A Search for Hipsters: Teenage Conformity in Our Time

August 27, 2010
By StevenP BRONZE, Oakland, New Jersey
StevenP BRONZE, Oakland, New Jersey
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Ignorance is like a delicate, exotic fruit ; touch it and the bloom has gone"
-Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

I went to the mall with the anticipation of learning something about the youth of America. The youth in question were people in my age group who seemed to be all hopped up on the latest fashion trends, fads, gossip, and all of the general filth that now pollutes the television set. Nonetheless, I ventured off to the Garden State Plaza on a journalistic mission to accurately report and analyze all of what I saw. A task like this has a sort of romantic, Gonzo Journalism-esque feel, but I tried best to not imitate any particular style developed by masters who have come before me. My tools included a simple spiral-bound pocket notebook, a digital sound recording device (placed in my pants pocket), and a few dollars to spend at Starbucks. This last part is especially important because many a young hipster spends their time at Starbucks attempting to mingle with the rest of their population.

Accompanying me on this adventure was a very good friend of mine who shared a common interest in studying these so called “hipsters”. I suppose it is at this point in the article that I ought to fully explain what exactly a hipster is. Urban Dictionary, the modern-day bastion for slang, defines the term as “…a subculture of men and women, typically in their 20's and 30’s, that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.” While this description is apt, a more fitting definition of what a hipster is would be to simply say that hipsters are essentially staunch individualists committed to expressing themselves in unconventional ways. They are also the progressively liberal bunch that happily listens to the programs of NPR, shops regularly at stores like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters, and also have a distinct liking for thrift store clothing.

Because of the hipster’s strong association with ragged, hobo-esque clothing, I thought that the logical place to start making observations would be at American Apparel, purveyors of fine vertically integrated clothing. Naturally, I would make my way to Urban Outfitters, and then to Starbucks, but this store was first on the list. The store itself is a sort of circus, where you find some of the most unusual people; the sort who graduated film school with a big fat B.F.A, but never made much use of it. Or the type that hold any creative degree of that sort, but still end up having their mother do their laundry and pick up their prescriptions. Such people deserve an article about just these aspects of their lives, but that is not the focus of this piece.

I arrived at American Apparel with a few goals, but my real mission was to take some notes on the hipsters who shop at the “vertically integrated” store. It’s not your typical sort of store, the design, right down to the item tag, is minimalistic and sparse; although, they do sell some rather flashy, shimmering clothing. Alas, I barely got to witness the true hipster in his native habitat because on this particular night, a Friday, the store was rather vacant. A stereo system, discreetly located somewhere on the ceiling, pumped “muzak” through the store, while my friend and I shared our fair share of laughs, seeing a pair of provocative underwear that proudly proclaimed “ Gay”. Another thing that I immediately picked up on was this trend toward making everything, no matter the level of flamboyancy, unquestionably unisex. That is, many items in the store are what some might consider overtly feminine, despite the fact that the price tag, along with the sales clerk, says otherwise. Nonetheless, I decided to take this reporting one step further; I nervously grabbed one of American Apparel’s tri-blend t-shirts off of one of the racks, and paired it with a cardigan that I had my eye on ever since I walked in. The dressing room reminded me of one of those mirror houses at the circus, and I cautiously put on the clothing that was dangling from the coat hanger in my hand. Slowly, I opened the dressing room door, not knowing what to think, when my friend reacted with a giggle, clearly communicating how silly I looked. It seems that the hipster is truly inimitable.

The adventure carried on as we entered yet another hipster Mecca, Urban Outfitters. A man, who I later found out was an employee, was stacking clothes on a shelf, giving us strange looks as I dictated notes into my portable sound recorder. It was at this point in the adventure when my trusty pen had run out of ink, making the sound recorder the primary method of taking notes. Fairly loud music played throughout the store as we tried on a number of hats, for which many hipsters seemed to enjoy, and became utterly amused by a variety of trendy sunglasses. Our general conclusion was that Urban Outfitters seemed to be even more of a hipster locale, despite American Apparel’s superior fashion models, who almost always sport a creepy mustache.

We eventually reached the mall Starbucks, which turned to be one of the most depressing Starbucks that I had ever come across. It was primarily defined by of few slabs of glass, acting as walls, and a few of those comfy, as well as the not so comfy, Starbucks chairs. Upon our initial arrival, the place was completely empty, except for one middle-aged man who may or may have not been a pedophile. I ordered my usual overpriced triple-tall latte, and decided to sit down at one of the tables until some hipsters arrived. It was one of those situations where I knew that they would come, but I just was not sure when. So, I armed my sound recording device, told my friend to be on the lookout, and prepared to take some verbal notes. Naturally, I thought I should ask my friend to describe what she was seeing and she responded to my query with “I see checkered Vans, a blue star tattoo on his wrist, a pink animal band, and an American Apparel mustache—that is a hipster.” Said hipster was sitting directly in back of us, studying some reading material that I could not identify, and I was paranoid that he would confront us after hearing us talk about him. Luckily, such a confrontation did not occur, and we managed to get out without any dislocated vertebrae.

Looking back at what I saw at the Garden State Plaza, I can certainly conclude that hipsters are very much apart of this rejection of teenage conformity. Teens always seem to find out a way to be unconventional, unusual, and outright obnoxious. Hipsters have influenced the teenage community into further exploiting and engaging in some of those rebellious ideals. There are, of course, major names and brands that cater to the hipster community, but it is still a small minority as compared to the ubiquity of conformist stores. So, in that sense, a well-minded reader may conclude that hipsters have had a generally positive impact on today’s youth, with their intrinsic belief that life is all about expressing ones individuality. Such an ideal is certainly better than the things disseminated by conformist stores, which seems to be all about perfect body image and expensive clothes. Whatever way one chooses to look at hipsters, as filthy vagabonds, or staunch individualists, there is certainly no denying their lasting impact on today’s culture, and their profound affect on today’s youth.

The author's comments:
A study of the hipsters of NJ.

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