The Hipster Paradox

Where I work, my customers drink beer, a lot of beer. But not the trendy, craft microbrews flooding in from San Diego and Portland. They drink cheap beer — Coors, Budweiser, and, most of all, Pabst. They bring out their finest plaid shirts, Stetson high-crown hats, and Western boots for a night full of Bootscootin’ Boogying and Watermelon Crawlin’ on the dance floor. Yes, I work at a country bar. Fittingly, we cater to a country crowd that could be spotted by their distinct style. When I first started working there, I, too, dressed the part. I bought cowboy boots even though my feet screamed in agony as I endured the “break-in period” on the clock. I purchased plaid shirt after plaid shirt — the retail associates at Boot Barn knew me by name. Weekend nights, I got in line and danced the night away with my patrons. Hell, I even became an ace at line dancing. Spoiler alert: It’s the same moves repeated over and over. But under my cowboy hat existed a secret — a little white lie. »

My hair was neatly combed across my head, held in place with pomade, with a permanent part shaved in. Under my boots were crazy-colored socks. The minute I left work, I left with it my country-boy exterior as I blasted modern, indie-folk for my drive home.

Over time, the crowd began to change. The cowboys rode away and were slowly replaced with the standard Midtown Sacramento millennial drinker — think Portland-style 20-somethings. Side-parted hairstyles and long, scraggly beards replaced full- brim cowboy hats. Skinny jeans in place of boot cuts. Converse sneakers instead of Western boots.

“This place is becoming such a hipster bar,” one of my co-work- ers would complain. Our bar was being overrun with this new style, a look that was far off from the established, country style — and for that matter, country values. I knew what she meant when she said hipster. It was a colloquial term thrown around often, and the mere mention of it was accompanied by a collective judgment. Turns out, everyone loves to hate the hipster.

I always thought “hipster” referred to a trend, but at the same time, there wasn’t one distinct style that defined all of its participants. Sure, they have become known as the culture of skinny jeans, fake reading glasses, unkempt beards, plaid shirts, and, famously, the Man Bun. However, all of these things are just a “look” no different from a fashion trend. Plus, the proverbial hipster always seemed to be changing and evolving in style. They were rarely consistent in their outward identity compared to other subcultures. Cowboys always wear boots, Goths conform to wearing black, skaters are loyal to their Converse, and so on.

One day, I showed up to work without a hat, having just gotten a fresh hair cut from one of the local “hipster” barbershops. I kept my flannel but ditched the rest of my cowboy style for raw denim, slim-fit jeans, and my old converse. It was no different than how I dressed on a daily basis outside of work. Immediately my co-worker noticed: “What are you wearing?! Ugh, you’re such a hipster.”

There was that word again, that label. I was taken aback by being labeled anything, much less a hipster. Clearly, she must’ve been confused. I was merely being me — the “me” that transcended labels. In my mind, the only trends I followed weren’t trends because I wasn’t trying to fit any sort of defined look. But wait, am I a hipster by accident? What does that even mean?

It’s a superficial topic, but I posed it anyway because my identity was at stake. So, I posted a Facebook status asking, “How would you define a hipster? Does it refer to one’s style, taste in mu- sic, or something more than material choices?” The responses began to flow in: “PBR drinkers, guys with Man Buns, people who ride fixie bikes, coffee shop snobs, f***ing hipsters, ugh!” All of these responses seemed to point to particular attributes of a hipster without pinning down the actual definition of what makes one a hipster. But there was one comment from a user living in Los Angeles, a city that contains well- known hipster neighborhoods like Silver Lake and Los Feliz. She put the definition simply: “Some- one who appreciates individuality and their own unique ideas outside the cultural mainstream.” And there it was — the definition that gave reason to it all.

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