The Hipster Subculture: A Deep Dive into Fashion, Culture, and Lifestyle

The term “hipster” traces its origins back to the 1940s, associated with the jazz culture of the time. It referred to people who were keenly aware of the latest trends, especially in jazz music, and who adopted an alternative lifestyle that went against the mainstream norms of the day. This original hipster culture or subculture is often linked to the “hepcats” of the jazz scene.

However, pinpointing the first time the term “hipster” was used in media or television is challenging, mainly because of the evolution of media coverage and the term’s shifting meanings over the decades. The term might have appeared in various print media (magazines, newspapers) when discussing the jazz scene or countercultural movements during the 1940s and 1950s.

hipster subculture 2024
Image by David Krieger — Getty Images Editorial

In terms of television, it’s more complicated due to the medium’s infancy during the hipster movement’s early days. TV became a dominant form of media in the 1950s and 1960s, a period that coincides with the post-beatnik era, where the term “hipster” might have been used in discussions or documentaries about contemporary culture or the beat generation, albeit less frequently compared to its presence in print media.

The modern incarnation of “hipster,” referring to a subculture that emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, characterized by an interest in alternative music, fashion, and lifestyles, has been widely discussed across all forms of media, including television. This contemporary use of the term has been part of discussions, features, and parodies, reflecting both the subculture’s influence and the criticisms directed at it.

Hipster Subculture
MGMT are hipsters and “Oracular Spectacular”(2007) is hipster art. Source

To get a precise date or instance of the first use of “hipster” in media or TV would require access to extensive archives of early television programming and print media, which is a considerable research endeavor.

Over the decades, the hipster identity has evolved, now signifying a demographic that eschews mainstream consumerism in favor of an alternative, indie, and often retro aesthetic. This evolution reflects broader societal shifts towards individualism and sustainability, marking the hipster subculture as a significant cultural and social phenomenon. Today, hipster culture encompasses a wide array of expressions, from fashion to lifestyle choices, influencing cities worldwide, notably Portland, Oregon, and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, which are considered epicenters of hipster activity.

Key Locations of the Hipster Movement

Portland, Oregon

Portland is celebrated for its pioneering artisanal coffee scene, a commitment to environmental sustainability, and extensive bike paths that promote a green, eco-friendly lifestyle. This city epitomizes the hipster ethos with its plethora of vintage shops, farm-to-table restaurants, and a vibrant arts scene, fostering a community that values creativity and sustainability.

Brooklyn-Williamsburg, New York

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has undergone a transformation into a beacon for the hipster subculture, with indie music venues, vintage boutiques, and contemporary art galleries dotting its landscape. It’s a neighborhood where old warehouses have been converted into lofts and studios, attracting artists, musicians, and creatives drawn to its eclectic vibe and community-oriented lifestyle.

Fashion Forward: The Hipster Aesthetic

Hipster fashion is a deliberate rebellion against the mainstream, merging vintage finds with modern designer pieces to create a look that’s uniquely personal and often avant-garde. This fashion sensibility is not just about appearance; it’s a statement of values, emphasizing sustainability, ethical manufacturing, and the rejection of fast fashion.

Essential Hipster Fashion Items

  • Skinny jeans and plaid shirts: A staple of the hipster wardrobe, symbolizing a blend of comfort and vintage style.

  • Oversized eyeglasses: Not just a necessity for some but a fashion statement that nods to retro aesthetics.

  • Vintage sneakers and leather boots: Footwear choices that combine functionality with an old-school charm.

Culture and Subculture: Beyond Mainstream Ideals

The hipster subculture is a critique of mass consumerism, advocating for a lifestyle that prioritizes authenticity, artisanal quality, and environmental sustainability. This ethos is evident in their consumption choices, from the coffee they drink to the art they consume.

Hipster Habits and Preferences

  • Artisanal Products: The preference for craft beers, handmade jewelry, and organic food markets underscores a commitment to quality and supports small, local businesses.

  • Social Justice: Hipsters often engage with social and environmental causes, reflecting progressive values and a desire to effect positive change.

Indie Influence: Movies and Music

The indie arts scene owes much to the hipster subculture, which champions alternative narratives and sounds, from low-budget films to indie rock and folk music. This influence highlights a discerning taste for the authentic and the innovative.

