The Hipster Effect » Hipsterdom Identity, society and work in the age of perpetual connectivity Tue, 26 Mar 2013 00:35:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Hipster Effect at TEDx Gramercy /2012/04/30/the-hipster-effect-at-tedxgramercy/ /2012/04/30/the-hipster-effect-at-tedxgramercy/#comments Mon, 30 Apr 2012 16:32:37 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=668 more]]> In March 2012, I was invited to speak about the hipster effect at the inaugural TEDxGramercy event. Without further ado, here is a video of my TEDx talk: on identity, personal transformation and the hipster effect.



I highly recommend checking out some of the other talks from TEDxGramercy. Quite enlightening all around.


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A new definition of hipster /2012/04/02/a-new-definition-of-hipster/ /2012/04/02/a-new-definition-of-hipster/#comments Mon, 02 Apr 2012 18:43:52 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=647 more]]> When was the last time you heard the word hipster being used? For most of us, not more than a few days pass in between encounters of the commonly used insult – and, for the most part, it is an insult. Yet despite its exceedingly common and widespread usage, publications continue to release articles declaring the hipster phenomenon over. Last week, Flavorwire published an article asking, “What Comes After the Hipster?,” with various experts chiming in on what hipsters might have been and what is likely to follow. In late 2010, n+1 magazine held a panel asking, “What Was the Hipster?” and later released a book by the same name. But before we get too carried away declaring the hipster dead, there’s something I’d like to point out.


Google Trends: Hipster (4.2.12)


This chart shows the amount of people searching Google for the word hipster (top), and the amount of news articles that mention the word hipster (bottom). Now I’m no mathematician, but it’s pretty obvious that this is hardly the moment when we should be declaring the hipster dead. Far from leaving our vocabularies, the word hipster is becoming more and more common with every month and every year that passes. So rather than asking what comes after the hipster, I suggest we take a step back and ask what is the hipster.


Even the dictionary is confused about hipsters

Ask a few people what they think a hipster is and you’ll quickly realize that we don’t have a single accepted definition of this exceedingly popular cultural phenomenon. While the most popular definition on Urban Dictionary skews towards the positive, that same definition is also the least popular, with 71,000 upvotes and nearly 18,000 downvotes. Classical dictionaries are still using the definition of the 1950s hipster and the Oxford Dictionary states simply that the hipster is “a person who follows the latest trends and fashions.” Yet none of these definitions even mention the things we associate with hipsters most: skinny jeans and PBR, wild outfits and fixed gear bikes, ironic mustaches and American Apparel. Without a single, shared definition of the word hipster, each of us is creating our own definition and – given that the common usage of the word is pejorative – our self-created definitions usually err towards the negative. I was recently sent a blog post likening the current usage of the word “hipster” to the 90s usage of the word “faggot” as a catch-all insult aimed at anybody who looks or dresses differently, which I believe is a fairly accurate assessment of the actual usage of the word. Until we can all agree on a single definition of the word hipster, that negative usage is only likely to increase. So let’s take a look at why we have such trouble defining them in the first place.


The hipster “subculture” is not anchored by a single aesthetic

When you think of a punk or a goth or a hippie or a raver, a very specific image is likely to pop into your head. These previously popular subcultures each rallied around a set of shared values and, more importantly to the outsider, a set of shared aesthetics. When I was in high school, goths tended to be shunned, but it was clear that in social environments outside of school, their wild form of dress served as a code to help them find one another in mixed surroundings. That shared code of aesthetics was the outward manifestation of a shared set of values, giving goths an easy way to identify and meet other members of their own subculture. Hipsters don’t share that single set of values or that single set of aesthetics; hipsters are, in fact, focused on individuality.

