Hipsters (also referred to as scenesters) are a subculture of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and olderteenagers with musical interests mainly in alternative rock that appeared in the 1990s. Other interests in media would include independent film, magazines such as Vice and Clash, and websites like Pitchfork Media.
Hipster culture has been described as a “mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior[s].” Christian Lorentzen of Time Out New York argues that “hipsterism fetishizes the authentic” elements of all of the “fringe movements of the postwar era—beat, hippie, punk, even grunge,” and draws on the “cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity,” and “regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity.” Others, like Arsel and Thompson, argue that hipster signifies a cultural mythology, a crystallization of a mass-mediated stereotype generated to understand, categorize, and marketize indie consumer culture, rather than an objectified group of people.
Origins in the 1940s
The term itself was coined during the jazz age, when “hip” emerged as an adjective to describe aficionados of the growing scene. Although the adjective’s exact origins are disputed, some say it was a derivative of “hop,” a slang term for opium, while others believe it comes from the West African word “hipi,” meaning “to open one’s eyes.” Nevertheless, “hip” eventually acquired the common English suffix -ster (as in spinster and gangster), and “hipster” entered the language.
The first dictionary to list the word is the short glossary “For Characters Who Don’t Dig Jive Talk,” which was included withHarry Gibson’s 1944 album, Boogie Woogie In Blue. The entry for “hipsters” defined them as “characters who like hot jazz.” Initially, hipsters were usually middle-class white youths seeking to emulate the lifestyle of the largely black jazz musicians they followed. In The Jazz Scene (1959), author Eric Hobsbawm (originally writing under the pen name Francis Newton) described hipster language — i.e., “jive-talk or hipster-talk” — as “an argot or cant designed to set the group apart from outsiders.” However, the subculture rapidly expanded, and after World War II, a burgeoning literary scene grew up around it. Jack Kerouac described 1940s hipsters as “rising and roaming America, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere [as] characters of a special spirituality.” In his essay “The White Negro,” Norman Mailer characterized hipsters as American existentialists, living a life surrounded by death — annihilated by atomic war or strangled by social conformity — and electing instead to “divorce [themselves] from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self.”
Late 1990s through late 2000s
“Hipsters are the friends who sneer when you cop to liking Coldplay
. They’re the people who wear t-shirts silk-screened with quotes from movies you’ve never heard of and the only ones in America who still thinkPabst Blue Ribbon
is a good beer. They sport cowboy hats and berets and think Kanye West
stole their sunglasses. Everything about them is exactingly constructed to give off the vibe that they just don’t care.”
In early 2000, both the New York Times and Time Out New York ran profiles of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, without using the term hipster; the Times refers to “bohemians” and TONY to “arty East Village types.” By 2003, when The Hipster Handbook was published by Williamsburg resident Robert Lanham, the term had come into widespread use in relation to Williamsburg and similar neighborhoods. The Hipster Handbook described hipsters as young people with “mop-top haircuts, swinging retro pocketbooks, talking on cell phones, smoking European cigarettes… strutting in platform shoeswith a biography of Che Guevara sticking out of their bags.” Lanham further describes hipsters thus: “You graduated from a liberal arts school whose football team hasn’t won a game since the Reagan administration” and “you have oneRepublican friend who you always describe as being your ‘one Republican friend.’” One author dates the initial phase of the revival of the term from 1999 to 2003.
A 2009 Time magazine article described hipsters thus: “take your grandmother’s sweater and Bob Dylan’s Wayfarers, add jean shorts, Converse All-Stars and a can of Pabst and bam — hipster.”
Slate writer Brandon Stosuy noted that “Heavy metal has recently conquered a new frontier, making an unexpected crossover into the realm of hipsterdom.” He argues that the “current revival seems to be a natural mutation from the hipster fascination with post-punk, noise, and no wave,” which allowed even the “nerdiest indie kids to dip their toes into jagged, autistic sounds.” He argues that a “byproduct” of this development was an “investigation of a musical culture that many had previously feared or fetishized from afar.”  In 2008, Utne Reader magazine writer Jake Mohan described “hipster rap” as “consisting of the most recent crop of MCs and DJs who flout conventional hip-hop fashions, eschewing baggy clothes and gold chains for tight jeans, big sunglasses, the occasional keffiyeh, and other trappings of the hipster lifestyle.” He notes that the “old-school hip-hop website Unkut, and Jersey City rapper Mazzi” have criticized mainstream rappers whom they deem to be poseurs or “fags for copping the metrosexual appearances of hipster fashion.” Prefix Mag writer Ethan Stanislawski argues that there are racial elements to the rise of hipster rap. He claims that there “have been a slew of angry retorts to the rise of hipster rap,” which he says can be summed up as “white kids want the funky otherness of hip-hop … without all the scary black people.”
In his 2011 book HipsterMattic, author Matt Granfield summed up hipster culture this way:
“While mainstream society of the 2000s had been busying itself with reality television, dance music, and locating the whereabouts of Britney Spears’s underpants, an uprising was quietly and conscientiously taking place behind the scenes. Long-forgotten styles of clothing, beer, cigarettes and music were becoming popular again. Retro was cool, the environment was precious and old was the new ‘new’. Kids wanted to wear Sylvia Plath’s cardigans and Buddy Holly’s glasses — they revelled in the irony of making something so nerdy so cool. They wanted to live sustainably and eat organic gluten-free grains. Above all, they wanted to be recognised for being different — to diverge from the mainstream and carve a cultural niche all for themselves. For this new generation, style wasn’t something you could buy in a department store, it became something you found in a thrift shop, or, ideally, made yourself. The way to be cool wasn’t to look like a television star: it was to look like as though you’d never seen television.”
A 2011 New York Times article explained that the halcyon of the hipster era was reached in the 2000s during the time of the housing bubble. A New York Magazine article showed that following the late 2000s recession signs of a backlash began to emerge, with many, including the CEO of American Apparel declaring the hipster was “of a certain era” and “dead.” The article also states, “The hipster moment did not produce artists, but tattoo artists. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts.”