Like many others of my generation, I have often been accused of being a much dreaded “hipster”. It is true that jean jackets, doc martins, black velvet, dark lipstick and dyed hair are all part of my daily wardrobe, and I’d like to say that I’m not affected by the labels people give to me. But I am. We are all creatures of exposure, especially in the new media age. What people say about what I wear greatly affects me and the way I dress. What people say about the way they dress greatly affects me and the way I dress.
I’ve begun to realize that fashion, at least as it exists now, is an interactive medium in itself, pulling inspiration from a wide variety of parties and genres. We have taken off from an age purely of the preppies and goths, hipsters nowadays can be both preppy, gothic, and influenced by African tapestries. They can be so many things because of the fluid dialogue that fashion has now become. So, just for funsies, I thought I’d trace the evolution of the hipster, and how she has risen to the status of “everyone’s favorite indie scum” (myself included, apparently).
The Intuitive, Sensitive Poet
Just because I’m an English major, we’re going to start the hipster timeline with William Blake. A beautiful artist and writer, Blake rose from the sidelines of English culture in the Romantic period of the early 1800s. As my art history professor used to say, Romantic art lurked in the dangerous peripheries, exploding like nightmares and acid trips onto canvases and dusty vellum. Blake is the equivalent of someone like the contemporary memoirist Augusten Buroughs, recounting the experience of a minority to the public in a mainstream way (if you haven’t read his book ‘Running With Scissors, you’ve missed out on a large slice of modern reflection). Blake’s poetry is lyrical and transcendent, and his illustrations seem to pull the eternal alternative heartstring. He’s my vote for the beginning of the long suffering benchwarmer of the western world.
The Scheming, Feminist Matriarch
I’m so tired of people referring to the Lost Generation as a group of white males- because though the entire lot lacked racial diversity, there were some truly influential females. The Lost Generation was christened by none other than a lesbian writer herself-Gertrude Stein. Though we’re skipping a solid 150 years of timeline history since the Romantic period, I feel that I can do so because the years of America’s babyhood were truly, erm, homogenous eras (that is to say for all intensive purposes the voice a history was a solely dull white male one, and I’m sick of repeating it.) So! Onto Gertrude Stein: art purveyor, prose editor, author of the first modern “coming out story”, and general advisor to most of the big hitters of her era: Hemingway, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Murphy, the Fitzgeralds. We’ll never know the extent of her literal influence on so many of these artists, but suffice to say that it was extensive. I’d like to give her the title because I think our definition of hipster was really begun by figures such as she: by spying untapped beauty and cultivating it. That is to say, choosing several areas that you see have potential that have never been explored, and creating your own genre with them. The interesting thing about Stein is that she saw her group as long-suffering outlaws, artists who will never quite be understood by mainstream culture. The problem is, the Lost generation certainly didn’t stay that way- they were found by the majority of the American and European public languishing in their romantic angst. Sound familiar?
The (Real) Fame Monster
Allow me to preface this: I am terribly torn about putting Andy Warhol of this list, because I do not like him. I do not like his art, or his opinions or his soup cans. Pop art is a really interesting artistic genre that has been utterly consumed by hundreds of his purple Liz Taylors and green Marilyn Monroes. However, Andy Warhol is an icon and a hipster not because of his art but the way he viewed the art world’s future in relation to culture. Andy Warhol struck gold early: he identified the fact that artists are not going to be famous in the future for their work, but for their personalities. Stealing from Duchamp’s readymades (think toilet bowls), because of the industrialized world nothing can be truly original. The only thing that can be somewhat diverse is the individual- and the way he engages with the media. You know his famous quote that everyone in the future will be famous for fifteen minutes- and to some extent he’s right. Look at reality television or auto-tuned one hit wonder pop songs. Everyone has their place in the sun, and most of us will get some attention at some point. Warhol adored the psychology of fame- and the way people dedicated themselves to someone they would never meet. Whether that’s a good or bad thing you can decide for yourself. But Warhol deserves his hipster status- he explodes from the sidelines to show us that there are no real sidelines. And, he was also a fascinating character- a homosexual shot but not killed by a schizophrenic feminist. Hipsters would die for a pedigree like that….
Modern Day Moody Hipster
And now we have the modern form of the hipster: the moody and intellectual liberal with scuffed converse sneakers. But she’s inherited a lot from her fellow misunderstood brethren- most of all an interplay between what is considered the majority and minority of culture. In the world we live in today, the way one dresses, acts, and is understood is paramount to the way one perceives one’s self. Blake, Stein, and Warhol had an intrinsic understanding of themselves in relation to the world- that was why their impact was so large. They offered a voice from the periphery that eventually became public, popular knowledge. The fact is, hipsters aren’t alternative-they never have been. They are not one isolated genre but a fluid aspect of the building block of the mainstream. Whether or not your neighbor who wears lens-less glasses knows it, they’re doing their part for the evolution of pop culture-one pair of Toms at a time.