Types of Hipsters: Part One

If Rule #1 of hipsterdom is that it’s always one step ahead of the mainstream, then Rule #2 is that “hipster” is an extremely broad, diverse classification of people. But it was not always this way. Back in the day of Kerouac, Ginsburg, Warhol, and friends, “hip” folks used to be a very limited, specific entity. Not so in today’s postmodern, blurry world of cross-marketed mayhem. Today, hipster pervades our culture. From the lofts of Brooklyn to the trailers of the Ozarks, “hip” is as American as apple pie. We all want a taste.

Thus, defining types of hipsters is more of a cross-sectional assessment of American culture. You can be a hipster jock, a hipster nerd, a hipster Muslim or a hipster Baptist—sometimes all of these at once (hopefully not…). The point is: there are almost as many types of hipsters as there are types of people.

Because lately I’ve re-discovered my fascination with the theoretical questions surrounding the ontology of cool (see this post), I thought it would be fun to try to articulate some of the more prominent likenesses of hipster in today’s world. Most hipsters will fall into one or several of the following categories, though I’m sure there are some oddball types that I’ve overlooked.

So, without further ado, enter the parade of hip (in three installments):

1) The Naturaldepp-johnny-photo-johnny-depp-6206963.jpg
Insofar as a hipster can be a natural, organically existing entity, this is the closest you get. Seemingly without trying, The Natural attracts legions of horn-rimmed eyes at every soiree he or she walks into. This hipster typically comes from urbane parents or family who have long been attuned to or supported culture and the arts. Education is important, but so is social involvement and active participation in and appreciation of artistic endeavors. Good taste comes naturally for this person, who has every right to be elitist or snobbish, but avoids this whenever possible. They are well rounded, successful, and hard to denigrate. If there is a downside to this kind of hipster, it is that observers tend toward jealousy or fear, and friends are usually in it for status or to learn pointers.

  • Fashion: Impeccable and respectable, daring but not over the top. The consummate trend-setter.
  • Music: Nothing too trendy, hard to peg. Tends to have a nice balance of appreciation across genres and time periods, with lots of influence from parents and growing up amidst good music. Beatles, Dylan, U2, Simon and Garfunkel, Jeff Buckley, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Chopin.
  • Movies: Has seen most of the AFI Top 100, and favors older, classic Hollywood cinema. Appreciates lots of foreign film too, Warhol shorts, and non-political documentaries. Favorite filmmakers: Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, Jean-Luc Godard, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog.
  • Celebs of this kind: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey, Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Sienna Miller, Prince Harry.

2) The Newbie dakota-fanning.jpg
This is one of the more intriguing, though surprisingly common, breeds of hipster. The Newbie is fresh off of a former life of less-than status (that is, less than cool, less than stylish, more like the mainstream). The Newbie is found in large numbers in the sophomore classes of colleges, though sometimes freshmen (second semester) at more hip-friendly campuses. The Newbie often comes from a naïve, “everyone likes Dave Matthews and drives SUVs!” high school experience and then finds that in college, respectable uniqueness is the name of the game. Therefore, he/she scurries to find a hip niche, latching on to current fads and working hard to establish an individual style. Frequently they’ll attend a concert or movie that will instantly change them into a lifelong devotee. Very faddish, fickle, passionate, and irksome to many established hipsters.

  • Fashion: Chameleon. Always trying new things, with many more misses than hits. Recycles current wardrobe in various new ways. Can’t afford high fashion, though avoids boring staples like Gap and Old Navy. Tries a lot of statement tees and vintage band shirts, though typically feels uncomfortable in them at first.
  • Music: Very impressionable. Open to recommendations and attends lots of concerts for ideas. Scours old CD collection for salvageable records; usually only finds a few worthy of hipster repute. Johnny Cash, Death Cab For Cutie, Bright Eyes, Devandra Barnhart, The Shins, whatever Pitchfork says is cool…
  • Movies: Takes longer to fashion a personal taste in cinema, but latches on to those “eye-openers” seen on late-night dorm viewings (Requiem for a Dream, Full Metal Jacket, Fight Club). Doesn’t have favorite directors yet.
  • Celebs of this kind: Cameron Diaz, Lauren Conrad, Mandy Moore, Shia Lebouf, Dakota Fanning, any reality star trying to make it big on VH1.

