Today I was called a hipster. I’ve never thought of myself as a hipster, so I was surprised. This got me to thinking—what exactly is a hipster? Is any man with a beard a hipster, or do you need to meet other qualifications to be a hipster?
Now, I’ve had my beard since I hit puberty—quickly approaching 20 years ago now—which predates our culture’s current fascination with beards by at least a decade. I say this to defend myself from being accused of being a hipster, however this sounds very much like “I did it before it was cool”—which is what a hipster would say. So, I have to wonder…am I a hipster?
I decided to solve this problem scientifically. I took a look at Google image search results for the phrase “hipster beard”, and then filtered them by “photo”. (I previously discovered, using a similar method, that 89% of all hipsters have beards. Since this is a website about beards, we’ll focus just on bearded hipsters). This gives us the world’s results of images of men who either self-classify as hipster (they took photos of themselves and uploaded them to the internet), or of men whom others identify as being hipster. At the very least, it shows us what Google thinks are hipsters (and they’re pretty good at categorizing these kinds of things).
After viewing hundreds of images, I made a list of two dozen characteristics that I found common among them all. I then went through the first ten rows of images, one by one. On my screen of Google image results, there is an average of 9 images per row, meaning I used around 90 images of hipsters for this study. When an image did not fit any of the categories (an illustration, for example), I excluded it from the study.
Before we go further: I just want to make it clear that I am in no way denigrating hipsters. Everyone is entitled to their likes and dislikes. Dressing like a hipster doesn’t make one a worse person than not dressing like a hipster. I do believe the way you dress can reflect your class, personality, and even your character, which are topics I reflect upon at Blogging with Class; however, this is a judgement-free zone. Right now I am concerned with the makeup of bearded hipster style. We will deal with the philosophical ramification of hipsterism afterwards.
Hallmarks of a Hipster
There are a series of pie charts below. If you don’t see them, please refresh the page (hold CTRL and hit F5).
Product in Hair
72% of hipsters have product in their hair, including pomade, wax, or hairspray. I judged whether or not hair had product in it based on how glossy it was, or if the hair was standing in a way that otherwise defied gravity.
85% of hipsters have short hair. I consider short hair to be hair that does not fall below the shoulder. I considered men with longer hair on top but short hair elsewhere as having short hair for this metric.
I began to notice a pattern in hipster hairstyles, so I tracked it. 68% of hipsters have a distinct haircut, with shaved or very short sides and back (a 1 or 2 razor length from a barber), and long, finger-length hair on the top of the head, which was styled to stick up and slant to the side, with a messy, careless sort of feel to it. This, friends, is the quintessential hipster haircut.
Hipsters are well known for wearing thick, black or brightly colored sunglasses–so much so that they have become known as “hipster glasses”. However, in my study, only 28% of hipsters wore glasses. Compare this to 61% of the total population that wears prescription glasses or contacts, as recorded by Statistics Netherlands. 40% of people ages 20-30, and 42% aged 30-40 wear prescription eyewear, which is the age-range or hipsters. We quickly see that, compared to the public at large, hipsters are actually less likely to wear glasses of any kind–perscription or otherwise.
That said, when they do wear glasses, they wear the quintessential “hipster glasses”.
When one thinks of a hipster in a hat, one imagines a short-brimmed fedora. However, my study showed that 88% of hipsters don’t wear hats at all–which makes sense, because they all sport that luxurious hipster hair. A hat would interfere with all that pomade and hair spray.
Beard length can be a tricky thing. When does a short beard become long? I decided that a beard long enough to grab by the fistful is a long beard, and anything too short to get a fistful is a short beard. Based on that criteria, 64% of hipster beards are short beards. Of them, only a small percentage were so short to be essentially stubble. Most hipster beards are nice and full, but only an inch or so long.
I must say, that when hipsters rock a long beard, they create a much more powerful and authentic image.
