We thought hipsters would be condescending, pretentious and uninterested in talking to us.
However, Williamsburg surprised us.
We journeyed to the heart of hipsterdom, and came back inspired, and wearing lumberjack shirts.
After a confusing but short journey to Bedford Avenue, where the less in-the-know hipsters gather to shop and be seen, we emerged into something that looked like a set from a Bob Dylan music video — or had we been whisked under the pond and found ourselves in the heart of Portobello Market, London Town? Our hearts leapt as we thought we had returned home, but relief from this disorientation came with the flashing American Apparel store. We were disappointed by the lack of hipsters in this sea of neon. Where had they gone?
“Hipsters don’t really come here,” said Sascha Okshteyn, the shop assistant at AA. “You should head to Beacon for hipster clothes.” When quizzed further, Okshteyn said, “I mean, the whole, you know, ‘hipster’ thing as a negative term started about two years ago, but everybody loves them really, even if they talk shit about them.”
Hipsters have an attitude barrier which exudes nonchalance. Comments like “Man, I was Mr. Negative at school, I felt so disenfranchised” can be heard in bars all over Williamsburg. Break down this barrier, though, and they’re pretty normal. Indeed, eccentricity doesn’t seem to be a part of the general hipster attitude. For all their crazy bikes, grungy clothes and bitching about the record industry, hipsters are just Americans who want to escape the madness of the suburbs. Witness the trail of BMWs parked along the sleepy village that surrounds Bedford Avenue: it’s actually pretty gentrified.
“I am quite anti-hipster — it’s complacent and self-involved,” said Eileen at the Earwax record store.
But a fellow worker interrupted her: “Come on, Eileen, don’t refer to them as hipsters — they’re alternative artists.”
We struggled to keep straight faces at what seemed like an even more shameless example of self-branding.
Yet hipsters are inextricably linked with art; walk into the Union Pool (a notoriously hipster dive) on any night of the week and you’re bound to find an obscure band (such as The Marching Teeth or Bright Side) drawing disinterested-looking youths. Originality is paramount in all hipster art, and those who are even vaguely known in normal society are regarded as “sell-outs.”
“Hipsterism is becoming more emo,” said one alternative artist we met, as Bright Side played another slow song about slitting one’s wrists or the artistic equivalent. “Indie is becoming commercialized.”
However, any sort of music seems to do for hipsters, as long as they care about it enough and pretend not to care even more.
The drugs they consume are more aggressive than those of our hippie parents and so is their style — an androgynous mix of Americana and shabby European chic. Skinny lumberjack shirts are thrown over tight fitting T-shirts and skin-tight jeans. “It’s kind of ridiculous,” says the owner of KCDC, a skater-oriented shop next to Beacon’s Closet. “Guys are wearing jeans with spandex in them just so they can be tighter.”
Over hoeegarden and moules frites on the balcony of Café Juliette, we were once again transported to a quaint European village. We could just as well have been in the heart of St. Germain, the ‘bobo’ epicentre of Paris. Perhaps the American hipster is merely the transatlantic version of the French “bobo” or the “boho.”
Our waitress — conforming to the hipster criterion of nonchalance — affirmed that “the hipsters are here to stay.” Deep in conversation, we were interrupted by the sound of heavily DJed house music drifting from across the street.
Leaving the restaurant, we came across what seemed like a frat party distorted through the hipster lens — red Solo cups and scantily clad women abounded. However, upon further inspection, the red cups were filled with a space-age alcoholic energy drink, and the music wasn’t Kanye but the latest offering of avant-garde electronica. Enticed into a small brightly lit room with a selection of acid jumpers and neon headbands, the owner of Mischka informs us that this is the grand opening of a pop up store — a shop with the lifespan of a mayfly.
“To keep up with the fast changing trends of Williamsburg, one must constantly be re-inventing oneself,” said the DJ on his fifth Gauloises cigarette.
Williamsburg is welcoming to newcomers with clear-cut guides readily available on the streets advising how to get more alternative. Magazines such as L Magazine sport articles such as the latest trends and how to bitch about them, and 10 ways to effortlessly get into the coolest dive bars.
Over drinks at the Brooklyn Brewery we pondered our journey into the heart of darkness. After this long day, we had made it to Beacon’s Closet, where the real hipsters shop, our final destination. But did we really care anymore?
Later, bound by the yoke of Yale, we boarded the L train packed with hipsters leaving their niche to brave the mainstream, and we headed home.
Samuel W. Byrne, Alexandre Jenn and Nicolas Stavros Niarchos are sitting in Booktrader cafe.