Whereas previously prevalent subcultures focused on group differentiation, hipsters focus on the individual. The hipster isn’t necessarily about finding other likeminded souls out there. It’s more about expressing yourself and doing your own thing, no matter how wild that may appear to others. As more and more modes of self-expression have made their way into popular culture, fueled largely by the wide-open nature of the internet and the vast amounts of content we now consume on a daily basis, we’ve come to adopt more and more iterations of style at a breakneck pace. And because we’re adopting so many different styles so rapidly, we don’t have time to create a shared set of meanings about trends. Instead, what’s going on now is that we’re creating our own meanings for each particular style or object. Classical meanings have been lost somewhere along the way; though half of the people in a room may be wearing thick-rimmed glasses, odds are good that each of them has a different reason for doing so. We, as a society, assume this to mean lack of authenticity, but in many ways it is at the very heart of authenticity – it is choosing for yourself exactly how you want to outwardly express yourself, imbuing each object with your own personally created meaning rather than using off-the-shelf cultural symbols.


The hipster as the scapegoat

One thing is sure about hipsters – you’re not one of them. Right? We use the word hipster on people who express themselves more eccentrically than we ourselves do. It has become a term of comparison. The girl in the used sedan thinks the guy on the Vespa is a hipster, the guy on the Vespa thinks the girl on the fixed-gear bike is a hipster, the girl on the fixed-gear thinks the guy on the unicycle is a hipster, and on it goes. We know that hipsters have something to do with uncommon modes of self-expression, so we assume that what we consider common can’t possibly be considered “hipster” – it’s that guy buying mustache wax over there whose style is uncommon. When we encounter an uncommon style, we project a negative set of personality traits onto the wearer, making it OK to call them a hipster and, in so doing, protecting ourselves from being judged as hipsters. We often use the word hipster as an insult due to our own insecurities. We are afraid of being judged as being hipsters ourselves, so we set the bar higher to shield ourselves from that negative judgment. That’s why, no matter how many times you’ve been called a hipster, you refuse to identify yourself as such. What is common to you cannot possibly be outlandish or outrageous – it’s that guy who’s the real hipster. And on it goes.


A broader definition of the word hipster

Until we come up with a set definition for the word hipster, each of us will continue to raise the bar above ourselves to make sure that we don’t get associated with those types. And so, I’d like to humbly suggest a new definition for the word hipster. I think the Oxford Dictionary got it right in trying to set such a broad definition, but I also think it neglects what’s at the heart of the hipster phenomenon – individuality and self-expression.

Hipster: somebody who self-expresses in a way that doesn’t fit into previously accepted social or subcultural categories.

That’s it. The definition of hipster varies from person to person because the notion of what is and isn’t acceptable varies from person to person. By defining hipsters as those who express themselves outside of what we consider to be socially acceptable, we acknowledge that hipster is a relative term, difficult to define in isolation. In coming to an understanding of what the hipster really is, we can better understand our knee-jerk hatred of them and move beyond the insulting nature of the word to appreciate why it is that hipsters seem to be everywhere and nowhere at once. Only when we get beyond the hatred can we address how and why this extremely widespread phenomenon is affecting our culture – and make sure that it does so positively.


Check out my new book The Hipster Effect: How the Rising Tide of Individuality is Changing Everything We Know about Life, Work and the Pursuit of Happiness for a more in-depth analysis.


Photo credit: Newtown graffiti

Hat tip to @drawmedy for the Life is Posers post


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Hot off the presses + TEDx /2012/03/08/hot-off-the-presses-tedx/ /2012/03/08/hot-off-the-presses-tedx/#comments Thu, 08 Mar 2012 19:53:03 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=594 more]]> Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present The Hipster Effect: How the Rising Tide of Individuality is Changing Everything We Know about Life, Work and the Pursuit of Happiness, now available for purchase on Amazon. This book is the culmination of a year and a half of solid effort and over 200 sources worth of research. Check it out and let me know your thoughts!

From the book description:
The Hipster Effect tackles the phenomenon of the modern hipster by looking beyond PBR and thick-rimmed glasses and to the cultural and social conditions that resulted in this new breed of über-individual. Part social commentary and part sociological analysis – combined with a fair dose of cultural anecdotes and humor – The Hipster Effect takes a wide-angled lens to the subject that everybody’s joking about but few are taking seriously (despite the cultural evolution it clearly reveals).”

Full description and excerpts available here.




In other good news, I will be speaking about the hipster effect at TEDxGramercy this Saturday (March 10th) in New York. Hit me up on Facebook or Twitter if you’re planning on going. I’ll be posting a video of the talk within the next week or two. Exciting times!


