How to define hipster fashion? Many people are trying as the world's… (N Phocus Photography )
It turns out America still makes something.
That would be: hipsters. And the numbers say the world can’t get enough of 'em.
According to Google search data examined by the Los Angeles Times, global searches for “hipster” and “hipster”-related topics are soaring toward an all-time high in 2012. Worldwide, searches have tripled in the last three years with no signs of slowing.
This despite the fact that barely anybody knows what a “hipster” is. Hipsters started out as a mostly white, mostly urban, mostly obscure-music-listening, vintage-clothes-wearing youth subculture. Now they seem to be something else. (More on that later.)
Nonetheless, we can safely say, using math, that the vague concept of “hipsters” has officially become a rock-solid item of mainstream fixation.
Google Trends data isn’t exactly scientific — hipster searches don’t necessarily equal hipsterdom. But because the U.S. Census doesn’t seem to count youths who drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and ride vintage bikes as a distinct type of person, stats from the popular search giant don’t seem a bad place to start.
And what those stats suggest is that the top five American hipster-infatuated cities over the last year — adjusted for population — have been Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, Minneapolis, San Francisco and San Diego.
These figures also suggest that the United States is no longer the hipster capital of the world. “Hipster” searches are steadily and rapidly increasing month by month all over the globe, with Mexico surpassing the United States over the last 12 months and with Chile in a close third place.
There are more hipsters in the news than ever, and reporters have recently gone hipster-spotting in Tijuana and Mexico City.
But perhaps most revealingly, what these stats suggest is that American interest in hipsters has stopped growing. For the first time since 2009, domestic interest has leveled out, leaving us to ask: Has America finally reached peak hipster?
A lot of people hope so. Even four years ago, informed cultural observers were calling hipsters “the dead end of Western Civilization.”
Have hipsters ended Western Civilization? They have not. Not yet, anyway.
What is a ‘hipster’?
“The Lower East Side and Williamsburg in New York, Capitol Hill in Seattle, Silver Lake in L.A., the Inner Mission in San Francisco: This is where the contemporary hipster first flourished,” wrote n+1 editor Mark Greif in New York magazine, explaining the phenomenon’s origins in the late ‘90s. “Over the years, there developed such a thing as a hipster style and range of art and finally, by extension, something like a characteristic attitude and Weltanschauung,” or worldview.
The common thinking among people who study “hipsters” is that the term tends to say less than people think; one of the notable things about hipsters has been their historical reluctance to self-identify.
“I like doing a lot of the things that are the hipster thing to do, but I do them because I like to do them, not because they're the cool thing to do,” a young woman told sociologists during a recent study on hipsters. “And because I am immersed in the social scene where there are a lot of hipsters, people mistake me for being one of them."
Clarity-wise, the term hasn’t been helped by its mainstream hijacking by popular media. The New York Times’ resident grammarian, Philip Corbett, chided the paper for using the term more than 250 times in 2010, apparently willy-nilly.
The Los Angeles Times too has done its part, writing about Amish hipsters, hipster fedoras, hipster thermostats, hipster Jesus, hipster existentialism, hipster racism, the “hipster primitive look" and the hipster apocalypse (figurative).
But New York magazine's Greif was insistent that hipsterdom is a very real thing and not just another buzzword. It described “an air of knowing about exclusive things before anyone else” when hipsters popped up in 1999, Greif wrote. “The new young strangers acted, as people said then, ‘hipper than thou.’ ”
They did this by buying old clothes and listening to weird bands nobody else had heard of, but which served as a kind of secret password among their friends to signify that they were members of an exclusive club.
It was, in short, another form of "keeping up with the Joneses" — social competition by way of consumerism, with ironic old sunglasses in place of the big new Cadillac, ironic pink jeans in place of the 72-inch TV, urban kids instead of suburban families.