86% of hipsters did not have a styled mustache. This came as a surprise to me. I often think of hipsters with short handlebar mustaches, but the vast majority of them pretty much ignore the mustache entirely. When they do grow it out, they simply comb it to the side. The small minority who did style their mustache, however, used a short handlebar or blunt English.
Stuff In the Beard
I often read headlines about men putting stuff in their beards. These headlines always call them hipsters. In the Christmas of 2014, every major news site around the world ran a story about so-called “beard-baubles” that were cropping up in “hipster” beards. The reality is that hipsters don’t put anything in their beards. 91% of the hipsters in my study had nothing in their beards. The only images of men with weird stuff in their beards that I found during my study were images from the Beard Bauble story, or images from minor beard celebrities eating top-ramen out of their beards, and other stunts. To call something like Beard Baubles “hipster”, is completely wrong.
These new “hipster beard trends” are actually invented by publishers to create sensational headlines. This is called “click-bait”, and doesn’t reflect reality.
In the wild, beard hairs grow to different lengths at different rates, which I explored in my article “How Long Does it Take to Grow a Beard?“. This produces a full beard that looks ratty. Some strands will be super long, while others are short.
It turns out that 82% of hipsters trim their beards to nip off these wild strands. This comes as no surprise, as it would seem strange to put so much time and energy into slicking up your hipster hair, and then to leave your beard untamed. For more on this, see my article on “How to Trim a Beard“.
I include earrings, studs, lip piercings, and eyebrow piercings. It turns out that 80% of hipsters do not have jewelry, leaving 20% that do. This came as a surprise to me, as I expected body jewelry to be one of the ranking factors of hipsterism. Compare this to 28% of men in general who have piercings at all–of which, the nipples are the most popular thing pierced. 17.5% of men have their eyebrows pierced, 17% have their ear cartilage pierced, 15% pierce the nose, and 13% pierce the lip, according to Statistics Brain’s 2014 study. This makes hipsters slightly more likely to have a face piercing than the general public.
This came as the greatest shock to me of all. I have long believed that tattoos are one of the pillars of hipsterism, but according to my study, only 21% of hipsters have tattoos–almost the exact same percentage as those who have piercings. According to the pew research poll from 2010, 23% of all Americans have tattoos. This number leaps up to 40% when you survey only millennials–people between the ages of 18 and 32. This means that hipsters are half as likely to have a tattoo as your average 20-something, and only slightly less likely to have one compared to the public at-large.
Hipsters wear plaid–so goes the common wisdom. However, my study reveals that hipsters prefer tshirts and tank tops. The “other” category includes things like polo shirts, sweaters, hoodies, and so on. Hipsters prefer to wear tshirts, and a respectable percentage of them like to dress up in a suit or sport jacket, vest, or tie.
Honestly, I expected plaid to pull in greater numbers than it did. That said, it is pretty impressive to see that 10% of all collared shirts worn by hipsters are plaid.
Hipsters are known for wearing “skinny jeans”. I wanted to know if this stereotype is fair, and if it might extend to other clothing types.
For shirts, there are three types of cut–slim, loose, and normal–which I explain in my article on another website, “Everything you need to know about dress shirts“. I searched for “male hipster shirt”. Sure enough, most results were tank tops and tees, as we discovered in our previous metric. However, I took a look at the fit of the shirts, and discovered that 73% of hipsters wear slim fit shirts. An interesting thing I noticed was that of those with sleeves, most of them were rolled up past the bicep, with a neat, tight cuff. Shirts were so slim, in fact, that you could see every contour of the hipster’s frame, making hipsterism a very uncomfortable style for Big & Tall men.
Pants come in regular and slim fit. I searched for “hipsters walking”, and discovered that most hipsters wear slim-fit pants. In fact, the percentage disparity between slim and normal fit is greater in pants–more hipsters prefer wearing slim fit pants than those who prefer slim fit shirts.
Interestingly, virtually all examples were men in jeans. Even men in suit jackets and ties wore slim fit jeans. We can call denim the pant fabric of choice for hipsters.