Cover illustration by João Raposo


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Book excerpt: Translate my outfit /2012/02/29/book-excerpt-translate-my-outfit/ /2012/02/29/book-excerpt-translate-my-outfit/#comments Wed, 29 Feb 2012 22:49:45 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=567 more]]> “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” – Steel Magnolias

Well, that and walk-in closets. After all, is there any better indication of the modern obsession with personal appearance than our need to have an entire room dedicated to housing our threads, kicks and baubles? There’s clothes for work, clothes for working out, clothes for going out, clothes for staying in, clothes for fancy occasions, clothes for going to the beach, clothes, clothes everywhere. Different types of situations require different types of clothing, and at a time when pretty much everybody around you is carrying a camera-enabled smartphone in their pocket, your poorly chosen outfit could very well follow you long after the day is over and the last of the wine has been poured.

More than just a carrier of social norms, what we wear is an outward demonstration of who we are. Before you even utter the words, “Hi, my name is,” your outfit has already sent a message. Clothing, in that sense, is not only a tool for covering ourselves up; it is a tool for communicating who we are. Wearing gold lamé to a funeral communicates just as loudly as showing up with a boombox blasting ABBA. Showing up to your office job dressed in hot pants and a tube top does the same. It’s loud. What we wear shows who we are and how we want to be perceived. No wonder The Container Store has become so popular; when clothing is communication, it’s important to have a closet full of the right things to say.

Provided you’re not living in a nudist colony, there’s a certain set of daily rituals you use to prepare yourself before leaving the house – grooming, dressing, preening, pruning and otherwise priming yourself for public appearance.  Where you’re planning on going dictates the social norms required for your outfit, but the rest is up to you. Do you want to fit in or stand out? Are you going for classic chic or a modern conversation-starter? Underlying these questions is a basic fact of identity: how do I want to be perceived by others? Whether consciously addressed or not, how we dress is a way of telling people who we are and how they should think about us. But what happens when the signals get crossed and the meanings confused?

At a time when each of us is exposed to more cultural and personal options than ever before, misinterpretation of intent has become a common problem. I might think that this giraffe-print polyester vest shows that I’m open-minded and fun-loving, but to you it may appear childish and – dare I say it – hipster. Similarly, you might think those big ol’ diamond earrings you’ve got on show that you’re classy and sophisticated, but to me they might just be plain old pretentious. Though each of us is now exposed to more ways of dressing, more modes of fashion and more types of personal style in a single day than our grandparents were in an entire lifetime, the norms governing those different iterations of self-expression have not yet been agreed upon. You may know how to judge which type of blazer is appropriate for a tenured professor, but assuming that you know how to judge a particular type of mustache that has just reentered the cultural zeitgeist after years of obscurity is far less certain.

Just a century ago, nobody owned more than a few basic outfits for a few basic situations. Their options were limited and the message sent by each outfit was obvious and widely understood. Now that our options have increased exponentially – and on-demand 3D printing technology is on the horizon to increase those options further still – our clothing still talks, but we’re all speaking different languages. This is not the conformist, jumpsuit-wearing future once imagined by Star Trek and Logan’s Run. This is a full-on express-a-thon, only without the benefit of a Douglas Adams-inspired babel fish to translate what each of us is trying to say. We’re confusing each other in the name of expressing ourselves. Thankfully, the confusion can be easily corrected. All we need to do is recognize that our wires are crossed. We’ve progressed too quickly, picking up too many stylistic iterations and losing their meanings along the way. Until we can all agree upon what exactly it means to wear a pair of Wayfarers, we ought to just lay off of the judgment and realize that what I think it means doesn’t necessary match what you think it means, and let’s just agree not to even ask Auntie Mabel from Nantucket for her opinion quite yet. We’re confused enough as it is.

The above is an excerpt from my new book, “The Hipster Effect: How the Rising Tide of Individuality is Changing Everything We Know about Life, Work and the Pursuit of Happiness.”