3) The Academic wes-anderson.jpg
Being in to smarts is a broad trait of hipsters (all of them are more or less well-educated), but there is a specific type of hipster whose identity is defined by the bookish quality. This is the guy who came late to philosophy class everyday with tortured, tussled hair, but still blew everyone away in the discussion. This is the girl with thick-rim glasses who drinks red tea and reads Adorno for fun. These guys are way into intelligence and the image that accompanies that persona. They tend to be independent but thrive in academic circles and reading/writing groups. They like art and fun, insofar as they understand the socio-cultural implications of it, of course. You find these hipsters at colleges and in urban environments with a healthy culture and thought life.

  • Fashion: British intelligentsia couture. Glasses (trendy, horn-rimmed most likely), clean earth tones, lots of blazers. Nothing flashy or too youthful. Has the look of Banana Republic or Burberry but often by way of a cheaper, more student-friendly alternative.
  • Music: Not hugely important to the daily life of the Academic hipster, but very much appreciated. Classical and jazz are cool to them, as are more mellow and intelligent singer-songwriters. Rufus Wainwright, St. Vincent, Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens, Phillip Glass, Nina Simone, Feist, Brian Eno, Arvo Part.
  • Movies: Heavy on the foreign films and euro-existentialist cinema. Hardly ever goes to the multiplex for a popcorn flick, unless it is a Harry Potter adaptation or some other book-to-movie guilty pleasure. Favorite directors: Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Lars von Trier, Patrice Leconte.
  • Celebs of this kind: Wes Anderson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rivers Cuomo, Natalie Portman, Claire Danes.

4) The Dilettante mary-kate.jpg
Sorry to use a term that “The Academic” might use, but it fits. Dilettante is a word for someone who has a superficial, yet passionate admiration for the arts. In other words, this is the artsy-fartsy hipster who really doesn’t know that much about art, but likes the image. They took art in high school or college and fell in love with the sexiness of it. They love art openings, gallery parties, and all things “fringe” in the world of cinema, music, theater, or whatever. When you quiz them on the difference between rococo and neo-classical, however, they brush you off as pedantic (because they do not know what you’re talking about, but like using words like “pedantic”). Still, they have respectable taste because they associate enough with real artists who tend to have good taste. The Dilettante is a sometimes-artist (mostly failed), but tends toward amateur art-criticism and usually has a job and life completely separate from the weekend art binge.

  • Fashion: Cocktail party chic. The skinny jeans, t-shirt and blazer look is popular for guys; heeled-boots, slinky dress and bohemian Anthopologie jewelry for girls. Lots of unnatural hair color.
  • Music: Heavy on techno and art-rock—music you’d hear at a swank warehouse art party. Moby, The notwist, Four Tet, Squarepusher, Thievery Corporation, The Field.
  • Movies: Art house all the way—the more subversive the better. Favorite directors: Todd Solondz, Darren Aronofsky, Jim Jarmusch, P.T. Anderson.
  • Celebs of this kind: Mary Kate Olson, Mischa Barton, Macaulay Culkin, Seal, Kirsten Dunst, select journalists or MTV VJs.

To be continued… Next time: “The Flower Child,” “The Detached Ironic,” “The Yuppie,” and “The Artiste.”


31 responses to “Types of Hipsters: Part One

  1. Dakota Fanning is hardly a newbie.

  2. Very entertaining. I love how your dissection and analyses of these types of people kind of smudges some of the novelty away from what they’re trying so hard to showcase.

  3. Pretty insightful – this causes me to try and categorize certain acquaintances.
    I’m curious – did you develop the groups first and then ponder which people to put in them or did you think of people who were distinct (and yet similar) and then create a title for them?

  4. Laura-
    To answer your question… Yeah I developed the categories first and then thought of people who might fit in them… In some cases the *real* version of the given hipster type is hard to find in any on celeb or famous person.

