It always makes me feel old to admit that I don’t understand a cultural phenomenon.

Whether it’s music, fashion, or pop culture (I’m talking to you, Ke$ha,) I worry that I’m out of vogue if I just can’t comprehend it.

For quite some time now, I’ve felt that way about the title of “Hipster.”

It’s not that I’m against hipsters at all – it’s that I have no idea what that term means.

Once, I even Googled Hipster. Then Wikipedia’d it. Then Urban Dictionary’d it.

(I was careful to do these things while no one was looking because of my fear of being laughed at for my severe out-of-touchness.)

But I still didn’t understand what, exactly, constituted a hipster. There seemed to be guidelines about politics and worldviews, but those seemed to be vastly varying depending on the hipster in question. And there were vague fashion ideas, such as dudes walking around in super-skinny jeans with baggy hats and girls wearing vintage clothing in funky ways. But that didn’t seem like enough characteristics to define a movement. A generation.

I agonized over my inability to grasp the concept.

I don’t understand the world!! THE WORLD I LIVE IN!!!

I’m totally going to get kicked out.

Why couldn’t I understand? What does it all mean?

I didn’t know.

So I accepted the fact that I was old and no longer relevant and hobbled on with life.

Until I was having a Twitter discussion with the social media manager from the Birmingham Public Library. And he stated this astounding piece of information.

I would really like to give you a 1-year gift membership into the BPL Friends, b/c you’re a mom, a writer, a reader, & a hipster. :)


A hipster?!?

Could this really be?

Could I actually be something that I didn’t even understand?

It seemed improbable. Far fetched. And confusing.

So I inquired.

I’m fascinated and must know: what qualifies me as a hipster? I was sure I was too old. :-)

He answered:

It was just a general feeling from your tweets. Plus, I’m one and I’m even older. :)

So he still didn’t explain what it was.

But I now had a clue – the secret lies with my tweets.


I thought about my tweets.

(They sounded like me.)

I tried to imagine my twitter person as a real person.

(She looked just like me.)

I put horn-rimmed glasses, a vintage shirt, a scarf, skinny jeans, and Converse sneakers on my imaginary twitter persona.

(They didn’t look right.)

I Wikipedia’d it again. I studied the characteristics like a Final Exam that counted for 80% of my grade, but very little sounded like me. I Googled “Am I a Hipster Quiz” and took one, but at the end of the quiz, they insisted on having my email address and then the website crapped out before giving my my life-changing results.

(If they hack my Paypal account with that information, some quiz-writing hipster somewhere is going down.)

I considered marching down to that very library that started this soul-search to find a book that looked something like this:

Am I a Hipster

I finally opened up and shared my humiliating angst with Chris. Then I asked him if he understood what a Hipster is.

“Yeah, I guess so. I think I’ve always understood it…my mental concept of it has just grown based on the context in which I’ve heard the term used.”

Great. He gets it but I don’t. And he’s centuries older than me.

“Explain it then!”

He threw out some random notions, like nonchalance and Apple products and nerdy being cool.

And I just felt more alone in my ignorance and inability to grasp important cultural concepts.

And worse yet, to not even know where I stand in this monumental situation.

Which brings us to you.

So, my favorite internet people in the entire world,

1. Can you explain, in a way that my aged mind can understand it, what exactly defines a hipster?


2. Am I one?

Please consider your answers carefully – my future identity and slouchy hat budget lies solely in your hands.

But be nice about hipsters, because I may be one – at least on Twitter.

I just wouldn’t know it.

40 thoughts on “Hipsters: A Quest for Truth.

  1. I don’t really know either, but I do know some hipsters and they don’t follow tradition at all, and yet they get away with it b/c they are so cool about it and everyone loves them!

