Having dinner at a friend’s house recently I was surprised to hear her 16 year old daughter refer to me as a hipster.
When I inquired about what constituted a hipster, she said, “You know, dreads, tattoos and piercings…alternative but in a cool way!”
I have never intended to be alternative or different to anyone else. Back in my teen years, I very much wanted to be part of the mainstream, accepted as part of the pack, rolling with the crowd. I wanted knee-high socks from Topshop, invitations to birthday parties, and more than one friend at a time.
So what was it that prompted Lucy to classify me as a hipster? I admit I was flattered by it for about one second, (I belong to something, yay! Old habits die hard).
I do have the dreads and the tattoos, if not the piercings. I confess that I have a collection of vintage suitcases. I like lace curtains. I enjoy bands who use weird little sound bytes in their production. I do enjoy a cardigan. In fact, I have one that I found unfinished in a recycling centre and asked my ex-mother-in-law to finish it off for me. It cost me a matter of pence. I sometimes knit and have been known to make jewelry.
Is this grounds for being described as a hipster? In order to answer this question, I needed to do a bit more research and a lot more thinking. Searching “Hipster” on Pinterest yielded a host of images of girls with topknots, cut-off denim shorts, and pretty little dresses.
The men sported Victorian facial hair and stood astride fixie bikes or stared, tattooed and expressionless, into the camera.
What struck me about the female images was that many of them also contained the terms boho and hippie in the description. So what are the distinctions?
A friend of mine bears the profile name ‘moreofahippythanahipster,’ so she clearly understands the definitions, but for me, the comparison was confusing rather than clarifying with respect to these stereotypes. So, I had a think about the edges of things. I’ve never really known where the lines are. I’ve had to cross many in order to establish their shifting locations.
We often describe experimental people as being edgy. Perhaps this originates in the concept of being on the edge of the norm, or crossing the lines of the mainstream. However so often, what is edgy is simply something that conforms to what is currently considered cool. Edginess then becomes something that is defined by its edges, and conforms to a template that enforces a trend: For example, the appreciation for regional accents on the current music scene. What is authentic on a London boy-become-rapper is inauthentic on a public schoolboy rapping in a contrived regional accent. At some point, a rebellious movement becomes a trend, enforcing the pack mentality and producing fakes.
I have jumped on many bandwagons and tasted many trends, but I have never really made it on any scene. Like the recycling centre cardigan, I start many projects and connect with many trends that I had left abandoned when I realized they served no deeper purpose. My vintage suitcases are too old to be used for travel. I use them in my home as tables and storage for out-of-season clothes and bedding. For me, form must marry function, so whilst I love geek spectacles, I feel like a fraud wearing them because I don’t really need them.
I don’t have any edges.
I drift through phases and fashions and whatever doesn’t inspire or edify me eventually falls away.
I am a tourist in the cultural realm because it can’t provide satisfactory definitions. I am finally, as my Grandma used to say, “going along quietly by myself,” wearing a leaf or two of any tree I pass under along my way.
My musings end in a sense of relief. The teenager who wished to be accepted into a pack finally finds rest decades later in accepting that this will never really be the case, and that it doesn’t really matter. It’s not about being different or even being the same, but it’s rather about authenticity through letting go of attachment to other people’s opinions. If being classified by someone was a surprise, the fact that I was still subconsciously classifying myself was even more of a surprise.
It seems there is a little way yet to go in this process of self-acceptance. No problem. I will just keep going along quietly by myself. If I see you, I’ll give you a nod rather than trying to classify you.
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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
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