  5. Pingback: How to spot a Hipster « Club Fritch

  6. It’s funny to me that so many people are writing about hipsters. There was a book written on the subject in 2003 (the hipster handbook) with the same analytic, parched, allusive humor. And while there is a certain irony in pointing out the fact that “hipsters” – the very people trying to avoid the pitfalls of categorization, are themselves category-izable, there is also the further irony that ironic humor is very hipster. Everyone, I suppose, is trying to figure out how to be genuine. But I am willing to bet that, under the hipster umbrella, there are people who are actually unselfconscious enough to have real passion about their interests. And while they might wear the clothes that hipsters wear, and read the books that hipsters read, they most certainly don’t spend large amounts of energy categorizing hipsters. After all, aren’t hipsters ultimately just people who use categorization in a self-conscious attempt to distinguish themselves. And what is more hipsterly than posting an ironic blog about a group that endangers your own precious concept of individuality.

    • Right. Self consciousness may be the calling card of the hipster, or disguised self consciousness. That’s why a lot of normal people can be cooler than hipsters. (half intellectual/half ironic hipster here)

  7. Comprehensive. Well done… By the way, a 17-year-old Canadian friend of mine just mentioned that there’s a new click in high schools across NA called “scene”. Have you any idea what this means?

  8. Just about every hipster I’ve ever known falls under the “dilettante” subheading. They all have typically worshipped at the altar of Vincent Gallo and/or Harmony Korine as well.

  9. i just stumbled upon your blog which i have really enjoyed and i found your description of hipsters to be pretty interesting. i’ve been called a hipster, and will acknowledge that in many ways i have those tendencies, but after reading through all of your types, i can’t really adhere to one specific title- i probably fall under about 4 or 5 different categories, so i guess i’m one of those that can’t be fully defined, but i still found your thoughts to be very interesting… good work on defining these ‘one-of-a-kind’ people :)

  10. this blog is horrible

  11. Pingback: You might be “That Guy” if you’re a hipster « You Might Be That Guy If…

  12. So many categories, I have considered making a set of Hipster Trading Cards. Perhaps we should collaborate?

  13. Pingback: We’re All Hipsters Now! (right?…) « True Facts of the World

  14. i gotta say, there is a lot missing from this list. i would know, since i myself am a hipster in college. to start with, no self respecting indie kid would ever be comparable to a celeberty. that would be the epitome of mainstream. also, most of the music and movies listed are quite mainstream as well… i saw no mention of even the least obscure of hipstery bands, such as animal collective, arcade fire, wolf parade, and neon indian. most hipsters have an appreciantion for old jazz, the beatles, bob dylan, etc, but hardly any hipster’s taste in music could be defined by any of those. this is especially true with the beatles. if the beatles define your taste in music, then you have no taste in music because everybody likes them. its just assumed. and NO hipster would EVER listen to u2. also, i saw no mention of thrift stores, lumberjack beards, frenchie moustaches, skinny jeans, cut off shorts, plaid, coffee shops, or fixie bikes, all of which are essential components to any definition of hipsters. the only reason any hipster is a hipster (once again, i would know…) is they spend some amount of time every week A: shopping at thrift stores to keep their look unique, and B: looking for obscure music and films in order to maintain ‘indie cred’ amongst their hipster friends. its well worth it, because almost all popular music and movies are horribly uninspired and quite mediocre.

  15. *celebrity

  16. Right. We’re getting to broad with yuppy mainstream hipster. U2?

  17. One of my favorite articles! It can be really funny sometimes when people try too hard to show something, and they end up doing it the wrong way!:) But also there is a big stereotype about all hipsters being douches so I recommend that people investigate a little before they make their opinion about a certain culture. Cheers!:)

  18. Pingback: » Why don’t people understand hipsters, triangles and this “hipster stores” blog. Hipster Stores

  19. Pingback: Best of the Blog’s First Five Years | The Search

  20. thank fuck metal wasn’t mentioned as a music choice for any of them. keep these fucks out of our culture.

  21. Seriously the most judgemental garbage I’ve read in a while. I don’t understand why this is on a Christian’s website…Anybody?

  22. Reliable knowledge, Kudos!

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