The Plight of the Hipsters

by Tom Fraine

There’s one phrase I’ve heard over and over again since moving to Berlin at the start of this year, from locals and new arrivals alike. “You can wear whatever you want in Berlin. Nobody judges you. Anything goes.” And that philosophy is admirably true for everybody, with the exception of Berlin’s beleaguered hipsters.

Berlin’s relationship with hipster culture is straightforward. The word is spoken with a universal sneer. Nobody would ever confess to being a hipster, but somehow the city is overrun with them.

At first, I thought Berlin’s problem with hipsters was that the look is a conformist twist on individualism. The perception is that hipsters think they’re cool because they’re dressing differently from everybody else, but the result is that they all end up looking the same. That would constitute a cardinal sin in a city that prides itself on being alternative. But then I thought about some of the other styles that have come and gone. Goths, punks, and rockers have always had a warm reception in Berlin, and continue to receive one, in spite of their looks being universally homogenous. So what’s the problem with hipsters?

The answer is that the hipster look is directly inspired by Berlin’s ‘I don’t care how I look’ mantra. Even though it’s clear the wearer has spent an hour carefully putting together every detail, it’s designed to look dishevelled, distressed, and like it’s thrown together in an instant. It’s far too close for comfort. Behind any attack on a hipster is an individual trying to reassert their own authenticity, their difference from the trend. “But my look is thrown together out of stuff I found down at the Flohmarkt! I did just get out of bed, honest I did!” The ease with which we can now all access information and images about how people dress around the world mean that everybody’s starting to look the same. People in Berlin now look like people in Shoreditch, who look like people in Williamsburg. Looking at a hipster is suddenly disturbingly like looking in the mirror.

And so at the dark heart of Berlin’s rejection of hipsters is the fear that Berlin is just not that alternative any more.
Berlin needs to get over its hipster identity crisis. It’s a trend, and just like any other, it will eat itself and eventually disappear. Take the best bits of it for yourself and wear them without feeling the need to make excuses for them. Leave the slavish conformism to the people who want to conform, and stop sneering at them. And remember the philosophy that will make sure that Berlin isn’t just another trend that passes, and stop judging people for what they wear.

Article by Tom Fraine

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