Remember that I compiled my list of qualities after noticing recurring hallmarks in photos of hipsters. The divergent mean of minority percentages is 20%, meaning anything less than 20% does not recur enough to be considered a hipster trait (which includes hats, for example), and anything above 20% is a recurring hipster trait. So even though only 20% of hipsters have tattoos and body piercings, they appear so frequently that they can be considered part of the fingerprint of a hipster.
Also, bear in mind that not every hipster will be a pure hipster. Consider gamers. There are hardcore gamers and casual gamers. There are far more casual gamers than there are hardcore gamers. These casual gamers play Facebook games and trading card games. They play simple mindless games for an hour or so a day, then log off.
Hardcore gamers identify themselves with games. They wear gaming clothing, go to gaming conventions, marry other gamers, and speak in l33t. To them, gaming is a culture to which casuals may not apply. While there are more casual gamers on this earth, the hardcore gamers fit the gamer “profile” best.
So too with hipsterism. Your casual hipster will have a majority of hipster characteristics, but your hardcore hipster will also have some of the characteristics just above the divergent mean found in my study.
The Profile of a Hipster
Now that we have compiled all the data, we can complete the profile of a hipster.
A hipster is a thin man in his 20s or 30s with a short, neatly trimmed beard. He wears a gravity-defying hipster haircut, which is his defining feature. You’ll see him in a tshirt and slim-fit denim, looking dreamily into the camera.
A pure hipster is a thin man in his 20s or 30s with a trimmed beard that could be long or short. He wears the hipster haircut, thick hipster glasses, has a plethora of colorful tattoos on his neck and arms, and has at least one body piercing on his face. You’re more likely to find the pure hipster in a suit jacket and tie than the casual hipster, but the pure shares the casual’s love of slim-fit denim.
Since we now know what the average casual hipster and pure hipster looks like, this begs the question–what would an anti-hipster look like? That is, how would one dress who flies in the face of everything the hipster subculture holds dear? Let’s take a look at our study results. For the anti-hipster, we will choose the minority percentage, unless it is large enough to meet the divergent mean. We will also exclude minority characteristics that have expressly hipster selections (for example, the anti-hipster may wear glasses, but he does not wear hipster glasses).
Based on our study, the anti-hipster looks like this:
- He does not style his hair with product.
- His hair may be long or short, but if it is short, it is short all over–never long on top, short on sides.
- He may or may not wear glasses, but if he does, they are not hipster glasses.
- He wears a hat.
- His beard is long.
- His beard is wild.
- He wears no body jewelry.
- He has no tattoos.
- He wears a collared, long-sleeved shirt. He may or may not wear a jacket and tie. His shirt is regular-fit, not slim-.
- He wears regular- or loose-fit pants. He does not wear denim.
As you can see, the anti-hipster gives quite a different impression than the hipster. This was the best example of an anti-hipster I could find. Below are some other examples, some of which are more perfect than others.
You see that a bearded man can still enjoy all the wonders of owning a beard, without being a hipster. Now, I don’t want to come down one way or the other on whether I think “hipster” is a bad thing or not, but the next time someone calls you a hipster, send them to this guide to be educated.
The Philosophical Ramifications of Being a Hipster
With this final bit, I deviate away from the main point of this article–to discover the various things that makeup common hipster style–but since being a “hipster” has a stigma, and since the word “hipster” is often used as a pejorative, I want to reflect on the reasons why some may judge hipsters based on their outward appearance.
Many people feel that caring too much what others think about how you look is insecure. Dressing in a certain way to avoid judgement of others gives power to others, instead of keeping it for yourself. Goths and preppies are the prime examples. Goths dress in a distinct way to show the world how much they just don’t care–when in reality, of course, they’re showing the world just how much they care by retreating from society (and broadcasting that retreat on their bodies) because they don’t feel accepted in the way they want to. This screams “insecure”.