Image credit: Alaskan Dude


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Instant Hipster: Just add PBR /2011/11/08/instant-hipster-just-add-pbr/ /2011/11/08/instant-hipster-just-add-pbr/#comments Tue, 08 Nov 2011 00:02:29 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=422 more]]> Do mustaches a hipster make? Skinny jeans? Leggings? I set out on a hunt through Flickr to see just how much fashion effort it takes to be labeled a hipster. The answer: not very much at all.


A mustache only a scarecrow could love

The hipster scarecrow comes to us from the Portland Nursery, carrying a few of the best-known identity markers of the hipster: thick-rimmed glasses, a mustache and a flannel shirt. Apparently, combining these three items is all it takes to make a straw man worthy of mockery.



2 wheels good - 4 wheels bad

This photo is labeled “Hipster Fixie Bicyclists.” The assumption here is that riding a certain type of bike automatically makes you a hipster. Note that we cannot even see these people’s faces, but already they have been labeled and judged.



PBR, rollies and plaid - the hipster trifecta?

Here we have a young couple that the photographer has labeled as hipsters. Take a look at their appearance – other than the PBR and the rollie cigarette, what is it that earns them the hipster designation? While the gentleman’s jacket may be plaid, it’s not really the type of flannel normally associated with the hipster aesthetic. Would this image still earn the hipster label if they had nothing in their hands?



I see you baby. Drinking that Pabst.

On Flickr, this photo is titled “Caught Pabst-Handed” and labeled as definitive proof that its subject is a hipster. PBR notwithstanding, there’s not much about this guy that cries hipster. Yes, he has facial hair and is wearing what looks like a handmade scarf, but other than that he’s dressed quite normally. Would he still be called a hipster if his hands were empty?



Smoking is hip. Smoking in front of graffiti is hipster.

What exactly is it that makes these two hipsters? The photo shows them smoking and hanging out in the kind of place that has a lot of (artistic) graffiti. We can also see at least one visible tattoo on each of them, but other than that their clothes aren’t particularly wild or flamboyant. Are they labeled as hipsters simply because they’re smoking in “cool” surroundings?




Here we have a photo of a child trying on her daddy’s glasses. Obviously the “hipster” tag placed on this photo had to do with the frames and not with the child, but the implication is that anybody who wears these glasses is automatically considered a hipster. Did you think hipster or child when you first looked at this picture?



Where's Tom Selleck when you need him?

Finally, we have the “Mini-Hipsters.” The label is clearly used as a joke in this instance, but the implication – echoed by the photo caption, “The mustache is the new trucker hat” – is that there are certain identity markers that instantly make you a hipster.


We’ve reached the tipping point in the popularity of the “hipster” label. On the one hand, all it takes to be called a hipster is sporting just one or two of the associated identity markers. On the other hand, we’ve completely stigmatized the term by associating it with a variety of negative personality traits. It’s a dangerous brew we’ve stirred up, and one we should all take more notice of as fashion trends trickle through society and the label continues its meteoric rise into the mainstream. Let’s take a moment to remember the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. If you don’t want to be labeled a hipster just because you wear a certain item of clothing or drink a certain type of beer, then don’t label others for doing the same. After all, it’s just fashion.


Photo credits: frykitty, stevendepolo, Samantha Jade Royds, Lewis Kelly, Anna Majkowska, edenpictures, Clinton Steeds.


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Ceci n’est pas un hipster /2011/10/26/ceci-nest-pas-un-hipster/ /2011/10/26/ceci-nest-pas-un-hipster/#comments Wed, 26 Oct 2011 02:27:36 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=368 more]]> I know, I know – you hate hipsters. Maybe somebody called you one once, but they were clearly mixing you up with the real hipsters. You know the ones.

Hipsters have beards. Or mustaches. Or neither. They wear skinny jeans. Or maybe they don’t. They’ve got thick-rimmed glasses. Or sometimes not. You may not be able to describe one offhand, but you know one when you see one. Right?



As elusive as a unicorn yet as common as an ant, the hipster seems to be everywhere and nowhere at once. The only definite thing about a hipster is that nobody wants to be called one (yet pretty much all of us are guilty of having called other people hipsters). It’s become one of the worst insults you can bestow upon somebody (yet it’s also among the most common). If you want to completely discount a person and everything that they stand for, just break out the H-word and watch their credibility to go down the drain. Once you’ve been dubbed a hipster, you yourself become meaningless in that context.  You become one of those people and we all know what those people are like.

