ABOUT THE LOOK
Paige Broussard and Jonathan Cate model fashions commonly seen as “hipster” trends. Much of Paige’s wardrobe, as well as parts of Jonathan’s, comes from Collective Clothing, a store operated by Sondra Aten in St. Elmo.
Broussard is wearing a polyester dress from the 1970s, a handmade hair bow, black and white earrings, coaster shoes, an owl necklace and a faux turquoise ring, all from Collective Clothing. Wayfarer-style glasses and mustard yellow tights help set off the otherwise monochromatic outfit.
Cate is wearing Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses, a button-up shirt from topman.com, Bullhead jeans from Collective Clothing, a
TJ Maxx belt
and boots from Rockport.
If you’re a hipster, you might enjoy the following upcoming events:
• Celebrate facial hair with the seventh annual Moustache tonight at 10 p.m. at JJ’s Bohemia, 231 M.L. King Blvd. Drink specials for those sporting lip ticklers and music by The Snake Doctors, Glowing Bordis, The Formidables and Wax Fang. Cover is $8.
• See hipster favorite Athens, Ga.-based indie pop ensemble Of Montreal play Track 29, 1400 Market St., at 8 p.m. April 6. They’ll be joined by Loney Dear and Kishi Bashi. Tickets are $15 in advance, $17 at the door.
PABST BLUE HIPSTER
If there’s a hipster version of ambrosia, it’s Pabst Blue Ribbon. Here’s how much it will set you back at different venues around town.
• JJ’s Bohemia (231 M.L. King Blvd.) — $3 (16-ounce can).
• Honest Pint (35 Patten Parkway) — $2.50 (16-ounce pint), $3.50 (21-ounce draft).
• Sluggo’s Vegetarian Cafe (501 Cherokee Blvd.) — $2 (12-ounce can).
• Market Street Tavern (850 Georgia Ave.) — $2.50 (16-ounce can).
• Tremont Tavern (1203 Hixson Pike) — $2.50 (16-ounce cans).
• Rhythm & Brews (221 Market St.) — $2.75 (12-ounce can).
When it comes to social labels, few are as nebulous and polarizing as “hipster.”
To some, the term indicates membership in a trendy, intelligent and creative counter-culture that is fascinated with irony, repopularizing outmoded fashions and art outside the mainstream.
To others, hipster is more negatively defined as an obsession with appearing cool and nonconformist while simultaneously sharing their peers’ taste in fashion and the arts.
Ask most people to define the term or whether it applies to them, however, and the general consensus is with shrugged shoulders and a noncommittal response.
“It’s just another label that helps people feel like they fit in,” said TJ Greever, 33, the lead singer in local rock trio Glowing Bordis. “I definitely don’t think I’m a hipster, but I don’t really know what it means.”
Mark Greif, on the other hand, has no difficulty defining hipsters.
Greif is an assistant professor of literary studies at The New School in New York City and co-founder/co-editor of the literary magazine n+1. In 2010, he co-wrote the book “What Was the Hipster?” Later that year, his essay, “The Hipster in the Mirror,” was published in The New York Times.
In an emailed interview, Greif wrote that hipster originally was used in the 1940s in reference to black avant-garde and counter-culture figures in the burgeoning bebop jazz scene.
In the late ’90s, he said, the term became a pejorative applied to young, white transplants to New York City. These new hipsters were “salesmen of cool” who sought to “retain the ethos of rebellion and superiority from earlier counter-cultures.”
“ ‘Hipster’ was ... recycled after 1999 as a sarcastic term of abuse,” Greif wrote. “From 1999 forward, the revival of the term was never anything but an insult.”
SCENIC CITY, HIPSTER CITY
In the past, hipster culture was commonly associated with cities such as Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas, and Brooklyn, N.Y. Recently, hipsters have become an burgeoning subculture in Chattanooga.
On Feb. 21, Lauren Modery wrote an entry in Hipstercrite, her column for the digital magazine CultureMap Austin, titled “The new hipster cities of America: Who’s emerging as the ‘next Austin’?” Chattanooga was the first entry on a list that included cities such as Asheville, N.C., Burlington, Vt., and Richmond, Va.
Modery cited Volkswagen’s “super green” plant, Chatype’s move to create a citywide typeface and EPB’s high-speed fiber-optic network as signs Chattanooga is on the cusp of becoming a new hipster haven.
“I chose Chattanooga because it had been popping up in articles I read about progress and technology,” Modery wrote, in an emailed response. “It has been showing up in articles, much like how Austin was (and still is).
“I started thinking, ‘Wow, this city is really doing something different.’ ”
Although she doesn’t like to admit she’s a hipster, Modery said she has coined the tongue-in-cheek term “hipstercrite,” which she describes as, “Someone who is totally a hipster but is in denial about it every day.”
