, suspenders, and multicolored sweaters being popular items. 

Because hipsters were unconstrained by conventions about appearance, they were free to act on a variety of stylistic impulses - with tattoos and piercings being widespread. Hair would generally be worn in a natural style, but might be dyed - and unlike the bright colors of scene kids of the previous decade, popular styles were more muted or even pastel. Hipster men often wore long beards and styled mustaches. 


The most important and lasting effect of the hipster movement was the return of social activism to counterculture - as no subculture since the punks of the 1970s had such a central focus on addressing problems in society. Hipsters also brought back independent thinking, which was largely unpopular in the era of Myspace and reality television. 

However, the hipster subculture was not a perfect microcosm of progressivism. Its cultural influences were largely from underprivileged communities, including hip-hop and the LGBT+ community - despite the fact that hipsters were overwhelmingly white and heterosexual. The hipster ideals of anti-materialism, including a focus on travel and minimalism, were also, problematically, inaccessible to the lower-income communities from which hipsters were inspired. And while the hipster subculture prioritized political and environmental consciousness, the explicit aversion to the hipster label prevented communities from coming together, which stunted hipsters' power to enact meaningful change. 


Do you decry the mainstream? Do you think that your personal choices should be a reflection of your progressive views? Let us know in the comments below!

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