Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
Fashion trends have existed ever since humans could construct and create clothing. People follow a certain fashion in order to express themselves, portray a certain persona, or to simply “fit in.” From long, puffy dresses, to pinstripe suits, to inflatable sneakers, to skin tight yoga pants, trends usually begin as fashion companies introduce a novel style to the marketplace for consumers to hopefully like and purchase the clothing of that style. In contrast, current fashion companies like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters have noticed the popularity of the hipster trends, which includes wearing second-hand clothing from previous decades, and have created new clothing that look anachronic. By doing so, these companies have disregarded the hipsters’ intentions for wearing used clothing in the first place. While the modern hipsters’ fashion was derived from their ideologies of frugality, progressivism, and resource sustainability, select fashion companies have imitated their popular style for capital gains, but have disregarded the hipsters’ original principles.
The term “hipster” has evolved greatly over the decades. Originally in the 1940s, it referred to the group and subculture of “cool people” who avidly listened to jazz and stereotypically sported flashy zoot suits. They were, as the dictionary defines the word “hip,” aware and following the latest fashion, particularly in music and clothes. In the time of institutionalized racism, hipsters were predominantly white, middle class youth who appreciated and followed the black jazz musicians of that time.
Certainly, the hipster subculture has changed. The initial use of the term died off towards the end of World War II. In the early 1990s, the term “hipster” had resurrected but had reincarnated into a movement of people who appreciated alternative music and brought back fashion trends that had long come and gone. Hipsters were no longer those who were “in the know.” They appreciated artists and bands that one would most likely respond with, “never heard of them,” and wore second-hand clothing, dubbing the style “vintage.” In other words, hipsters had evolved from those interested in the latest and greatest in music and fashion to a group interested in outdated and uncommon trends.
The hipsters of the 1990s conveyed messages of individualism and liberalism. According to a 2010 article from New York Magazine, “The matrix from which the hipster emerged included the dimension of nineties youth culture, often called alternative or indie, that defined itself by its rejection of consumerism” (Greif). They believed that buying new clothing promoted consumerism and the negative consequences that entail. In response, hipsters opposed the mainstream consumerism with their peculiar shopping habits. They protested against clothing companies who exploited sweatshops and cheap labor by purchasing clothing from thrift stores and other secondhand retailers. It was common to see hipsters wearing clothing from previous decades like wayfarer glasses, faded t-shirts, old Cosby sweatshirts, ripped jeans, and moccasins. Surely, many would not dare wear such out-of-date attire in public, fearing ridicule or marginalization for such an obscure sense of style, but hipsters exhibited no sense of embarrassment. In a hipster’s eyes, someone who conformed to current trends would be dismissed as “too mainstream.” They regarded their own style as “vintage” and wore their clothing ironically.
Ironically, as the hipsters tried to go against the mainstream of contemporary fashion, their dress caught the eyes of companies like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. These companies began to sell vintage styled clothing, bringing back the pumped up Reeboks, wayfarer glasses, flannels, and Hush Puppies, among other articles and accessories that were deviant from mainstream tastes. Contrary to the hipsters’ clothing, these stores sold brand new attire in their retail stores. Now anyone intrigued by the hipsters’ fashion statements could effortlessly saunter into one of the 213 American Apparel or one the 401 Urban Outfitters locations worldwide and buy a brand-new, torn, and faded t-shirt or an “Urban Renewal Ugly Christmas Sweater.” The nineties hipsters deliberately wore their ugly Christmas sweaters to make a statement about reusing and, essentially, recycling clothes that no one else would wear in order to reduce consumption and to conserve on resources. Evidently, Urban Outfitters and American Apparel are not interested in such practices, but their products appear as replicas of those found in a thrift store. Why would companies make faux-vintage clothing? In an article from Fortune Magazine about business strategies, it suggests many companies including Urban Outfitters focus on the popular demand and pay less attention to consumer feedback when it says, “ignore what your customers say; pay attention to what they do” (Martin). That is, the company will sell a style of clothing buyers like, regardless of what the hipsters’ original intentions were when creating the style. They do what any for-profit company would do: capitalize on popular trends that make money.
