The Origins of the Hipster

The Origins of the hipster.fw

Introduction

What do you think of when you hear the word hipster? Beards, mismatched vintage clothes and anything not ordinary? A hipster might say that definitions are too mainstream and they can’t be defined because they don’t fit into a category – but I will give it a go!

Typically hipsters are the intelligent creative type; men and women in their 20s or 30s that value independent thinking and have an appreciation of art and alternative music. You will usually find them living in urban areas, shopping in thrift stores and looking in a mirror perfecting their moustache (well, the male hipsters at least). There are a lot of different elements that have come together to create the modern hipster. A collision of multicultural influences, indie music, progressive politics and art. It may surprise you that hipsters first appeared decades ago, and the culture has developed over time, redefining the word into the hipster we know today. Let’s start with a history lesson and take a look into how this subculture developed.

Where Did the Term Hipster Come From?

The word hipster was first used back in the 1940s. It was used to describe a particular subculture that had evolved in America during which and directly linked to the popularity of Jazz music during the 1940s. There are different opinions on how the word actually came about, but the most common one is that the word hipster came from the word “hip” meaning “in the know” and was commonly used as an adjective to describe enthusiasts of the jazz music scene. The English suffix “ster” was added and the term “hipster” was born, being defined as “characters who like hot jazz”.

The 1940’s Hipster

Hipser Jazz ClubInitially hipsters were middle class white American youths. During a time of war, resistance and racial segregation groups of middle class white youths rejected the social norms of the time and the extravagant lifestyles of the higher classes seeking a more carefree and spontaneous lifestyle. They embraced jazz music and the culture that came with it. Jazz musicians were predominantly African American and these middle class white youths, looked to imitate the lifestyle of the musicians they looked up to along with young urban blacks. Jazz clubs were where these hipster groups went to socialise leading to a fusion of races in hipster culture.

These young people were focused on enjoying life, music and differentiating themselves from the upper classes and their orderly way of life. Adopting opposite views on life from what was expected – they used cannabis and other drugs, embracing a relaxed attitude to life, sarcastic humour and self-inflicted poverty.

In their philosophy people that were hipsters were ‘hip’ and anyone who wasn’t hip, was ‘square’. Squares sought security, comfort, valued possessions and status and accepted the ruling of the government without protest. Everything that hipsters rallied against. Being hip meant that you sought a deeper takeaway from life, valuing the artistic and obscure rather than normalcy and what was embraced by the general public.

Norman Mailer described the American hipster of the 1940s very eloquently as someone who would not be strangled by social conformity and instead would “divorce from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self”.

The Modern Hipster

Over the years the word hipster has adopted a completely different meaning. The hipster of the 1940s sought out people similar to themselves, growing friendships and developing bonds based on their mutual interest in jazz music and like views on societal issues. They gladly associated themselves with the subculture. A new generation of urban living young people have unwillingly adopted the subculture’s name and today’s hipster culture is less about the community building and more focused on their individual image. Similarly to earlier hipsters, modern day hipsters are not necessarily from lower classes but choose to look like they do, keeping an earthy, grungy image. They embrace anything obscure and appreciate any kind of alternative culture, be it film, music, or art.

A Stereotypical Hipster

A stereotypical hipster are the 20 somethings, living in Hackney that buy second hand clothes signalling their rejection of consumerism. They don’t do their weekly food shopping in Tesco, instead they buy their groceries directly from the producers at farmers markets. You know those retro bicycles with the oversized basket you are seeing regularly? That probably belongs to a hipster as cycling instead of driving or using public transport is a much greener option.

Negative Image

Somewhere along the line the word hipster obtained a negative connotation. “Hipster bashing” has become a thing and it’s largely to do with the image the media portrays these alternative individuals as. The consensus is that hipsters are pretentious and judgemental to the rest of society. Their fashion sense is construed to look like they don’t care about their image, when that’s all they are about.

I feel hipsters are hard done by. In my opinion, there are two types of hipster.

Type 1: The real ones, which have values and beliefs that lead them to live more sustainable lives. The real hipster buys second hand clothes for economic reasons. They source their food more carefully because they care about fair trade. Their interest in alternative culture means that they listen to less well known bands or artists. Their creativity shows in their fashion sense and in the way they bring old fashion practices into the modern day. These people are not trying to be cool, they just are.

Type 2: The deliberate hipster. These are the people that see people living alternative lifestyles and want to emulate them. They try too hard and this is where the negative image of pretentious know-it-alls comes from. They listen to bands that no one else has heard of and scoff at anyone that says that Rihanna is their favourite artist. They own iPhones while bashing large corporations. They scorn other subcultures for being unoriginal and following trends – oh the irony! What drives them is image and not sustainability and creativity and these people have turned the hipster movement into a trend.

All in all, I have nothing against either type of hipster. People can express themselves however they want and wear whatever they feel comfortable in. These are just the two stereotypical ends of the hipster spectrum.

Hipster Style 101

Whatever your opinion of the hipster culture, I think we can all agree that their style has massively influenced what we see in high-street stores. Love it or hate it, it’s everywhere.

As hipsters are not slaves to fashion or trends (cough, cough) not all dress the same but there are certainly some common identifiable articles of hipster clothing. The hipster wardrobe begins with think rimmed glasses. Usually people wear glasses to see properly but if you have 20/20 vision, don’t worry you can just get non-prescription think framed glasses, and fit right in! Just like this guy…

hipster male glasses

Female hipsters take on a slightly androgynous look by pairing any kind of black boots (the thicker/higher platform the better), with jeans and a loose fitting slogan t-shirt that belonged to their Dad in the 80s, while having perfectly applied makeup and hair long wavy hair that definitely took more time than they would care to admit.

hipster girl

Probably the most obvious sign of a male hipster/hipster wannabe is their facial hair situation. Everyone has noticed the influx of beards in recent times. Yes, hipster style is to thank for making it acceptable for young men to grow, or at least try to grow, full beards, which would have typically been associated with older men. These beards come in different lengths and styles but all are well maintained to deceptively achieve that rough appearance. Some hardcore hipsters even incorporate the “handlebar” moustache which requires extra styling and maintenance. After paying a lot of attention to their facial hair you could forgive hipster guys for being lazy with the hair on their head – but lazy they are not. Short around the sides with the top slicked back ever so carefully. Regular trips to the barber are required to keep you looking in peak hipster condition.

Anything vintage or with tartan print and will go down well with the hipster community.

Hipster style.fw

Conclusion

An umbrella term used to describe a subculture of young, urban living creative personalities. The common theme between the 1940’s hipster and the modern hipster and many other subcultures throughout the eras, is that although their image may have become fashionable, their rejection of mainstream values of their time is where their image stemmed from. The 1940’s hipster rejected the prim and proper lifestyles of the upper classes and instead adopting a more open-minded way of life.  Whereas the modern hipster is rejecting the contemporary culture of consumerism and constant obsolescence, opting for a more eco-friendly, less wasteful lifestyle. Their style wasn’t meant to become a trend, but who can blame the rest of us mainstream folk to want to look edgy!

 About the Author

Micar computer systems is a London-based software company that develops the UK’s original ERP solution for the Apparel, clothing, textile and footwear industries.  Visit the About Us page to find out more about our history and the products pages for more information about our tailor-made software solutions.

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