My friend and I passed through Hartford, CT on the drive back to school today. I happen to be gazing out the window, but almost missed the McCafe Billboard advertising their coffee. Hugging the black, steaming coffee cup on either side were the bolded words (and I paraphrase from memory): For the coffeehouse hipster with rent to pay. This hasn’t been the first time that McDonalds has made a crack at hipster culture’s expensive enticement with coffee and coffee houses. A previous billboard reads: Four Bucks is Dumb. On the surface, the advertisements seem to point to the obvious, that coffee bought in a coffee shop is typically over expensive. What McDonalds adds with its pointed remark towards hipsters takes a crack at hipster culture as classist, from coffee to clothes.
The hipster look is a calculated formula of disheveled and put together, of hipster brands and thrift-shopped clothes. None of these brand clothes are inexpensive, but spending excessive money in general, including on clothes, is not a particularly “hipster” thing to do. It’s much cooler to inherit an 8-tracks player from your great aunt Marge then to lay down a couple hundred bucks for one. If a hipster doesn’t have a great Aunt and has to buy a record player, either cost is brushed off, or justified b pointing out that the store donates 10% of its revenue to local organic farms. My point is that looking like a hipster is expensive.
Once you have the hipster look, reach deep into the bank account in order to live like a hipster. Buy the milk in the grocery store that requires you to return the glass bottle. Spend extra cash on the organic vegetables. Opt for the Fair Trade shake at Shake Shack. Eating like a hipster is expensive. Spending money in a way that is caring to the environment and to other people is expensive. Being a hipster is expensive; it’s a fairly exclusive group of people that have the affluence to spend money on clothes and food. The McCafe billboard illustrated the point that hipsters and the alternative college kid will fork over four dollars for a coffee with an organic and Fair Trade sticker just like they will spend money on clothes and food. If you are a college kid with the money to do that, then I think it’s awesome that you are spending money in a way that best benefits local farms and exploited farmers and workers.
However as I stated above, the key to being a hipster is to not admit affluence. There’s nothing hipster about being a wealthy or middleclass American, that’s downright mainstream.
Just like the boom in popularity of Polaroid cameras or record players, some hipsters find their “hipsterness” in throwing it back to the era when a lot of our (the college kid’s) parents were college aged. A right of passage for many from this generation was the coveted road trip. Not only was there independence in road tripping, but also adventure and a ruggedness that came with saving money. At one point, road tripping was probably more economically efficient than flying. I was planning on road tripping from Cape Cod to Portland, Oregon this summer. However after crunching some numbers and checking flight prices it was more economically efficient, by over a thousand dollars, for us to fly instead of drive.
My point is not to take a crack at hipster spending like McCafe’s billboards do, but to point out a growing trend in class dishonesty. Wealth has become increasingly uncool, but the perks of wealth have not. Having been to a prep school with a student body that had expansive disparity in income, I found that many wealthy students spent money, but were quick to justify or cover their spending. I think that there’s respect for others, wealthy or not, in being unapologetic but aware of one’s privilege. My goal in this article was not to offend the hipster (as I often pretend to be one), or to take a knock at any class. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having money, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with spending it. My goal in this article was to illuminate a need for honesty about one’s class and privilege that is being lost at the expense of hipster, or have not trends. I’m often eager to pride myself in making my own money. I found that, at a place like prep school, making my own money made me cool. However, to simply claim the role of an independent hardworking student is to ignore the financial support I get from others. While I am the last person to remind someone to “check your privilege”, I do think it important to be honest about where one comes from. Without honesty about one’s roots, it’s easy to cover the sacrifices and gifts from others that led to one’s growth and success. As we head full force into spring, let us not forget how we got here, and the support, however abundant or minimal, we have going forward.