Or do we?

The definition of a “hipster” is at best a collection of vague cultural artifacts that we associate with a certain set of personality traits, very few of which actually exist in tandem. The prototypical hipster is a trust-fund baby who spends his days talking about art projects that he never gets around to starting. He drinks the cheapest beer available even though he can afford better. He does this ironically, and he wears his clothes in the same way. He judges you, the non-hipster, based solely on your appearance, quickly dismissing you as a non-member of the hip elite. He listens to bands you’ve never heard of and thinks it’s sad that you can’t keep up with his cooler-than-cool musical tastes. In short, the prototypical hipster is an asshole – but for the most part, he doesn’t even exist.

In a way, we’ve vilified the hipster archetype as a way of dealing with our own insecurities. Being cool was something most people never worried about once they graduated high school. Our internet-fueled society has since changed that, bringing the hunt for the newest and most interesting things into our day-to-day lives. There is a burden to be cool that now follows you into your 20s and 30s and beyond, whereas before these things were safely relegated to lunchtime cafeterias and high school auditoriums. And with the internet now spitting out a different concept of cool with each and every day that goes by, it’s almost impossible to keep up. Eventually we throw up our hands in exasperation and, whenever we see somebody who looks like they’re trying harder than us, we spit out the word: hipster.

My argument echoes the one joked about in both of the above comics. The hipster only exists in comparison. This is why nobody is willing to call themselves a hipster – there is no absolute meaning of the word. Hipster is a label used on somebody who’s trying harder to be cool than you are. That’s it. Whether they’re actually trying or whether they just happen to like that particular pair of skinny jeans is a completely different matter. We use the word hipster to dismiss others who may then turn around and judge us as not being cool enough. By dismissing them and all their thoughts immediately, we protect ourselves from their judgment. Yes, there are prototypical hipster assholes out there who can and will judge you based on what you wear, but let’s be realistic and realize that those assholes are the minority. Most people wearing thick-rimmed glasses just happen to like how they look. Most who drink PBR are too broke to afford anything else. Most who liked Animal Collective’s first album better are telling the truth (in the internet era, we are constantly exposed to new bands, making it more likely that you’ll enjoy a band when you first hear them rather than 3 or 4 albums later when you’ve discovered other new bands to explore). In other words, most people we call “hipster” aren’t.

It’s time we understand that the word hipster is used solely as an insult that dismisses people just because they wear a certain item of clothing. We call people hipsters based entirely on their appearance, yet for the most part we’re totally off-base in what we assume about them. That makes it the most widely acceptable form of discrimination today. Not everybody with a waxed mustache is a bad person. And if you happen to meet one who is – ignore him. He’ll probably do the same to you.


Comic credits: Toothpaste for Dinner and Dustinland


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Judge protesters by their values, not their clothes /2011/10/03/judge-protesters-by-values-not-clothes/ /2011/10/03/judge-protesters-by-values-not-clothes/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2011 18:16:01 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=183 more]]> “Dissent is patriotic”

“People over profit”

“Debt is slavery”

Despite the omnipresence of powerful homemade signs and slogans, many people took notice of something completely different at the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest: their tattoos and beards. One blog called the protest a “gathering of unwashed, parasitic hipster douche bags.” Another proclaimed it consisted of “angry actors, graphic designers and various other hipsters,” decrying its “teenage moralism.” Memes have been posted, angry tirades made, but did anybody actually take a look at the people who are occupying Wall Street?



Combining social dissent with a knee-jerk hatred of hipsters promises to get in the way of creating real social change. These days, carrying any one of the many traits associated with hipsterdom – skinny jeans, cotton leggings, thick-rimmed glasses, tattoos, piercings, beards, etc – automatically gives the media the right to call you the h-word. Unfortunately, once pegged as a hipster, you are instantly written off as a miscreant, a ne’er-do-well, as somebody who has no valid opinions and nothing to contribute to the cultural conversation. We’re at the point where wearing a single item of clothing can completely discount you and all of your opinions. But why?

