If you are young and want to be perceived as a rebel, you should dress in unusual clothes. This might sound obvious, but it is worth bearing in mind when considering the hipster phenomenon. All youthful rebellion is based on the idea of being different (in one way or another), however, there is something particularly contrived and irksome about hipsters. Dressing up is nothing new, of course. Young people have always wanted to stand out. In the Rome of late antiquity junior libertines scandalised their elders by imitating Germanic tribesmen. In their skin-tight trousers and animal furs, they thought themselves shocking, aping the (literal) barbarians at the gate.
Today's rebels can opt for the hipster uniform: brogues and beard - the rustic nerd. So far, so familiar. However, these chancers are considerably less daring than their predecessors. To match the ancients, today's revolters would have to mooch around Shoreditch dressed as ISIS fighters - yes, the young Romans were that daring.
The Empire brought the world to Rome, so it is unsurprising their kids were influenced by strange foreign forces. Our equivalent is the liberal, middle class youth who moves to London then expresses a newfound, unqualified love of multiculturalism. I understand what they are trying to achieve. Being a hipster means destroying your suburban identity. And what better way to do this than by embracing the exotic.
Hipsters represent the worst of youth culture. They are shallow and vain with a tendency to mistake cultural tribalism for individuality. They mistake petulance for sophistication, arrogance for charm. You can pluck a bearded youth from a Dalston coffee shop and tell in a heartbeat who he is. Not only who he is but also what he aspires to be. He is university educated, reluctantly posh and vaguely liberal (yet staunchly apolitical). Despite considering himself anti-establishment, he yearns for capitalistic success (be it in technology, literature, or art). Additionally, he is never actually from London. And yet while backpacking through Asia he told everyone he is from the capital - 'because it's easier', you understand.
In the '90s all the posh kids wanted to be working class. They moved to places like Brixton, hung out at the Dog Star and mangled their vowels. As someone who grew up in South London it was easy spot these frauds across the bar. These privileged youths wanted nothing more than to blend in with the proles, to pass unnoticed in the ghetto. Now, it is the reverse: the posh kids have set out to make the ghetto their own. They do this primarily by opening expensive bars and coffee shops.
I have seen this colonisation in action. On my commute, I cycle through Peckham: formerly a notorious ghetto, now a hipster hotspot. Over the last year I have noticed an increase in dilapidated pubs. These would-be Islands of civility keep their craft beer pricey enough to deter the roughnecks. In this regard, the hipsters are no better than Daily Mail readers who buy cheap homes under the Heathrow flight path then protest against airport expansion. They move to the ghetto for the cut-price accommodation, and flimsy kudos, then try to change it.
The fact of the matter is that hipsters squeeze poor people out of the only places they can afford. As we all know, making an area 'hip' means making it expensive. After rendering great swaths of East London unaffordable, leading hipsters sounded the clarion call to march south and invade Peckham and Deptford. With misplaced pride these new arrivals brag about their street credentials. But as any true-born Londoner knows, the hipster might live in Peckham but he is not from Peckham - a subtle, yet crucial distinction. It is sadly ironic that the hipsters are precisely the types of liberal who would never want to push anyone out of anywhere. They are insightful enough to know what they've done, and probably feel slightly guilty about it. Still, the imperative is to live in hipster territory.
I have written this article as I am essentially jealous of the hipsters. I am envious of what they represent: privilege and opportunity - the nonchalance that comes with knowing mum and dad have got your back. I grew up in Sydenham, a terminally unglamorous enclave of South East London. My father was a violent, alcoholic, former soldier. My siblings and I were raised in a swamp of downtown misery and minor street mischief. The bearded, bespectacled youths plop themselves into our neighbourhoods then cross the road when they see us coming. They are perfectly dishevelled; vain in a well-nurtured kind of way. Pseudo-intellectual, self-important and contrived - the worst of youth culture right there. It is the Roman Empire all over again.