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 Natural
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
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
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
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.