What we have here is a catch-22. Over time, society has become more and more accepting of different modes of expression. Tattoos, mohawks, piercings – each was enough to incite riot a few decades back, but has since become widely acceptable. More and more cultural options continue to hit the market as the internet expands our shopping abilities and just about anything can be customized. Yet now that society has made it acceptable to freely self-express and provided the concrete opportunity to do so, it has also assigned a vitriolic label to anybody who dares take the bait: hipster. Fashion trends become markers of hatred. You are a hipster, and we know your kind.

It’s time we stopped judging not only the protesters on Wall Street, but anybody who happens to wear a certain type of clothing. We cannot continue to paint with such a wide brush, flippantly categorizing any person with an interesting mustache as being incapable of intelligent discourse. Society must now learn to accept that we are the ones who allowed people to dress the way they wanted, and it’s time to stop judging them for doing exactly that. Leave the hipsters’ fashion choices alone and concentrate on their actual agenda: planting the seeds of a conversation that can create real social change.


Video via BoingBoing

Photo credit: bogieharmond


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Zombie hipsters /2011/09/30/zombie-hipsters/ /2011/09/30/zombie-hipsters/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2011 15:32:53 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=135 more]]>
They were supposed to be dead. In 2004, a satirical article in New York magazine declared that the hipsters were leaving and New York City was in danger of being “over.” Some five years later, n+1 magazine held a panel asking “What was the Hipster?,” with obvious implications imparted therein. One year after that, an article of the same name hit New York magazine, declaring that the evolution of the hipster stopped in 2009 and we’d “reached the end of an epoch in the life of the type.” Hmm.


The hipster is dead - long live the hipster

Apparently, right around the time when some people started declaring hipsterdom over, the rest of the world was just catching on to its very existence. A query on Google Trends clearly shows that search volume has increased nearly four-fold since 2004, with an accompanying uptick in related news stories. So what about the other big subcultures? Have their search volumes been going up too?







I guess not. The goths and the punks have been experiencing decreased interest levels, while the hippies have remained a steady hum in the background of the zeitgeist. It’s only the hipster that’s been getting more popular. So what does this all mean?

Despite all the doom-saying, hipsterdom is not on its way out. If anything, it’s on its way up. We’ve reached a tipping point in the evolution of the hipster where the principles underlying the hipster aesthetic – freedom of self-expression and an emphasis on creativity – have gone from being markers of cultural outsiders and have planted themselves firmly in the mainstream (if such a thing can even be said to exist anymore). Hipsters aren’t dead – far from it. Nor are we being particularly accurate when we call anybody wearing thick-rimmed glasses or skinny jeans a hipster. To be a hipster often means expressing yourself freely and without regard for traditional standards of propriety. Even the standards themselves keep changing, as more and more iterations of style become acceptable and nobody bats an eyelash anymore at a conservative with a tattoo or a 2-year-old with a mohawk. Maybe it’s time we stop pigeonholing the hipster and declaring him dead and instead take the trend for what it really is – the natural evolution of self-expression.


Note: I’ve recently released a book entitled, “The Hipster Effect: How the Rising Tide of Individuality is Changing Everything We Know about Life, Work and the Pursuit of Happiness” that covers the concept of the modern hipster in more depth and explains the different elements of cultural evolution that have led to this new archetype. Buy it on Amazon Kindle here.


Photo credit: Digital Sextant


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Me-wear vs. Eyewear /2011/09/17/me-wear-vs-eyewear/ /2011/09/17/me-wear-vs-eyewear/#comments Sat, 17 Sep 2011 18:54:03 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=5 more]]> Hipster glassesThe economy. Poverty. Fashion accessories.

White House press secretary Jay Carney recently fielded a question about his new “hipster glasses,” triggering a 2,000-word article in The Washington Post examining the history of thick-rimmed eyewear (and ultimately deciding that they’ve gone “from geek to chic to weak”). The Atlantic was quick to point out that the author of the article has himself been photographed wearing the offending specs. Now that the highest level of politics is getting into the fashion game, is there really a separation between mainstream and subculture?

…and for the record, Carney lost the glasses just days after their controversial debut.

Photo credit: joaoism

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