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Rococo: The Fabric of Hipsterdom (PM op-ed)

September 22, 2010

In recent years, hipster culture—particularly in suburbia—has become synonymous with consumer culture. However, there is a bit of the chicken-or-the-egg syndrome occurring. What came first? The hipster or the market of hipster clothing? Does a consumer dress like a “hip” celebrity (i.e. Robert Pattinson or Mischa Barton), or does the celebrity dress like the subculture? This is all an endless cycle of emulation. Once a company or industry takes notice that enough people are wearing flannels (an item that meant to represent anti-establishment worldviews during the 90s), then they mass produce this item and sell it to the public. People who would not normally find vintage or grunge trends to be appealing may change their minds when they see these items being sold at Urban Outfitters, American Apparel, and even Target.

Is hipsterdom a particular persona that is consciously chosen, or is it merely chosen without any understanding? The truth is, this depends on the level of apathy a person is consumed by. The hipster phenomenon is a product of both apathy and consumer culture. It is a persona worn just as that coveted vintage-appearing floral dress, disguising what is underneath.

The thrift store chic look has become very popular. Clothing companies market this fashion to hipsters, thus making it fairly easy to become one. Hipster commodities, including accessories such as watches and jewelry, are easily accessible. A person no longer has to search the racks at a thrift store for the perfect ironic t-shirt; they only have to find their size at the local retail clothing store.

In order to become a hipster, seemingly all one needs to do is own an American Apparel v-neck, listen to what Pitchfork recommends, and wear what Urban Outfitters tells you to. In fact, a person can click on the Trends link on UO’s website and have a visual representation of what they should be wearing. The uniqueness of vintage items has been robbed from us. For example, the Urban Renewal project at Urban Outfitters sells reproductions of unique thrift clothing items at an incredibly inflated rate.

This only helps to feed into the apathy that most hipsters are drowning in. Being a hipster is all decorative; it is about looking a certain way rather than believing in what goes behind each clothing item. Just as the term “rococo” suggests, the exterior is merely ornamental. This is similar to people growing dreadlocks but not understanding or having a regard for the Rastafarian lifestyle. Why did the grunge population in the 90s wear flannel shirts? Something like grunge was never intended to become stylish. The meaning becomes lost or forgotten when it is commandeered by another culture.

In the song “Rococo,” Win Butler of Arcade Fire sings that “modern kids” are “using great big words that they don’t understand.” And excluding the few who actually do understand, this statement is true. Much of the hipster population does not understand the culture that they belong to. We need to start questioning why we wear what we wear. We need to question why we do anything. We need to care.

Hipster fashion is simultaneously beautiful and terrible. It is a mesh of counterculture fashions; but without having an understanding of the history of each item, people are literally wearing their ignorance on their sleeves. Being a hipster is not so much a form of rebellion anymore; it is a fashion statement. People often want to emulate something they are not, whether they portray themselves as a member of a political movement or a member of the working class. This is no different than actors, such as Robert Pattinson, dressing in flannel and not washing his hair. He is not fooling anyone about his class. And this is something we are all guilty of, not only hipsters. For example, it can be as simple as wearing a three-piece suit to work when really we are a shorts and sandals type of person.

A hipster can claim that they are all individuals, when really, they have lost their individuality. The homogeneous hipsters have a fish-eye view of reality; their vision is skewed. They are apathetic about most things, except appearance. They drink in the fashion and delusions along with their Pabst Blue Ribbon.  There is a larger cultural issue at stake concerning this subculture, however. This self-expression could very well be a cry to belong to something in our increasingly growing apathetic culture. Hipsterdom, in its essence, has become a reflection of the greater culture. Apathy is a rising problem among the youth in America; hipsters are a mere product of this.

In defense of the hipsters, I will say one thing: They have the ability to impact society. They have a serious influence on fashion and consumerism. Yes, the denial of being a hipster is ironic because they are so self-aware. Anyone can identify a hipster, but few will accept the title. However, why would one want to associate themselves with a term that has almost become derogatory? This denial is a form of self-defense. In a way, they are facing an existential dilemma. To label or not to label? That is truly the question for hipsters. But label or not, we all need to try to understand each other and the movements we appear to be a part of.

This post was written by Gia Hughes for Proxart Magazine: Fall 2010Download or purchase your copy of the magazine here.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Salad permalink
    September 23, 2010 8:39 am

    Using the the term “hipster” itself is just ridiculously caving in to labeling an entire generation. And fashion? Seriously? Who gives a fuck?

  2. September 23, 2010 12:53 pm

    When a generation is as apathetic, consumer oriented, and self centered as this one a label may be more appropriate than usual(which is usually not at all). Hipsters care about fashion, that’s the point…. they could be caring about social issues and the health of the world in general, but they are more interested in the latest UO trends and looks.

    I have said it before and I will say it again, hipsterdom is the ultimate symbol of todays apathetic consumer driven western culture

  3. September 24, 2010 9:20 am

    The “label” has already been established. Nobody’s shocked by the term “hipster” anymore. It’s just as much a subculture as punk, or grunge – and those cultures are absolutely defined by their fashion, alongside their beliefs (“Hot Topic” was the 90’s equivalent to “Urban Outifitters,” wasn’t it?). That said, to comment and dig in to the values of any given subculture isn’t a bad thing. Think of it as trying to make sense of the world out loud. Hipsters will become underground again just like punk, and grunge have done. It’s just a matter of time before they’re back to their roots, and some other fad has replaced it. But they are definitely one interesting bundle of contradictions worth taking an honest look at – just like most every subculture.

  4. richard permalink
    September 28, 2010 4:39 pm

    why do you guys care so much about hipsters? proxart obsesses over them like they secretly wish someone would consider them a hipster. who cares!

  5. September 28, 2010 4:54 pm

    Hey Richard. Not so sure we “obsess” over them so much as the subculture has been a topic of discussion for us lately. We’re trying to look at culture that exists in the suburbs and, from our perspective, the suburban culture just happens to (generally) be filled with people who try to portray an image of themselves that’s not always true (do you live in Santa Clarita? “Awesometown” is a great example.”). While “Awesometown” might be on one side of this proverbial fence, “hipsterdom” is certainly on the other. For the record, there are some people who genuinely hold to the real “hipster” values and definitely don’t deserve the label. Unfortunately, the fad is so widespread, it’s pretty tough to disassociate those who are genuinely hipster, from those that merely shop at Urban Outfitters. No hard feelings; this isn’t a “judgement.” We’re just trying to observe, and give our opinion. You’re absolutely entitled to yours. Thanks for reading!

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