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A culture that thrives out of the ‘mainstream’

Photo by Joey Gale, photo editor

A hipster by definition is almost impossible to define by the mere fact that hipster culture constantly changes as the underground goes mainstream.

Many recognize hipsters as the individuals who wear skinny jeans, a cardigan and thick-rimmed glasses, someone who listens to weird, obscure music that no one has heard of and that represents an ever-changing counter-culture.

“A hipster is the very essence of cool,” junior English major Zac Pace said. “Someone so cool they don’t even know they’re cool and clearly aren’t trying. You can always find a hipster in their natural habitat of overpriced coffee shops and pretentious T-shirt stores.”

Cities like New York, Minneapolis and even Chicago are known to be populated by hipsters who listen to underground music, wear retro clothing and ride their bikes everywhere. Now Des Moines may be no New York City, but if looking, one can still find an underground culture.

Sprinkled throughout Drake’s campus, one might find a hipster or two sporting skinny jeans, ironic T-shirts and black-rimmed glasses, but getting one to admit to being a hipster is a little more difficult.  Since the early beginnings of the hipster culture, self-labeling has been taboo.

“Very few people are willing to self-identify as hipster,” said Matthew Garite, an adjunct professor of English. “It is taboo. Although recently, more are willing to accept the label.”

Garite teaches “The Hipster: A Cultural History of Cool” as part of the first-year seminar program. The course explores a history of counter-culture from the early movements in the 1940s leading up to the present.

Garite describes hipsters as individuals that are committed to the counter-culture politically, aesthetically and musically.

“I think that a lot of the hipster culture in Des Moines is rooted in some of the bar and nightlife scenes downtown rather than anchored to the campus,” Garite said. “But, even here at Drake, I see some interesting students that register to me as hipsters.”

One key aspect of hipster sensibility is a retro style or an attempt to recycle the look and sound of previous generations, Garite said.

Today, there seems to be two types of hipsters: the original and the faux hipster, said first-year Charlie Dixon, a student in Garite’s FYS. Dixon grew up near the east side of Milwaukee, which exposed him early on to hipster culture, although he notes that Garite’s FYS has since broadened his definition of a hipster.

“The faux hipsters have contributed next to nothing in the advancement of culture; they are essentially leeches,” Dixon said. “They listen to a certain thing because it’s the ‘in’ thing. The original is much more hidden from the mainstream’s eye. They usually create the new art, music, film that the faux hipster blows up because it’s underground and drops it as soon as it gets popular.”

The hipster culture generally receives negative connotations for lack of perceived societal and sub-cultural contributions, as a result of faux hipsters.  While faux hipsters merely wear or copy the fashions of companies like Urban Outfitters, a true hipster is committed to avoiding support for corporate companies.  They’d rather check out thrift stores and vintage boutiques for fashions from earlier times.

“Specific fashion markets and sounds have been evolving for decades, and hipster culture is always changing as these become more widely accessible, moving onto something new,” Garite said.

So, what should one look for next in this ever-evolving hipster culture?  Garite suggested that ‘80s and ‘90s style electro-dance music may make a comeback, and with vinyl becoming too mainstream, true hipsters are kicking it retro-style with a cassette-based underground.

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