Hipster Cinematic and Musical Choices

  • Movies: A preference for indie films and documentaries that challenge societal norms and explore nuanced narratives.

  • Music: The hipster music palette is diverse, embracing indie rock, folk, and electronic genres, often highlighting emerging artists who bring fresh sounds and perspectives.

Defining the Hipster Lifestyle

The hipster lifestyle is characterized by a conscious choice to diverge from mainstream norms, embracing sustainability, creativity, and a DIY ethos. This lifestyle extends to various aspects of daily life, from grooming to transportation and dining.

Signature Styles and Lifestyle Choices

  • Hairstyles: From undercuts to man buns, hipster hairstyles often blur traditional gender norms, embracing both vintage and contemporary trends.

  • Lifestyle: The embrace of cycling, organic eating, and urban gardening reflects a commitment to sustainability and a quality of life that values simplicity and authenticity.

Critiques and Contributions of Hipster Culture

Despite its positive attributes, the hipster subculture is not without its criticisms, particularly regarding its impact on urban gentrification and a perceived exclusivity in its pursuit of authenticity.

Addressing the Challenges

  • Gentrification: The influx of hipsters into affordable neighborhoods often leads to increased rent and living costs, displacing long-standing communities.
  • Authenticity vs. Exclusivity: The quest for authenticity can sometimes border on exclusivity, challenging the inclusive values many hipsters espouse.

The Ongoing Evolution of Hipster Culture

The hipster subculture continues to be a dynamic force in shaping fashion, culture, and lifestyle across the globe. Its impact prompts us to reflect on broader questions concerning consumerism, identity, and the role of subcultures in urban and global contexts.

Reflecting on Hipster Contributions

  • Sustainability and Diversity: The lasting influence of hipster culture on promoting sustainability and diversity in local and global markets is undeniable.
  • Urban Identity: Hipster subcultures have played a pivotal role in defining the cultural identity of cities, transforming neighborhoods, and fostering communities that prioritize creativity and sustainability.

Hipster Megalist Hotspots and Cultural Icons

This mega list encapsulates the hipster culture involves highlighting brands, music, movies, directors, books, and iconic figures that have resonated within this subculture. This list is designed to reflect the diversity and depth of the hipster ethos, emphasizing creativity, individuality, and an appreciation for both the vintage and the cutting-edge.

Hipster Brands

  1. American Apparel – Known for basics and sustainable practices.
  2. Urban Outfitters – Retailer with a mix of vintage-inspired and boho chic.
  3. Warby Parker – Eyewear brand with a vintage flair.
  4. Levi’s – Classic denim with a timeless appeal.
  5. Brooklyn Industries – New York-based brand with an urban edge.
  6. Patagonia – Outdoor apparel with a focus on sustainability.
  7. Dr. Martens – Iconic footwear brand favored for its rebellious spirit.
  8. Beardbrand – Grooming products catering to the quintessential hipster beard.
  9. Birkenstock – Sandals known for their comfort and sustainability.
  10. Etsy – Marketplace for handmade and vintage items.
Devendra Banhart — Musician — Hipster Subculture 2024

Hipster Music

  1. Tame Impala – Psychedelic music with a modern twist.
  2. Vampire Weekend – Indie rock with unique global influences.
  3. Bon Iver – Introspective folk and indie music.
  4. Arcade Fire – Indie rock known for its anthemic quality and depth.
  5. The Black Keys – Blues-rock with a garage band feel.
  6. Sufjan Stevens – Multi-instrumentalist with a soft, melancholic tone.
  7. Fleet Foxes – Harmonic folk music with rich narratives.
  8. MGMT – Electro-indie with psychedelic undertones.
  9. Grizzly Bear – Experimental rock with intricate arrangements.
  10. LCD Soundsystem – Electronic rock with a critical acclaim.

Hipster Movies & Directors

  1. Wes Anderson – Director known for his distinctive visual and narrative style.
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel – A film by Wes Anderson known for its visual artistry.
  3. Juno – A film that blends indie music with a unique story.
  4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Directed by Michel Gondry, a blend of science fiction and romance.
  5. Garden State – Directed by Zach Braff, known for its indie soundtrack.
  6. 500 Days of Summer – A non-linear story of romance and self-discovery.
  7. Quentin Tarantino – Director known for his cult classics and unique storytelling.
  8. Lost in Translation – Directed by Sofia Coppola, known for its emotional depth and minimalism.
  9. Moonrise Kingdom – Another visually unique film by Wes Anderson.
  10. Her – Directed by Spike Jonze, known for its futuristic love story.