  2. I think the key to Hipster-ness is a desire to be different than the mainstream, preferably with a sense of irony.

    While the general thought about glasses is that they are undesirable, and if you must wear glasses, they should be fashionable and tasteful; hipsters wear large, bold glasses even if they don’t need them.
    While the mainstream downloads pop music mp3s; hipsters prefer to listen to obscure bands on vinyl.
    Hipsters go for anti-fashion, combining items that aren’t traditionally worn together (like dots and stripes, flannel and skinny jeans) to be different.

    The dislike of hipsters comes from an idea that many of them have an air of superiority, that they’re better than the mainstream. And the meta-irony that while they are trying to be nonconformists, they are conforming to their own stereotype.

    With all this in mind, I don’t think that you’re hipster. I think what the social media director was trying to say was that you’re cool, fresh, and different.

    1. This is bang-on. The whole ironic-for-the-sake-of-being-ironic tends to come across as perpetually making fun of people, too, which adds to that whole superiority thing. As for me, sometimes I just want to say, “no, I don’t get the obscure band reference, and thank you very much, but I don’t feel inferior because of it.” Honestly, Rachel — you are too cool to be a hipster!

  3. My teenage son uses that term. When I asked him what it meant – he said – with his quirky smirk – “not mainstream – but not TOO not mainstream because that’s too mainstream” Oh. That helped. A lot.:)

    1. This is probably the single best description of what it means to be a hipster. I have lots of hipster friends and sometimes by default I do hipster like things. Things that involve tea and scarves and skinny jeans not worn appropriately.

      Lots of people think hipsters like to like things “before they’re cool” and then trash them once they are cool. I find this to be untrue in that most hipsters I know genuinely enjoy discovering new things that they enjoy and introducing those things to their friends hipsterly-inclined or not. I like to think of hipsters as the welcoming team at church. You know the ones, at the door looking for new faces…

      Hipsters just like to embrace life and newness, but they can often have an affinity for beauty found in things that are not so new…

  4. I think (which leaves a huge margin for error) that in a way they are in a way reminiscent of the hippies from a by-gone era. They have replaced the flowers with vintage clothing, the peace slogan with a social need for equality for all, and free love with just enough angst to fuel their need for social change. They still march to the beat (now indie, ugh) of a different drum and still are fighting against ‘the man’ but I am not sure if they all know exactly who he is.

  5. The best thing about getting older is that you realize you can define your self in any way that you want. If you want to be a hipster declare yourself one and let the definition flow from who YOU are rather than the other way.
    As for actual definition….I haven’t a clue. It seems to be like all the other trends….right now it is cool to be a hipster….might have been called a nerd when it wasn’t cool.

  6. My understanding — as a decidedly NON hipster — is that hipsters don’t really, truly embrace much of anything. They like things with an ironic detachment, mostly because it’s not cool yet, and the second something becomes cool, it’s passe to them.

    You might be able to tell that I’m not a big fan of this particular persona. My husband and I tend toward the geek/nerd sort of things, where we embrace bands, books, tv shows, fashion, etc that we love because we love them.

    That said if you find yourself liking indie bands, sweater vests, big glasses and skinny jeans… go for it. Be who you are. My husband’s been a lifelong Converse wearer, and he’s going to keep wearing them long after they are no longer semi-ironically hip.

  7. I don’t think your ‘social media manager’ knows what a hipster is. At least you admit it, poor guy.

    But, no, I don’t think you’re a hipster. Pretty good explanations above, but I think the core elements are underemployed liberal arts majors with ironic fashion sense.

    1. My husband is always talking about memes so from this link (above) I followed a rabbit trail of links and got this:

      I wrote you a nice long essay answer and then decided I wasn’t really giving you an answer. I wouldn’t say you’re a hipster by Portland terms because hipster seems a bit more extreme up here but maybe because you’re not quite the stereotypical Southerner (think of the extremes in movies like Talladega Nights!), you’re more on the hipster side by Southern terms. Hipsters are more smug up here so it’s kinda an insult to be called one by a “normal” person whereas I would think of you being less old-fashioned and more in tune with new styles, etc, you’d be more like a Southern hipster. That doesn’t really make sense does it? I guess the heart of the matter is do you think you are a hipster and do you want to be one? Then you get to decide how/if you want to change to make your wants match reality!