Fashion companies like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters employ the hipster style in their product line, yet their ideologies are not aligned with those of the hipsters. Both could argue that this style clothing is simply one the companies like, but things begin to appear more dubious with further investigation. American Apparel advertises their efforts to be “Made in the USA—Sweatshop Free,”—a very “hipster” practice, but Urban Outfitters has not made any similar sort of advertisement. In fact, when looking into the president and CEO, Richard Hayne’s background, it is evident that the hipster and liberal feel of Urban Outfitters is just another way to rake in money. Hayne as been known for his Far-Right Conservatism through his generous donations to Rick Santorum’s campaigns, selling transphobic greeting cards in his stores, and pulling off pro-gay shirts from his stores during 2008’s “Proposition 8” election. It seems bizarre that someone with such conservative ideals would run a company that sells products with such a liberal vibe. Perhaps his standing in Forbes List as one of the richest people in America can explain his intentions. As comedian Bo Burnham once said when discussing consumerism, “We know it’s not right/We know it’s not funny/But we’ll stop beating this dead horse when it stops spitting out money.” That is to say, why would these companies start another trend when the current one is making profits? The hipsters established a fashion that later appealed to others. Urban Outfitters took their ironic taste for clothing and turned it into a multimillion-dollar business.
The underlying motivations of these companies are not in keeping with those of the hipsters. In the case of Urban Outfitters, the clothing is very unlike genuine vintage clothing; it is not second-hand, its imperfections are artificial, it is not recycling old materials, and, like many fashion companies, uses sweatshops to manufacture its merchandise. In fact, the only similarity the ugly Christmas sweater from Urban Outfitters has with the ugly Christmas sweater found in a thrift store is that they are both (arguably) ugly! It is like trying to differentiate between a chimpanzee fossil and that of a bonobo; morphologically they appear nearly identical, but their genetic code indicates they are two different species. Similarly, the true vintage and the vintage-style clothing appear very similar. It is just the difference in price that gives it away, and Urban Outfitters clothing is not cheap. For example, a new “vintage” graphic t-shirt costs, on average, thirty five dollars, which is roughly seven times more expensive to its Goodwill counterpart. Regardless of when or the clothing was made, clearly the style clothing is in high demand. In an interview from the Journal of Consumer Research relating to Urban Outfitters and hipsters’ perspective, the interviewee, a former employee remarks, “I think that if you talk to people who are truly doing their own thing [hipsters], they don’t like Urban Outfitters although there are so many people who still shop there because they do have really smart designs” (Amy). Thus, it becomes indicative that a split occurred, separating those who dressed in ironic clothing to raise social issues and those who simply wanted to look different.
This leads to the idea of the false Bohemian, or Faux-hemian, phenomenon, that people wear what appears to be vintage-looking garments to portray a certain persona. Faux-hemians dress to look as if they live a simple, hipster life, but pay the premium price and do not necessarily regard the hipsters’ original intentions. They pay for the forty-dollar Pink Floyd “Destroyed Tee” with artificial holes and tears in order to look cool, not to go against the mainstream or recycle old clothing. While hipsters oppose consumerism, their Faux-hemian look-alikes buy into it. While hipsters wear old clothing to reduce consumption, Faux-hemians do not really seem to care, as they buy new clothing. A particular fashion and style arose in the ‘90s as youth rose against the mainstream. Now, that particular look has been copied and brought into the mainstream. Fashion companies like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel recognized what consumers like and have capitalized on the popular trend. It is evident that many consumers today prefer to buy clothing that makes them look like a hipster rather than be a hipster as these fashion companies have profited greatly by selling hipster-styled clothing. These companies are interested in selling specific styles, not lifestyles.