Yes, you read it right. I’m sick of hearing young people in Philadelphia throw this silly term around at each other so disparagingly, without anyone ever owning up to it. So I will.
Maybe it’s time you did, too.
Now, for a little clarification: I ride a fixed-gear bicycle, I have a custom R.E. Load bag (which I do use for work) and I like a few bands you may have never heard of (as well as a few you certainly have).
I come from a relatively affluent, upper-middle class background where I was comfortably provided with everything I needed, plus a little extra every now and then. There’s a chance you did too, and if not, you certainly know someone who has.
During high school, my friends and I were constantly bored. We knew we wanted more than what our quaint suburban lives offered, but we didn’t know what. Getting drunk and high in our parents’ basements was getting old quickly.
Ultimately, I found punk rock, which is what first encouraged me to visit the city without my parents.
I found basement shows and record stores that had more than five good records. I met people who seemed to “get” me. I fell in love with Philadelphia.
I knew that when I graduated high school, I had to move to Philly, because even as a budding young punk, I knew that the suburbs were about as hip as the Vatican.
It transcended punk rock. The city was where everything was happening. The city had a magnetic effect on me. It was as if I did not choose Philadelphia, Philadelphia chose me.
The idea that I was committing a cultural faux pas by being a financially secure punk kid in the city would have seemed ludicrous at the time.
But there’s a lot of time between going to school, working and going to shows. What I didn’t know was that my peers would harshly – and silently – critique me for what I chose to do during this free time. Since I spent it riding my bike, finding cheap clothes at thrift stores and hanging around local coffee shops, I soon learned that I was automatically pigeonholed as part of a crowd that also likes that stuff.
Sounds pretty stupid to me.
The fact is that the hipster ideology is fairly innocent. It’s the uniform that raises eyebrows.
“We get a lot of young girls, and some guys, with disposable incomes and trust funds. They come to us because they can pick a style out of a bunch of different ones that we sell in the same place,” an Urban Outfitters employee said of their University City store. “That makes us more appealing to some than places like Abercrombie.”
The difference between these kids and the ordinary 20-something is that the hipster will do everything in his or her power to suppress their affluence. They’ll flaunt their weapons of privilege as freely as their bandanas, but the day they openly acknowledge having them will be the day they bring a Starbucks cup to the basement of the First Unitarian. The irony is painfully . . . ironic.
The problem is once you have these weapons of privilege, you can’t disarm yourself. You can spend every last dollar, yours or otherwise, to appear broke – but the fact remains the same: if you come from money, you should accept it. It’s not going to change.
In West Philly, the Satellite Café stands tall as a hub for eclectic personalities.
“It’s a diverse neighborhood, for sure. But the real diversity is found between the economically struggling families and the rich kids from the suburbs. That’s the real distinguishing factor,” barista Wilder Scott-Straight said. “Being able to afford an image isn’t having that image. The original hipsters around here didn’t look much different from regular people. They just did things differently rather than looking like they did things differently.”
I recently saw West Chester punk band The Orphans play at a house venue in West Philly frequented by hipsters. The Orphans hadn’t played together in almost a decade, so they drew out a large crowd. Many attendees were a good 10 years older than the typical hipster crowd, providing quite a contrast in styles.
The older folks looked so normal.
The older crowd was proof that these silly obsessions with trendy fashions are fleeting. I sincerely doubt that anyone keeps a ring through their septum for more than 10 years.
It isn’t fair to criticize someone for something out of their control. I didn’t choose to be born into a relatively financially stable household in an old farmhouse in suburban Philadelphia.
There’s no sense in pretending to be something you’re not, or choosing friends based on a fashion that won’t matter a few years later. If more of these “hipsters” realized this, they’d stop being concerned with an appearance. Saying and doing will always matter more than looking the part.
Julian Root can be reached at email@example.com.