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hipster

noun [countable]

a person, especially someone in their twenties or thirties, who has progressive political views and an unconventional approach to fashion, lifestyle, etc

hipsterism

noun [uncountable]

'The soap EastEnders must recalibrate its outdated depiction of Cockney life to take account of the young hipsters and tech entrepreneurs who have made East London a fashionable place to live, the BBC has admitted.'

The Independent 28th January 2014

'Hipsterism is already a success in the main cities around the world. It began within a reduced group of people interested in an alternative lifestyle. A high-class selective group that combines fashion, technology and culture on the same level.'

The Dieline 15th January 2014

There's a new social demographic which has swept through cities on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years, though the fact that it's notoriously difficult to pinpoint has led to people talking about it without necessarily being absolutely sure what its characteristics are. Nonetheless, were you to read any commentary on contemporary subculture, it probably wouldn't be too long before you saw a reference to the hipster.

the key tenet of the hipster is that he/she values independent thinking and adopts a lifestyle which goes against the flow

The contemporary use of hipster refers to a person who was typically born between the eighties and the turn of the millennium (a group sometimes described as millenials), and so is usually now in their twenties or thirties. The hipster is tech-savvy and educated, typically middle-class and reasonably affluent. However, the key tenet of the hipster is that he/she values independent thinking and adopts a lifestyle which goes against the flow. Hipsters have progressive political opinions, listen to alternative music genres, and eat organic or artisan foods. Their approach to fashion deliberately eschews the mainstream trends, which they deem to be culturally ignorant. Hipsters therefore often wear vintage clothes and might shop in charity stores or be keen to purchase independently labelled goods. In short, the hipster's aim is to be cool and trendy but in an unconventional way. Hipsters adopt a counterculture and make lifestyle choices which are deliberately different to those embraced by mainstream consumers.

For this reason, the word hipster itself sometimes has rather pejorative overtones, suggesting that these culturally aloof habits have been adopted purely for effect. The hipster concept, sometimes described by the derived form hipsterism, has consequently attracted a degree of debate which has also spawned the term anti-hipster.

Background – hipster

Hipster is derived from the adjective hip, which first appeared in the early 1900s and is used informally to mean 'fashionable' or 'following the latest trends'. The derived form hipster is not new and actually dates back to the 1940s, when it was coined to refer to aficionados of a growing jazz scene, then inspired by use of the words hip and hep to describe someone who was 'in the know' about emerging jazz culture. Over time, hipster became less specifically associated with jazz and acquired a more generic reference to someone who is keenly aware of or influenced by the latest trends and fashions, a definition still widely recorded in mainstream dictionaries today. In the early sixties, hipster spawned the creation of hippie (also hippy), a word which moved in a slightly different direction by referring to a person who rejected conventional values (classically associated with long-haired, bead-wearing individuals who took hallucinogenic drugs). In some senses therefore, today's use of hipster as associated with counterculture could be seen as closer in meaning to hippie than to its counterpart meaning from the 1940s.

The word hipster incorporates the noun forming suffix -ster. This suffix usually denotes a person associated with a particular activity or quality, e.g. songster, youngster, or more recently rapster, a coinage describing a trendy musician involved in rap music. The suffix -ster does, however, more typically appear in words with negative overtones, e.g. fraudster, gangster, mobster, prankster, etc. During the financial crisis in 2008, the term bankster hit the headlines as a description of a high-profile banking professional who operates in a dubious or risky way.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 25th March 2014.

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