Humor, Style & Self

Hipster Style and the Cult of Personality.

28 Jan , 2013  

Because I am a middle-aged father of three, masquerading as a single, hopefully childless, college student, I recently saw this for the first time.

Given the semi-exasperated way my friends shook their heads when I sent them the link, I’m guessing that you’ve already seen it. If you haven’t, or if you’re reading this while at some type of job for grown-ups (good for you buddy!) and can’t watch it now, it’s the music video for the song “Thrift Shop” by Seattle based rapper, Macklemore. In the video, Mr. More and his friends extol the virtues of the affordable but off-beat (read: mostly freaking ridiculous) fashions one finds at resale stores like Goodwill. Nothing against Goodwill, that’s just the way it is.

As I watched this series of coordinated images and noises, I had a revelation: I finally figured out why I can’t stand hipsters. I’ve had a firm but indistinct dislike for hipster fashion ever since I became aware of it, so this was kind of a big moment for me. The thing about this style of dress is, everyone knows that these clothes are ridiculous. That includes the people wearing them. That’s why they bought them. Because, in the terrifying, ironic world of hipsters, the point isn’t to find clothes that make you look good, it’s to prove that you look cool despite the bullshit on your back.

Take another look at Macklemore, taking extra pains to ignore his clothes and Michael Pitt-in-Boardwalk Empire haircut. Take all that away, and he’s still an athletic, traditionally good looking dude. So when he wears a two-tone leather jacket with fringe or a Batman onesie, what he’s really doing is telling a joke.

Bear with me here.

The point of hipster style is to make it not about the clothes, but about the person wearing them. The same thrift store clothes don’t look the same, or as good, on a different person. So, when you see someone wearing an ugly Christmas sweater in March, what that person is saying is “Look at how silly this sweater is. Look at this joke that I’m in on.” I can’t imagine that Macklemore genuinely thinks that a vest covered in embroidered cats and dogs looks good. No one in their right mind would. He knows this, and since everyone knows that he knows this, he’s putting himself above it all using a joke that’s ostensibly at his own expense. The more ridiculous the clothing, the funnier the joke that the person is in on. But they made the joke. They’ve created a closed loop where “laughing with” and “laughing at” bleed together until they swap places.

Hipsters (who almost never identify with the label) don’t like to think of themselves as traditionally “cool”. But, in the attempt to devalue “things”, they’ve created an environment where “cool”, that intrinsic aura that comes from high cheekbones and emotional intelligence, matters more than anything else. The things that this group values, (cleverness, style) are still things that a lot of people are just born without, and never develop. Despite its silliness, it’s not a trick that everyone can pull off. You haven’t created an inclusive, alternative scene, you’ve just created another group where un-cool people aren’t all that welcome.

So, no, I will not be going to see Vampire Weekend with you on Friday.



Paul who, despite this article, actually loves the song “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore.

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Paul Alexander By
Paul has a full beard and wears your grandfather's shirts. And no matter how much he would enjoy it, no one will ever mistake him for Paul Newman. He's dead. Follow him on twitter @PaulAlexander90