By Rachel Park
It is a pure, unadulterated, no-way-around-it fact: hipsters are ubiquitous in the City of Brotherly Love. They can be seen toting a messenger bag, either on foot or on a fixed-gear bike – never in a car. Their penchant for flannel and skinny jeans is irrefutable. Associated with young 20- to 30-year-olds, hipsterism is an amalgam of fashion, music, and artistic tastes that do not follow the norm.
According to Dana Rich, a student at Philadelphia University, the ratio of hipsters per square mile appears unusually high because Center City and environs is so small.
“Everyone’s connected,” Rich, 21, said. “It seems there are so many because you are basically one degree separated from someone; it’s not even six degrees.”
The many art schools is also a factor. “Hipsters are related to the art type,” said Rich. “They]want to be different from other people.”
Characterizing hipsterism is not difficult. In fact, it can be whittled down to six degrees.
The First Degree: Skinny Jeans
Hipsters own many skinny jeans. It seems nearly impossible to envision a hipster not wearing a pair. Jog one’s memory back to high school and one may recall the goth kids wearing black clothing with chains hanging from their baggy jeans. Conversely, the punk kids managed to dance to “ska” music – a fusion of punk rock and jazz – in their form-fitting jeans. The collegiate hipster then seems to be a progression from that punk trend.
Skinny jeans have filtered into mainstream media. Hipsters do not like anything mainstream, save for few exceptions, which they have appropriated into their “subcultureness.” It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a required TV show favorite among hipsters, recently mocked this denim style. If you did not see the episode, your eyes can rest easy.
You only missed a smug Danny DeVito sashaying in skinny jeans at Paddy’s Pub, the fictional main site of the show. When the other characters gawked in disbelief and horror, he proclaimed that his jeans were “hip.”
Another required trait, unique to hipster Philadelphians, is the ability to recite, nay rap, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song: “Now this is the story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became the Prince of Bel-Air. In West Philadelphia, born and raised…” Fans appreciate both the character’s upbringing in Philly and his urban fashion.
One will probably take note of the paint stains on hipsters’ skinny jeans. Many are painters, printmakers, etc. Thus they are to some degree “artsy” kids: knowledge of modern art and well-versed in cult genres – kitsch, camp, and ’60s underground. Rocky Horror Picture was more of a middle-school fetish; the more appropriate standard is Pink Flamingoes. They essentially enjoy things for their shock value.
The 2nd Degree: Plaid or Flannel
If you go to any indie, electronic show in Philadelphia, you will be swept by a sea of plaid-wearing hipsters. While the opening acts perform, they are either chain smoking, discussing the latest bike gear, or conferring about after-parties.
One of the biggest hipster dance parties is “Making Time.” It is an event that spreads mostly via word-of-mouth, and they happen sporadically during the year. DJs play an infectious mix of New Order, The Strokes, and Major Lazer, and the night is usually capped off with a live performance by a Brooklyn-based band.
One of the numerous paradoxes about hipsters is that they will opt for the cheapest beer, which will be discussed later, but they have no qualms spending extra on clothing. A quality flannel is golden. Hipsters would prefer to pay an additional $20 for a better-quality flannel than an Urban Outfitters one. On the other hand, they have a certain pride in digging through the racks of Salvation Army. An understatement would be that American Apparel is popular among hipsters. The company’s hoodie, worn over plaid, along with skinny jeans is a classic look.
Over the past semester, Rich held a styling internship at the Urban Outfitters headquarters in Philly. The company sells clothing and products that attract young, hip consumers.
“We always have the urban customer in mind in the way we style things,” said Rich. “Inner-city kid who is trendy, but doesn’t want to be.” The women’s trend forecast for spring 2010 is ’40s-inspired, Rich said. The looks include Mary Jane shoes, sweetheart necklines, tighter A-line dresses, and high-waisted swimsuits.
Rich worked for the online site styling. “It’s cool because you get to see stuff before it comes out in stores,” she said.
The fall/winter norm for men, according to Rich, is the combination of a hoodie, “cool bomber jacket,” and beanie.
The 3rd Degree: Fixed-Gear Bikes.
Fixed-gear bikes can stop without a brake, as well as move in reverse. Many ride these kinds of bikes because they maneuver easily through traffic, especially on Broad Street.
Paste, a music and entertainment magazine, delineated the “evolution of the hipster” between 2000 and 2009 in its November issue. As determined by the magazine, the guy is currently “the Williamsburg.” He rides a fixed-gear bike. He wears a fedora, deep V-neck white tee, and cut-off jean shorts. A simple but distinct look.
Some would say that there is such a large concentration of hipsters in Philly because many are Brooklyn-transplants, who decided to settle down in a cheaper location. Bridget Sopko, a student at Philadelphia University, said, “In a way, a hipster is a huge hippie. They don’t want to get real jobs.”
“Real” jobs seems to mean anything corporate-related. Sopko recounted an incident from when she was in Brooklyn a few weeks ago.
“Me and a few friends were walking,” she said. “We were in Williamsburg. I said, ‘Man, I’m a hipster because I work at Urban Outfitters.’ My friend said, ‘I’m hipster because I work at a coffeeshop.’ And my other friend said, ‘Well I’m really hipster because I’m unemployed.'”
The moral of the story is that many of these fashion-conscious, trendy people migrated from Brooklyn to Philly. With an exaggerated air, Sopko said, “Of course you want to be in Brooklyn. If you can’t afford it, you come here.”
