This Vintage Life
There are a lot of things about so-called hipster culture that don’t make sense to those who don’t “get it.” Fashions like skinny jeans, slouchy hats, Clark Kent glasses, and layers of cardigans and scarves look odd to the 35+ set, who just can’t seem to wrap their minds around why someone would choose to look this way. The everything-sounds-the-same Mumford and Sons knock-off bands have the classic-rock generation scratching their heads. Hipster culture has achieved a wide enough cultural footprint to demand attention from marketers and content-creators, but covers a broad enough swath of society that each individual sub-group can still lay claim to being the most “ironic” branch of the family tree.
The most interesting motif in hipster culture, though, is the retro-coolness of all things “vintage.” Record players and Polaroid cameras are enjoying a renaissance that no one in 1996 could have imagined, and farm buildings are falling across America to meet the demand for reclaimed wood. Old is the new new. Being able to say that you found that awesome mid-century dresser at a thrift shop is a jewel in a crown made up of vintage doorknobs and your grandmother’s emerald broach.
But as much as old things being new again, new things are being wrapped in old. This is the age of iPhone cases crafted from old barns and Instagram filters created to make hi-resolution digital pictures look like they’ve been stored in an old shoebox since the 197’s. If you can’t find a couch that fits the retro look of your downtown loft, you can always buy a brand new one designed to look the part. The jewelry section at Urban Outfitters or Forever 21 looks like a Goodwill from five years ago. Before, you know, it got picked over by the hipsters.
The thing that’s missing from this vintage-couture culture, however, is an appreciation and celebration of an actual tradition and history. It is recreating a history that never actually existed. Hipster culture is full of individuals who have grown up in an environment of constant change and progress unlike any before them. This is the development home generation. The internet-famous generation. The digital nomad generation full of people raised by upwardly mobile, middle-class Americans who were so focused on moving forward that they forgot to put down roots. We don’t have our great grandfather’s pocket watch because our parents lost it during one of their many moves. That’s okay, though, because there’s one exactly like it on Fab.
In the vacuum created by lack of history, hipster culture has adopted whatever it can from previous generations, clinging to things than can lend a sense of stability. It doesn’t matter if that dresser wasn’t passed down to you, it could have been. Battered by a constant wave of new and better stuff, stuff that, honestly, is hard to say no to, anything that looks like an anchor is a welcome sight.
Trees need roots and people do, too.
In a world where people are increasingly distanced from each other, even while social media claims to bring them closer together, there is a gap that needs to be filled. For now, it can be satisfied with cruiser bicycles and Warby Parker spectacles, but that feels hollow and short-term. If hipsters want to leave their kids real tradition, not just more co-opted history, it’s time to forget being ironic and start being original.