Like “yuppie,” a term that used to specifically describe Young Urban Professionals who conspicuously spent money on Oliver Peoples eyeglasses and Sony compact disc players (the decadence!) but is now loosely applied to anyone who’s not old enough to receive social security and wouldn’t need it if they were, the term “hipster”—coined in 1940 to describe a jazz subculture—is becoming less precise as it ages.
The term’s 21st-century sense clearly derives from its original meaning (per Wikipedia, a hipster in the 40s was defined by “dress, slang, use of cannabis and other drugs, relaxed attitude, sarcastic humor, self-imposed poverty, and relaxed sexual codes”), though hipsters today are more likely to listen to indie rock than jazz. The recent popularity of the term is often credited to Gavin McInnes, creator of Vice magazine, whose new book Street Boners defines hipsterdom as the decades-in-the-making convergence of black cool and white cool. The mingling of races and their respective norms was part of the original hipster culture as well, but the intermingling is about more than just race: it’s about a perfectly postmodern confounding of cultures in an explicitly ironic manner.
McInnes is a hipster himself, of course, though he’s acutely aware that his age (he was born in 1970) virtually excludes him from his own cultural cosmology: in the world of Street Boners, your window for being able to participate meaningfully in the street-fashion conversation lasts for exactly 12 years, from ages 18 to 29. Before that, you’re jailbait. After that, you start to sag and—perhaps more damningly—you’ve seen enough trends come and go that if you still give a shit what people are wearing, it’s a sign of insecurity.
Street Boners consists largely of a collection of photos of people (if the book’s subtitle is to be believed, the volume includes exactly 1,764 Hipster Fashion Jokes) snapped out and about by McInnes and his team of photographers, with the author’s unapologetically snarky comments as captions. For the most part these aren’t ordinary Joes out making Starbucks runs—they’re young (or would-be young) fashionistas (or would-be fashionistas) at parties and bars in New York, Toronto, L.A., London, and Paris. McInnes rates each look on a scale of zero to ten kittens, with zero kittens being nauseating and ten being inevitable inspiration for an engorged member such as the book’s title describes. (Men are included in the rankings; McInnes is heterosexual, but he can’t help getting a hard-on for a really nice Mod suit.)
Of course if you’re hot, you’re hot, and McInnes acknowledges this. His comments seem to suggest that you’re born a certain number (a seven, say, or an eight) and can raise or lower that number based on your fashion choices. If you’re born a ten, you really have to screw up to not look good in an outfit. If you’re born a five, you’d better wear short black high-heeled boots and white ankle socks and not take them off no matter what kind of position you end up in later on. This also explains why young women—especially hot young women—are the most interesting from a street-fashion standpoint: they simply have more degrees of freedom. McInnes has rules for how to dress, and he’s forthright about the fact that if you’re over 30, or if you’re a guy of any age, there are simply more rules that you have to follow more closely if you want to look good.
What are the rules? I won’t go into detail (see pp. 237-245 for said detail), but the general principle is that in the post-modern world of the hipster, it doesn’t so much matter what look you go for as that you know what look you’re going for—and then be willing to take some risks going for it. (McInnes gives high scores to many people who look completely ridiculous, just because they’ve so successfully done what they seemingly set out to do. A bum pushing a shopping cart, for example, gets a ten: “If you’re going to wear a T-shirt as pants, you need to own it.”) Street fashion, it seems, is kind of like golf: natural gifts are necessary if you’re going to be a world-class pro, but for the rest of us, knowing the rules and practicing dilgently will significantly lower our handicaps.
In appropriately ironic fashion, McInnes cuts his critiques with classic examples of the Vice style: gross-out jokes, winking ethnic stereotypes, celebrity cameos. (Do you even need to ask whether one of them is by Chloë Sevigny?) He’s a funny guy, and though no book of 1,764 one-liners by a single author is going to be uprorarious from beginning to end, McInnes’s batting average is pretty good. Since fashion is a product of culture, McInnes’s comments inevitably range beyond what his subjects are wearing to the general context in which they’re wearing it; the explicit and implicit cultural critiques add up to a kind of gonzo social treatise.
- “‘I miss old New York’ is a cliché but when you see a student snuggling down for eight hours of z’s, you’re like, ‘Can we not get just one knife back, please?'”
- “Can you fucking BELIEVE people still believe in God? Graveyards must be filled with bodies going, ‘You’re kidding, right?'”
- “When middle class kids get tons of tattoos, they end up attracting a level of blue collar scumbag they have nothing in common with and the end result is one guy trying to dumb down his vocabulary while the other wonders what the fuck The Onion is.”
- “If Puerto Rican girls stopped swearing all the time and moved to France, I would stick a beret on my dick so fast it would make its head spin.”
If, at this point, you still care what McInnes thinks about what you’re wearing, you’re apt to be disheartened when you look honestly at yourself and try to assign a kitten score. But that’s okay: the subjects in Street Boners are slugging it out on the world’s toughest style battlegrounds. For the average American, looking in your closet for something to wear out to a party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—where McInnes lives—is like looking in your garage for something to drive in the Indy 500. Whatever it is that you have, and whatever look it is that you’re going for, just own it. Own it fiercely.