Fear and loathing in Shoreditch - why do we hate hipsters?

August 21, 2018

When people scornfully say “look at that fucking hipster”, what’s their problem? Why are we so troubled by the way that someone else looks? When someone is wearing garish or anachronistic clothes, or an ironic hat, or trousers that are too short, why are we bothered?

Do we have any right to be offended by someone else’s appearance? It’s none of my business, and I certainly wouldn’t want to regulate other people’s clothing. After all, surely only an authoritarian dictator would want to tell people what they are and aren’t allowed to wear.

But we humans do love to judge each other, to divide ourselves into tribes and find reasons to look down on those on the other side of the dividing line.

In the case of the clichéd hipster, I just have a hard time accepting the notion that someone genuinely thinks that it’s a good look. Then again, what do I know about looking good? I don’t even own a comb, and I try to get clothes-shopping over and done with as quickly as possible - in short, “I Ain’t Never Been Cool”. Even if I was the epitome of style, what right would I have to say that someone else’s manner of self-expression is wrong?

Maybe part of the problem is the fact that there’s something very try-hard about some of these outfits, and that doesn’t sit well with our myth of effortless cool. It’s all very self-conscious and post-modern. When I see someone who has clearly spent a very long time artfully crafting his elaborate facial hair, I see someone who is making choices that I wouldn’t make. Often we’re troubled by people making different choices to us, because the decision is informed by a different set of values.

Perhaps one explanation is that we hate the things we fear. As Hermann Hesse put it, “if you hate a person you hate something in him that is part of yourself”. Or, as a fictional philosopher said, fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate.

Does it come from a place of fear? Is it motivated by insecurity? Are we in some way envious that we don’t feel as free to express ourselves as the hipster does?

Is it really self-expression? Isn’t there something problematic about the irony and self-consciousness of it all? Are they actually dressing that way because they think it looks good, or is it all just part of some unfunny joke? Perhaps joke isn’t the right word - maybe it’s an effort to be a member of a particular tribe. In some ways, isn’t that true for all of us? Don’t we all want to look like we belong to our peer group?

As usual, I’m probably over-thinking it. We’re all free to choose how we want to look. We’re all free to look ridiculous.