Finding a little piece of conformity among the non-conformists

    Photos and collage by the author.

    When I came to America six months ago, the culture shock grabbed me by the throat. I felt the change in the pit of my stomach. I sensed my uneasiness at the unfamiliarity of it all, and yet a clawing desperation to leave and get out of a place characterized by so much sameness.

    On my first day here I didn’t know what CVS was. I’d never been to Target before. But you learn that shit fast, mainly because you have to — because so much of America is chains, unvarying chains of the same stores, the same food, the same clothes crammed together in corners. It didn’t feel unfamiliar for very long.

    It was in October that I learned about hipsters, about their supposed non-conformity, and their anti-consumerism. Their fur hats, leather boots, long disheveled hair and big tattoos. They interested me right away, potential allies in a country where everyone seemed the same.

    I felt, and still feel, that there is something almost magical about the hipster: as soon as you try to define the term, you realize the difficulty of it. There lies a certain paradoxical kind of mystery in trying to give meaning to such an ineffable word. The New York Timesdescribes the hipster as a “bearded urban everyman, one of those well-dressed wallflowers who populate the city’s high culture events.” But a real hipster is not identified mainly by what he wears, but by his attitude.

    According to most sources, the term hipster emerged circa 1999 and has since then been used to describe the starving artist/grad student next door who listens to Death Cab all day. The hipster is thought to be a boho-chic anti-consumerist rebel who, despite not giving a fuck about his appearance, still manages to look good in his stained and decaying American Apparel hoodie. He writes poems, listens to alternative music and rides his fixed-gear bicycle through Wicker Park on the way to work at Whole Foods. But most importantly, he doesn’t really care what you think.

    Maybe the hipster isn’t dead like a lot of people are saying it is. But I believe that almost surely it’s close to being extinct. We see more and more people every day who dress like hipsters, but in copying the style of these alleged non-conformists, we are parodying the glamour and courage needed to be a real free spirit.

    I’m betting that you know at least ten people who own black or brown leather boots, worn-in and ankle-high, with laces at the front and a zipper down the side. I’m guessing you probably own a pair yourself. At Northwestern, this is mainstream.

    No matter where you are on campus, there are girls in skinny-jeans, girls wearing hiker boots, girls sporting leg-warmers, girls clad in giant fur hats. At Tech, at the library, and at Norris there are guys in North Face jackets holding red-and-black checked hats, their hands wrapped in their knitted mittens. At Northwestern, there may not be a dress code, but there is definitely a uniform.

    The irony in it is that we will spend ridiculous amounts of money to look like fashionable hobos. We will spend large chunks of time in an effort to look like we spent no time getting ready at all. And in trying to look like we don’t care, we will, in fact, be proving the very opposite. So maybe we should be blamed for the fact that the hipster is dead or dying — because we, as a generation, are killing it, sucking the sheer uniqueness out of it by attempting to be it.

    If a hipster is someone who doesn’t consume, who seeks to express himself in ways different from the majority, then we are hypocrites, cowering behind our pricey fake fur hats. By mimicking the style of former trendsetters, we are helping murder the dazzle and glamour of nonconforming — we are making the hipster all about fashion and not about attitude, which used to be its main component.

    It is a shame that what seems to be happening is that we are deceiving ourselves, and that by forking out so much cash on clothing we are really just supporting the consumerist society that we live in, all the while pretending to be people we aren’t. Or maybe we just like those leather boots. I guess there’s no way we’ll really know.

    When I first moved here it became apparent to me that there were things about America I would never understand. Not because I was mentally incapable or overly close-minded, but because I had never lived here before. Most of the time this was hard — it was a glaring kind of intimation that I didn’t belong here. I probably never would.  But I vowed to myself that, nonetheless, I would never try to blend in.

    Now I look around my room. At the Urban Outfitters mug with the moustache on it that my roommate tells me is so hipster, at the clothes I got from the Salvation Army a few months ago. And then, when I look down at the ground I glimpse my leather Steve Madden boots, the leg warmers still in them. And suddenly I just can’t stop laughing. I feel ashamed for having given in to mainstream, when the sheer thought of American sameness used to scare me so much.


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