The Hipster Effect » fashion Identity, society and work in the age of perpetual connectivity Tue, 26 Mar 2013 00:35:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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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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