  8. Being a Hipster is purely subjective. Each one has their own mainstream to defy. With that being said, there are a lot of commonalities between them all. I have a very Hipster friend. I have learned from her and her group of hipster friends, Hipsters are very easily influenced by others. My friend was a Hipster before it was a social phenomenon. In high school she definitely broke the mold of a typical southern girl. She was/is obsessed with the 40’s-60’s era so much so to the point my Instagram feed is overloaded with 1950’s pressure cookers and 1960’s hot plates. She loves the persona of a 1950’s housewife but completely rejects the idea of doting on a husband and children. She is the definition of irony. She even goes so far as to wear nothing but authentic vintage clothing found only at estate sales and resale shops. She completely rejects modern fashion because the labels have no soul, but yet when she stumbles onto a vintage Prada she’s willing to pay double what a new one would cost. Pretentious is the perfect word because they don’t want anyone pushing their thoughts and ideas on them, but yet they believe everyone should conform to their non-conforming ways. Hypocritical would be putting it mildly. I don’t know if you picked up from my post but I am definitely not a fan of the Hipster movement and I believe the Library Director misused the term. I think different, independent and “cool” is really what he was trying to portray via Hipster.

  9. Being a hipster isn’t necessarily entirely based on how a person dresses. I know some people with hipster tendencies who dress pretty normally. It seems to me that a big part of being a hipster is not jumping on the trend bandwagon just because everybody else likes it. They like the novelty of discovering (and liking) something new that nobody has heard of–a band, movie, tv show, food, etc. They like straying off the beaten path of pop culture.

    I have slight hipster tendencies when it comes to movies. Everybody loved Avengers, so I stubbornly maintained no desire to see it–not because I’d consciously decided it was “too mainstream” but because I was weirdly turned off by its popularity. Hard to explain.

    I really doubt you’re a hardcore hipster. You could have hipster tendencies, though. I don’t know you apart from your blog posts, so it’s hard to say. Your recent post about trying out new restaurants–slightly hipster-ish maybe? Rocking your homeschool thing–perhaps a little hipster-esque as well (although homeschooling has become a lot more mainstream, so that’s pretty debatable). You’re the best judge of your hipster-ness.

  10. I don’t think you’re a hipster…I would go with “hip, fashionable young mom.” As in, you dress well, you’re up with what’s popular in tv, movies, clothes, etc.; some of it you like, some you don’t, but you’re not pulling any pretentious poses about any of it. Does that even make sense? I guess what I’m tryiing to say is that I agree with Renita, above. Hipsters seem to determine what they’re into by how popular it is with everyone else. If other people like it, then it’s over. I think that’s just silly–I like what I like, regardless of what other people think about it. Sometimes that makes me look really cool and hip, and sometimes it makes me a big dork. And I’m okay with both of those things.

  11. What an interesting post. From the comments I gather everyone defines a hipster differently. And if you take a little of each definition I would say we all have a bit of hipster in us. :)

  12. I think many people have already described it better than I can. For visual reference, go north three hours to the Franklin suburb of Nashville. Buy a non-conformist smoothie, like Avocado and Guava, and sit on a bench for 2 hours and people watch. You’ll have it figured out by then.

  13. I wouldn’t say a hipster is really a specific way of dressing or following a specific trend. The most defining characteristic of a hipster is that they dress and act to be unique. They wear bowling shoes because its weird and no one else is doing it. So it looks different depending on where you live…do you go against societal norms just because they’re the norms? If so I’d say your a hipster. In Denver hispters are everywhere…which really doesn’t make them hipsters because it’s so common.