With preppies, people look down on them because they think preppies are “phony” or “snobby”. The unspoken sentiment goes like this: “You preppies want people to think you are so much better than the rest of us, that you dress in a neat and tidy style that gives the appearance of wealth”. Here, again, we see a group of people who are judged for trying to be what they are not–for trying to impress other people, and achieve greater social status, by how they dress. The fact that preppies care what others think, so goes the reasoning, betrays insecurity.
The same goes with hipsterism, but to an even further degree. Hipsters are the classic outcasts on the sidelines. They hold a healthy amount of judgement towards “the moral majority”, and want to broadcast this judgement by embracing things that were once cultural taboos, such as tattoos and body piercings. They dislike conformity, so they embrace dress choices that deviate from what is expected in the professional world, and from every other subculture.
The great irony is that this causes them to all look the same. When all hipsters reject all the same outward expressions of cultural grouping, they end up looking exactly the same–thus forming a new identifiable cultural grouping (which is why we can walk by and recognize a hipster). This phenomena was covered expertly by mathematician Jonathan Touboul.
The second pillar holding up popular contempt for hipsters is perceived unmanliness. With hipsters caring very much about pretending to not care about their appearance by taking great care that they deviate from the mainstream, hipsters are evoking a certain amount of vanity. This vanity is accompanied by other vanities, including concerns about being fat, and concerns about the shape of one’s figure. These insecurities are manifested by the hipster’s love of tight-fitting jeans and shirts, which were historically womanly style choices. By showing off their figures, male bearded hipsters are not only getting the opportunity to show off their tattoos and piercings (and, consequently, display how non-conformist they are), but also how thin, muscular, and toned they are (which is the male version of a woman caring about her butt and bust size). While translated into masculine language, the initial desire–to impress with the form of your body–is an unmanly attribute that puts many at ill ease.
To compensate for this unmanliness, hipsters take selfies of themselves doing masculine things, like chopping wood, smoking a pipe, or riding a motorcycle. Since this is a subconscious manifestation of their recognition of their own unmanliness, these attempts are often fraught with obvious (and sometimes hilarious) incongruities.
Let’s take a look at the example below. Here we see two hipsters dressed in plaid, with an axe and a pile of freshly cut firewood. We are to have the impression that the hipsters recently cut the wood themselves, and bask in their undoubted manliness.
However, there are a couple of issues with the photo that our subconscious minds instantly recognize, which causes us to snicker inside. First, cutting wood is hard work. Neither of these men have their sleeves rolled up, and none of them are sweating, or look tired. There are no wood chips in their beards (or anywhere else). It looks like they are simply posing with a pile of wood–which they are.
Second, they have tucked in the cuff of their jeans into their boots. Anyone who has ever chopped wood would tell you this is a huge no-no, as flying wood chips often fall down your legs. Wearing pants like this ensures the chips enter your boot and irritate your feet for hours.
Third, the man leaning on the axe is wearing three rings on his hands. Anyone who has chopped would will tell you that the friction from holding and swinging an axe handle can pinch your skin under rings. Many men take off their wedding rings before chopping wood to avoid this issue.
Lastly, the wood is clearly from different types of trees. The point of chopping wood is to reduce a tree into smaller and smaller pieces that fit in a stove or can be neatly arranged in a campfire. Thus, you are usually working with one entire tree. It is highly unusual to see wood from two different types of trees in one stack–especially a stack this small. This wood was obviously gathered just for this photo shoot.
Everything I just detailed is recognized by our subconscious minds in a flash. We may not be able to articulate it, but something will seem “off” when we see hipsters pretending at manhood like this. When a middle aged man buys a red sports car, we say he is compensating for something. When a hipster covers himself in rebellious tattoos, or poses in front of a stack of wood he did not cut, he is also compensating.
A Final Word
I say all of this as a way to put into words the unconscious biases many have against hipsters. I in no way want to judge hipsters, or even hipster style. My goal is to categorize what we know about hipsters, distill it into simple words, and shed some light onto something as complex as an entire subculture.
In my view, any beard is a good beard. Beard onwards, gentlemen.