Back to Paste’s timeline, the girl is “the meta-nerd,” who “makes a mockery of herself.” She wears a hippie headband, wolf t-shirt, and skinny jeans. She also has a full-sleeve tattoo, which leads to the fourth degree.
The 4th Degree: Tattoos
Hipsters have an affinity for clearly visible, sometimes colored tattoos. These can be cryptic allusions to alternative media or unabashed depictions of pop culture. It could be a cartoon sketch of Kurt Vonnegut or the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. Along with tattoos, they often have piercings: gauged ears, “viperbite” lip piercings and nose rings.
One street off of South Street, between 9th and Bainbridge, stands Chapterhouse, a local favorite coffeeshop. Dell and Macbooks are out in full force, as are full-sleeve tattoos and striped hoodies. The minimalist architecture and décor of Chapterhouse suits the hipster sensibility: brick and white-washed walls; clear, square tables; small framed paintings; and intricate candle-holders.
Coffeeshops are prime for hipster sightings. While sipping organic tea, they are probably reading Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac or Charles Bukowski –even Albert Camus if in an “existentialist funk.”
The 5th Degree: Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer
Who would have predicted that this once financially-dwindling Wisconsin (now Chicago)-based beer company would find a niche market among hipsters. Bars and clubs that cater to this market even have PBR specials, like the Barbary, which Rich said is “mecca for hipster people.” The Barbary is a dance club, complete with disco balls and a photo booth.
According to Sopko, “Hipsters are always looking for parties – they want to go out and be seen.” The social agenda is full of options, whether it is dancing at a club or lounging at a dive bar.
“Hipster boys love to dance,” said Rich. “No other boys like to dance!”
She also added: “They all wanna be DJs.”
Fishtown has its fair share of hipster hangouts, like Kungfu Necktie and Johnny Brenda’s. Northern Liberties has gained a strong hipster following due to the Mexican restaurant, El Camino Real, or Cantina, and Standard Tap. Other spots, according to Rich, are Silk City on Spring Garden Street and Tattooed Mom on South Street.
If all else fails, they are “always looking for a good house party in South Philly,” she said.
The 6th Degree: Big Headphones
Hipsters like to appear nonchalant with a general disregard for authority. Disenchanted youth seems melodramatic, but Maggie Lloyd, 21, defines them as “modern Beatniks.” The big headphones signify tuning out external distractions, thereby focusing solely on the music.
In his 2004 film, Garden State, Zach Braff’s character blasts The Shins into his large headphones. He was supposed to embody a lonely, apathetic hipster who attracts Natalie Portman. Only in Hollywood, but The Shins at that time was a hipster favorite.
Musical preferences include local artists, such as Diplo and Amanda Blank. “Any electro-dance music,” said Sopko.
Joy Division is a solid choice. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” might be the love song, but who knows if the hipster wearing flannel over a Joy Division “vintage” t-shirt actually listens to the band.
If anything becomes mainstream, it immediately loses its appeal. For example, songs by Dr. Dog and Passion Pit have been featured in TV commercials: a pat on the back for these bands’ PR people, but a slight demarcation in these bands’ hipster credibility. That is the conundrum for many bands.
Another example is Weezer. This band used to be good, but according to some, not for thirteen years. They recently collaborated with popular rapper, Lil’ Wayne – “hipsters and hip-hop run together,” said Sopko – but Weezer has lost touch with their hipster base.
Some bands are lucky enough to maintain their alternative appeal. A few are Saves the Day and the Getup Kids. The latter played a sold-out show in October. Hipsters resist letting go of bands that got them through the angsty, pubescent years.
Another hipster paradox is when a celebrity, like Michael Jackson dies, it is hard not to concede to the media blow-out. A hipster may have purchased “Man in the Mirror” on iTunes, but he/she most likely had it already. Although irritated that the radio incessantly played his songs, they would simultaneously brag about knowing all of the dance moves to “Billie Jean” or “Beat It” when they were five-years-old.
They love to subvert meaning from its original context. This goes for a variety of mundane, trite things. Men at Work, an Aussie band popular in the ’80s, are most well-known for their oddly catchy song, “Down Under.” It is not uncommon to hear it playing at Sabrina’s, a brunch restaurant that has garnered a loyal hipster clientele.
Hipsters are a fan of this subverted coolness. Another example is the “grandma sweater.” Some girls intentionally buy oversized, gaudy sweaters, and flaunt them at a dive bar.
“I’m super big on thrift stores,” said Sopko. “I have some Lacoste pullovers, which are]pretty hip.” This ironic twist – taking a high-end item and translating it into one’s alternative aesthetic – is characteristic of hipsters.
Every year, choosing a Halloween outfit seems to be an ordeal. Does one want to be a recognizable character from a film or a pop celebrity? Either way, it has to be creative and original because those are the most memorable. One hears stories about the time a girl went as “missed curfew”: she attached vines and leaves around her body; turned her hair into a tangled mess; and smeared her make-up.
Animal bodysuits seem to be the norm every Halloween. It could be a deer or a moose. Regardless of whether it is comfortable on the dance floor, hipsters love to reattribute meaning to a costume that is at once childish and weird for an adult. Again, the “cool factor.”
The six degrees of hipsterism – skinny jeans, plaid/flannel, fixed-gear bike, tattoos, PBR, and big headphones – are gross generalizations that come equipped with subtle nuances. But the biggest caveat of all: real hipsters will never call themselves hipsters.