  14. I learned about hipster from my son when he was making fun of me for being so mainstream. He’s kind of hipster and started sending me the hipster kitty meme which I love. It really explained hipster to me in a way I couldn’t have learned it anywhere else. Check it out -

    I made a few triathlon related hipster kitty memes that I had on my blog for a while. I don’t think you are totally hipster. Didn’t you shop at the Gap? Or maybe you were just checking out the jeans there….

  15. i don’t think you’re a hipster. it seems like a lot of these comments should help you out. there are hipster Christians out there too. i see that a lot. it seems like the main thing they all have in common is a certain disregard for whatever is popular. but how ironic that by avoiding “mainstream” things, they have become their own trend, which is something you’d like they’d also want to avoid. seems to me like most of the hipster types are just too cool for normal people. that might not be fair. but i have this sense of arrogance in my mind that goes along with hipsters, like nothing is good enough for them.

  16. Hipster = the new Emo. Emo got too popular. EVERYONE was Emo. Emo was not unique any more. So they had to invent a new “thing”. And Hipster it was. Give it a little time. Hipster will be lame soon, just like Emo. And the lemmings will find a new trend to follow. Muah ha ha haaaa…

    Me, I don’t get the “hipster” thing. I’m thirty. I’m old enough to like what I like because I like it and I don’t particularly care what anyone thinks about my personal tastes and preferences. Like my younger brother went on this furious rage about how he refused to see or read “The Hunger Games” because it was “a hipster thing”. Huh? Well I read the books and goshdarnit I liked them. It’s a great read. “Hipster” be darned.

    1. Okay, reading that, “I like what I like because I like it”, I might sound a little hipster, I realized. But here’s the thing: When I think of a “hipster”, I think of a person who just oozes the desire to be different. Not arrogance, necessarily. But someone who you can tell they want the entire world to know they are different. They’re trying too hard. Their appearance and their mannerisms scream it from the rooftops. Does that make sense?

  17. Hipster is obviously hard to define. I think of big, black glasses, converse shoes, beanies (when unnecessary) goatees (hopefully only on guys) :) cool/computer nerds, granola eaters, organic, nature lovers, save the whales, etc. I definitely don’t think of it as a bad thing, just a lifestyle. Seattle seems like one big city of hipsters. I liked the term “modern day hippie” that someone used. I wouldn’t classify you as one other than you are a cool computer nerd. Haha :). I’m definitely not a hipster, as I’m not cool enough. :) I think of myself as more of a classic, girl-next door type, I can’t pull off the hipster look, nor do I have any desire to do so. :) I thought your selfie picture was pretty “hipster” though!

  18. I have a small group of hipster friends, and I tend to agree with the very first comment. Those are their main commonalities.

    That being said, I have a funny, hipster-related story for you… because this has happened to me, too.

    So hubby and I put the kids to bed, and I ran out to make a quick Wal-Mart trip. I had not showered that day, or even really brushed my hair, and was wearing Christmas pj pants, flip=flops, an army green zip-up hoodie, and my glasses (which I do happen to need, although I prefer my contacts). It was February, and unseasonably warm. I honestly didn’t give my wardrobe choices a second thought; when you’re a mother of two small children, sometimes you have other things on your mind. Sometimes.

    So, I’m standing in the checkout line, and two fairly cute but fairly scruffy 20-somethings get in line behind me. One of them catches my eye, then remarks, with genuine admiration, “Nice flip-flops. And I like your pants, too. That outfit is so hipster.” And I did my best not to laugh out loud at his appalling mistake. Because, like you, I may not have a concrete definition nailed down, but I know one thing… a hipster I am NOT! I am a suburb-dwelling, minivan-driving mom of two small children, and he mistook my bed head for ironic anti-coolness.

