Hip to Be Square


by James  Tuttle

Gentle reader,

Okay, so don’t tell anyone, but I’ve been watching Smash on NBC from the very first episode.  That surprised me because I hate musicals, aside from Cabaret and Chicago, both of which are among my favorite films, but that’s because the songs are integral to the plot; they’re largely about singers and dancers.

Tyson Paige in Hipster-with-a trust-fund swimwear. (Ph: Steven Chee)

My Fair Lady gets a pass, too, because Audrey Hepburn was so beautiful and Cecil Beaton’s Ascot scene was so brilliant, but if I hear so much as the first two bars of “Seventy-six Trombones” or “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” I will claw my way through the fucking wall to get out of there.

Smash's McPhee and Hilty


Smash is a show about getting a musical about Marilyn Monroe to Broadway and both the musical and the series itself definitely have their problems.  The songs are mostly just okay, and it’s sometimes hard to watch a bunch of people sacrificing everything they have for a project you don’t really give a shit about.  I mean, who wants to sit through two hours of songs about Marilyn Monroe just to watch her slowly overdose at the end?

The casting is pretty inspired, though.  Debra Messing is the neurotic lyricist who looks like she’s trying to wear every item of clothing she owns every time she leaves the house, and Jack Davenport, who was cute and clueless in the BBC’s Coupling, plays mean and cynical just as well.

American Idol alum Katherine McPhee began to shine more toward the end of the season but you’d have to be an idiot to think that she was Broadway vet Megan Hilty‘s serious competition for the Marilyn role.  Katherine’s character’s boyfriend is supposed to be the sexy Indian guy, but they should have got Mohinder from Heroes because this one always looks like he just smelled poo and, just between us, Anjelica Huston’s weird bangs are not doing her big face any favors.

Oh, and the upstart assistant-turned-producer-turned-fired kid who wears all the sweater vests and spies on everyone is brilliant if his goal is to make us want to jump into the television and strike him repeatedly with a heavy object.

Zooey Dechanel: Quirky Hipster princess.

Speaking of sweater vests, what’s with the Hipster thing still going on?  Weren’t neon-colored plastic sunglasses on their way out some time last year?  I was discussing some fashion aspects of the Hipster culture with the PFC family’s newest member Adam Von Rothfelder over the weekend and I must say he has an uncanny fashion sense for someone who looks so good with his clothes off.  It got me thinking of how this movement fits into the fashion landscape because so many people have been dressing like this for a while and, since I didn’t know how to trace it to any recent design trend, I thought I’d do a little research.

According to Wikipedia, “around 1940, the word hipster was coined to replace hepcat, and hipsters were more interested in Bebop and Hot Jazz than they were in Swing, which by the late 40s was becoming old-fashioned and watered down by squares like Lawrence Welk.”  But what the hell does that have to do with ironic facial hair and striped socks?

Just to bring some of our readers up to date: The new Hipster is an educated, middle-class white twenty-something (although many are thirty-somethings playing younger), who feels disenfranchised and decides to express this by dressing like all the other people from the same demographic who feel equally disenfranchised.  But they’re aware that this disenfranchisement is really a cliché, so they neutralize the irony of it by trying to look as ironic as possible, or just plain weird.  In other words, a Hipster is a typical young person from any generation since the dawn of youth rebellion who wants to express it differently, but in a self-referential, ‘meta’ sort of way.

Their stomping grounds are Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, unofficially known as the Hipster Capital of the World, and other trendy urban areas like Chicago’s Wicker Park, Venice and Echo Park in L.A., and some parts of Portland where they haunt the Pacific Northwest like Twilight characters, but with a sense of humor.  And they really love coffee houses and vinyl record stores.

Having recently been outed to the world at large by TV shows Portlandia on IFC and  Girls on HBO, one might correctly surmise that Hipsterism is still very premium cable.  If there’s ever a musical to emerge from this disenfranchised youth movement that echoes Hair in the 60s and Rent for the 80s, the title will no doubt be ironic and the music so obscure nobody will be able to hum it.

The look, I believe, is based on the skinny jean for both men and women, though the girls are also big on vintage dresses sometimes worn with cowboy boots or Doc Martens.  I don’t think the dress thing translates to hipster guys, though, which is good because dresses and full Hipster beards do not a pleasing ensemble make.  On the top half, those ironic t-shirts I’m usually advising against are a good bet, followed closely by plaid shirts, western shirts and the loose striped tank tops with really big necks.  The fitted hooded sweatshirt, or “hoody”, seems to act as a blazer as it did in the preceding Emo culture from which the Hipster movement springs.

Note how even Gosling's vintage rescue Hipster dog has a faux hawk. Oh, the irony.

Though this interesting subculture thrives on the idea of garments of the previously owned variety, you might have a hard time finding skinny jeans and fitted hoodies at the Salvation Army.  I suspect most of them get their shit at American Apparel and H&M anyway and Urban Outfitters in particular carries a strong line of ironic tee shirts, but be careful because some of their products have been deemed offensive.  I mean, who has time to grow your own vegetables while maintaining a list of ten bands that hopefully no one else has heard of and still find time to pick through a musty thrift store for your entire wardrobe?

An offensive wannabe Hipster tee from Urban Outfitters.


Accessorizing is, I think, a crucial aspect of Hipster life.  The vintage appeal can come through with Buddy Holly glasses or an old messenger bag with which to carry the latest iPad in style, provided you haven’t gone so far that you’re using a manual typewriter.  Don’t shy away from the asymmetrical haircuts or dyed colors, either, which you should do yourself.

I could get really snarky here about how important it is to do the same things all your friends are doing in order to seem equally autonomous and free-minded but I’m not going to.  Fashion is about making choices and creating a look that expresses who you feel you are to the world around you.  If that involves growing the same Mountain Man bead that all the other hipsters are wearing, then just go for it.  Peace.

Much love,


Comments: 2

  • ericjbaker May 17, 20124:45 am

    Watch me tie the first half of your story to the second half: I own an album by Shelly Manne, recorded in 1956, that is a jazz trio rendition of the My Fair Lady soundtrack.* Manne on drums, Andre Previn on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on upright bass. And I haven’t shaven for a week and a half, which is plenty of time for me to put up a decent beard.**

    I am so hipster it makes me want to puke.

    And is it me or is Jack Davenport starting to sound like Alan Rickman?

    *It would be cooler if I had this on vinyl, despite my lack of a turntable.
    ** It’s the playoffs.Shaving is for girls during the playoffs.

  • James Tuttle May 17, 20128:18 am

    Thanks, Eric! I think that you should find it on vinyl, whether you have a turntable or not. They probably have it at the same shop where they stock tortoise-framed librarian glasses. And I’m not sure if hipsters watch the playoffs. We’ll have to check on that one.

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