What Is the Origin of the Hipster Subculture?

Dark-rimmed glasses have become the symbol of the modern hipster
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The mainstream culture is the culture of the majority. In addition, there exists many different subcultures, each with their own unique and rich history, ideas and looks. The hipster subculture is one that began in the 1940s and evolved over time to leave us with the hipster of today.

1 The Hipster of the 1940s: Ideology

Members of some subcultures choose to isolate themselves from mainstream society. In the 1940s, the group known as the hipsters rallied against any sign of normalcy. They did not believe in the traditional cycle of job, family life, social life on the weekend and anything else done by the larger population. These (typically young) individuals sought a deeper takeaway from life, latching onto anything that was obscure, artistic or generally not embraced by the greater public.

2 The Hipster of the 1940s: Appearance and Interests

The 1940s were a time of war, racial divide and an overall sense of uncertainty. Hipsters rejected societal norms, appearing bored of the daily routines of mainstream society. The rejection of the extravagant lifestyles of higher classes led the lower-class white youth to jazz clubs, which were typically filled with other young people of similar financial stature. They embraced jazz music and the culture that surrounded it, including the fashion of young urban blacks, leading to a fusion of races in the hipster subculture. The hipsters of the 1940s were primarily focused on enjoying the music scene and differentiating themselves from the upper classes, all while creating bonds with those of the same class and from similar backgrounds.

3 The Modern Hipster: Ideology

While the hipster of the '40s sought refuge from uncertain times among those of a similar class through the shared bond of musical interest and agreement on societal issues, most modern hipsters will rarely claim to be part of the group. They remain elitist and exclusive, shunning those who do not conform to the hipster view of nonconformity. These include common appearances and attitudes, such as listening to a certain type of music or choosing clothes that appear to be purchased from a thrift store. It is noteworthy that members of this modern group, unlike its predecessors, do not necessarily belong to the lower classes. They instead choose to act as though they do, regardless of their socioeconomic level, in order to maintain the grungy and haphazard image that, in reality, is purposeful and specific.

4 The Modern Hipster: Appearance and Interests

The image of the modern hipster evokes a much clearer picture than one from the 1940s because the modern subculture is one more heavily focused on fashion and appearances rather than community-building. A key aspect of the fashion, music preferences, and any other aspect of hipsters that is accessible to the public eye would be the use of irony. They strive to incorporate irony into their clothing, like a pricey shirt made to look worn and ragged. They embrace unblemished entertainment that has not garnered mainstream recognition. In her article "Hipster Countercultures Throughout the Decades," Zana Faulkner summarizes that "unless he’s [the hipster's] got some philosophies and politics to introduce to the world, his contribution may die with the totally ironical T-shirt in a Goodwill bin." The modern hipsters are in danger of having their movement chalked up as just another fashion trend.

Allegra Sparta graduated from Binghamton University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Spanish. She is a member of the Phi Sigma Iota Honor Society for foreign languages, and has been writing the majority of her life, formally and informally.