    1. You know, hipsterisms are complex. Originally, I think the idea of being a hipster is kind of cool. Wearing vintage or thrift shop clothes, drinking tea & coffee, reading old books, wearing scarves (keeps you warm in winter!), seeking out rare or old music (my dad’s an old man, so Sweet Baby James is one of my favorites), and eating fresh or home-baked goods is wonderful. To me, the hipster fad means rather than dress like you want to be naked, or just listen to dirty music & live in the most unhealthy way possible, play with layering, look back at what your parents or grandparents liked and reconnect to that. Listen to music that nourishes the soul. Reconnect with nature. Try something new. Experiment with eating healthy. Write poetry. Kids love to rush around from thing to thing, and hipsterism is more like taking a step back, and letting the current flow you along. No need to rush into the mainstream. Yes, some hipsters want so badly to be different that they get pretentious about it (who hasn’t been a little pretentious at some point?) , but I’ve had a friend who’s been there, but she’s changed from being pretentious to learning what hipsterism should really uphold: being different, being accepting of different people, and stop and enjoy the present. I think a lot of people have false notions of hipsters being the people in a rush to be as “indie” and hip that they start hating everyone who’s different. But I don’t think those people are true hipsters. I do think of hipsters as more intellectual, politically-active, nature-loving, glasses-wearing hippies. And don’t blame a movement for people being pretentious – blame the people for doing it wrong! (Okay, shutting up. hehe)

  19. You’re not a hipster. While hipsters probably do deeply care about how the world perceives them, they would never openly admit it (because part of the persona is that they don’t care). You’ve outted your deep inner thoughts and angst over it, so you can’t claim the status. (but makes you much cooler than a hipster in my opinion :))

    And the names of your children also put you out of reach in claiming the status. If you were a hipster you would have named them Margot and Henry, not Ali and Noah :).

  20. I thought a hipster was a purse you wore across the body that hangs on your hip. Clearly I am out of touch. Last week my 13 year old told me I am the opposite of cool. Gawd I am old.

  21. I live in San Francisco, the Hipster capital. My Understanding of a Hipster is someone who is almost violently trying to be non mainstream. Here the hipsters are generally college kids with privilege who are trying to be everything their parents are not. Hipsters are annoying. There seems to be an air of superiority to them as if to say; “oh you have a car, how mainstream” with a look of disgust. I do not think you are a hipster, though perhaps some of the ideals are ones that you hold close to your heart without being a jerk about it.

  22. I feel like the biggest giveaway that someone is a hipster is if they pay $100 to look like they shopped at a thrift store.
    The Simpsons episode with hipsters did a pretty good job showing it, too.

  23. This made me laugh because about six months ago, I had to ask my friend Melanie what a hipster is. I was pretty sure I knew what a hipster LOOKED like (style-wise), but not anything more. She said, “Walt’s one.” So that explained it to me. Unfortunately, you don’t know our friend Walt, so that doesn’t help you. But the takeaway here is, it helped ME.

  24. You are DEFINITELY not a hipster. I lived in Brooklyn – hipster central – so I know what of I speak. Hipsters are obsessed with the newest and coolest stuff, but ONLY if it is “not in the mainstream.” They try extremely hard to look like they at once put no effort into their appearance, but also thought long and hard such that they are only wearing things ironically. This tends to lead to thrift store (or faux thrift store) clothing, thick-framed glasses, etc. A hipster would never be caught dead watching Downton Abbey, because he watched it before it was cool and thought that it wasn’t realistic enough of the time period.

  25. I am just laughing at this whole thing. I don’t think you are a hipster, but I am not saying that hipster is a bad thing all around. You are funny and true to yourself, and that makes you cool.

  26. A hipster would find this post & the replies annoying because you/we are just not cool enough to “get it”. I think being a hipster means having an air of superiority & being extremely vague on what you think is cool so as to add to your mystique & overall superiority. I find hipsters annoying. I do not think you are a hipster. And if you determine that you are indeed a hipster then you will be the only hipster I don’t roll my eyes at ;-)

    (Sorry, I was a little rude about hipsters but they annoy me but I probably annoy them just the same).

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