Hipster Books & Icons

  1. “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – A complex narrative exploring various themes.
  2. “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac – Iconic Beat Generation novel.
  3. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger – A classic novel of teenage rebellion.
  4. Patti Smith – Musician and author, known for her memoir “Just Kids”.
  5. Kurt Vonnegut – Author known for his satirical literary style.
  6. “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami – A novel blending the mundane with the mystical.
  7. Franz Kafka – Author known for his surreal and existential works.
  8. “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath – A semi-autobiographical novel exploring mental health.
  9. Jean-Michel Basquiat – Artist known for his raw, edgy street art.
  10. Tavi Gevinson – Founder of Rookie Magazine, a voice for teenage girls and young women.

Hipster Cultural Icons

  1. Zooey Deschanel – Actress and musician known for her quirky roles.
  2. James Franco – Actor and artist known for his eclectic and intellectual pursuits.
  3. Lena Dunham – Creator and star of “Girls,” known for her candid exploration of young women’s lives.
  4. Alexa Chung – Fashion icon known for her vintage-inspired style.
  5. Ryan Gosling – Actor known for his roles in indie films as well as mainstream successes.
  6. Florence Welch – Lead singer of Florence and the Machine, known for her unique voice and style.
  7. Donald Glover – Multi-talented artist known for his work in music, comedy, and acting.
  8. Michele Lamy: Muse and collaborator of fashion designer Rick Owens.
  9. Greta Gerwig – Actress and filmmaker known for her contributions to indie cinema.
  10. Devendra Banhart – Musician known for his eclectic folk music.

Hipster Bars, Cafes, and Hot Spots

These venues often act as crucibles for the exchange of ideas, music, fashion, and art that define hipster aesthetics and values. Below are additional entries focusing on such locales, categorized by cities known for their vibrant hipster scenes.

Portland, Oregon

  1. Stumptown Coffee Roasters – Pioneers of the third-wave coffee movement.
  2. The Secret Society – A cozy bar with a vintage feel, offering live music.
  3. Doug Fir Lounge – A log cabin-inspired venue for indie music and great food.
  4. Powell’s City of Books – The largest independent new and used bookstore in the world.
  5. The Ace Hotel – A boutique hotel that doubles as a hipster hangout.

Brooklyn, New York

  1. Brooklyn Brewery – A leader in the craft beer movement, offering tours and tastings.
  2. The Wythe Hotel – A luxury hotel with stunning views and a rooftop bar.
  3. Beacon’s Closet – A popular spot for vintage and second-hand fashion.
  4. McCarren Park – A green space that hosts outdoor movies and food markets.
  5. Cafe Grumpy – An independent coffee shop with a focus on quality and sustainability.

Austin, Texas

  1. Jo’s Coffee – Famous for its Iced Turbo and outdoor graffiti wall.
  2. The Continental Club – A legendary venue for live music, ranging from rockabilly to swing.
  3. BookPeople – The largest independent bookstore in Texas, hosting frequent author events.
  4. Spider House Cafe and Ballroom – A quirky cafe and event space with a vibrant outdoor patio.
  5. Rainey Street – A row of historic homes converted into bars with unique themes and live music.

San Francisco, California

  1. The Mission District – Known for its murals, thrift stores, and the vibrant Dolores Park.
  2. Four Barrel Coffee – A minimalist coffee shop with a commitment to direct trade.
  3. The Independent – A live music venue hosting emerging and established indie acts.
  4. City Lights Bookstore – An iconic independent bookstore and publisher that became famous as a Beat Generation haven.
  5. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – Offers a unique movie-going experience with food and drinks served during films.

Seattle, Washington

  1. Capitol Hill – A neighborhood with a concentration of coffee shops, indie bookstores, and music venues.
  2. Elliott Bay Book Company – A large independent bookstore with readings and signings.
  3. Bauhaus Strong Coffee – A coffee shop with a vast collection of books and a bohemian vibe.
  4. Neumos – A mid-sized music venue showcasing indie and alternative bands.
  5. The Pink Door – An Italian-American restaurant and bar with burlesque and trapeze entertainment.