Despite Greif’s unflattering definition of the term, Modery said she sees the growing influx of hipsters to Chattanooga as something to applaud.
“I see them as a positive ray of sunshine,” she wrote. “Yes, hipsters can be annoying or pretentious, but ultimately they’re harmless. They bring interesting ideas, businesses, art [and] culture to the table.”
To some, being a hipster is predominantly a matter of fashion.
“Hipster is a subgroup of people who dress differently,” said Jeremy Vasterling, 20, a part-time cook at University Pizza and Deli on Vine Street and self-described hipster. “It’s anything that’s steering away from the mainstream and what people are trying to get you to wear.”
Hipster fashion often consists of vintage items found by sifting through thrift stores. Common selections include skinny jeans, high-waisted pants with suspenders, Buddy Holly-style thick-rimmed glasses, hair bows, gaudy jewelry, cheap sunglasses and V-neck T-shirts, usually bearing ironic slogans.
Matt Skudlarek, 24, a music producer and manger at Pasha Tea & Coffee in St. Elmo, said he is amused by how the existence of an identifiable hipster fashion contradicts their claims to independence.
“It’s just funny because that happens to be one of those often-conformed-to groups that claims to have nonconformity and claims to be obscure,” he said, laughing.
Nevertheless, Skudlarek said that, although he doesn’t identify himself as hipster, others call him one because he wears clothing associated with the hipster tendency toward looking “elegantly disheveled.”
Many people share that reluctance to being named (or called out) as hipsters, even if their style is in line with the subculture, said Sondra Aten, 27, co-owner of Collective Clothing, a trendy St. Elmo thrift store that counts many hipsters among its clientele.
In some ways, the desire not to be named a hipster only further solidifies the appropriateness of the label, she said.
“I think most people view hipster as a negative thing, so they don’t want to be it, but the people who try so hard not to be it are generally the ones who get the label,” Aten said. “It’s hard to avoid it.”
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate Julia Hunter, 22, said she knows her tendency to follow ’90s fashion trends and listen to ’90s bands leads some to call her hipster.
Still, Hunter said she isn’t offended by the descriptions because she sees that subculture as a reflection of young people’s desire to find a sense of identity.
“It’s a generational thing for us, how people our age react to being young and having the existential void they need to fill about who they are,” she said.
Many said they think hipsters pride themselves for staying ahead of musical trends, avidly following blogs to find obscure, up-and-coming artists they can rally behind before they hit the mainstream.
“[Being hipster] is definitely tied to music, seriously tied to music,” said John Shoemaker, 41, co-owner of JJ’s Bohemia, a venue on M.L. King Boulevard that frequently features local and regional independent bands popular among hipsters.
Unlike some subcultures with specific, narrow musical tastes, Shoemaker said hipsters cross genre lines, favoring groups ranging from noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells to folk/alt-country artist Fleet Foxes.
If a band is still under the radar, it’s fair game. But if a group achieves mainstream notoriety, such as happened with former hipster darlings (and now Grammy Award winners) Arcade Fire, its popularity among hipsters often declines.
“Once you’ve hit a public spotlight, you’re no longer hipster,” Shoemaker said. “You kind of move on to something else.”
Mustachioed and rail-thin, singer and guitarist Lon Eldridge, 25, is a common sight on stages around town. Despite his tendency to wear skinny jeans, plaid shirts and a Panama hat and play to hipster audiences, Eldridge said he wouldn’t describe himself as one; he just wears what he likes.
Ironically, he said, that may actually make him even more of a hipster.
“Maybe I am a hipster, and I just don’t know it,” Eldridge said, laughing.
Eldridge’s shows, both solo and with his blues/roots duo Snake Doctors, are often attended by hipsters. He said he thinks they appreciate that the music he plays — blues, ragtime and other American roots styles — influenced the retro/roots acts they love such as Old Crow Medicine Show and Mumford & Sons.
“Those artists draw heavily from the old American roots music that we preserve and love,” he said. “A big part of our audience would be hipsters.”
‘IT IS WHAT IT IS’
That people have such a difficulty agreeing on a definition of the term hipster is indicative that it is starting to lose its negative connotation, Greif said.
“The important thing to understand now is that ‘hipster’ seems to be becoming just a vague term for any kind of independent youth culture,” he said. “You’re really just talking about young people, often college educated, underemployed or employed in various ‘creative professions,’ who are picky about their markers of style and purchasing.”
Being categorized like that might irritate hipsters who want to stand out as unique, but those who truly are independent won’t care, Eldridge said.
“It is what it is; it’s neutral,” he said. “It’s cool to be diverse and celebrate all the ways of being. Hipster is just one of those ways.”
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...