Sure, we’re all aware of the hipster culture in our cities. They crowd dive bars, lock up their fixed-gear bikes to every telephone pole in sight, and tend to have an all-around holier-than-thou attitude. Their passion for organic food and fingerless gloves can be annoying, but we’ve got to learn to live with them.
This is not the first era to experience a segment of the population that takes itself more seriously than it actually is, of course. In fact, the hipster can be traced back through several generations, at least as far as the 18th century dandy.
For those that don’t know, a dandy was (and arguably remains) a man who portrays himself with a style that Charles Baudelaire described as the “cult of self.” It is for these reasons that I consider the classic dandy to be the original hipster. Let’s look at a few side-by-side comparisons to explore this topic further.
As a male, it’s hard to find accessories that work. Rather than just throw on jewelry—rings, necklaces, bracelets—the hipster opts to utilize clothing to decorate a part of the body that’s often overlooked by the male population: The neck. This amounts to wrapping up in a scarf—even in 90 degree weather.
The dandy was a big fan of a similar sort of neckwear: The ascot. Championed by the gentry of the late 18th century, the ascot became an integral part of the dandy’s attire, and hardly a self-respecting fashionable male would be caught dead without one.
Method of Transportation
Permanently on a quest to “make a difference” and reduce their dependance on fossil fuels, the typical hipster’s transportation of choice is the bike, but not just any two-wheeled apparatus will do. To emphasize the idea that they don’t need to go very far to accomplish their daily routine, hipsters prefer a fixed gear bike, or “fixie” to the 3-, 10-, or 21-speed bikes popularized by the rest of the population. The result is a single-speed, foot-powered device they use to roll from place to place.
Though it was short-lived, a similar fad erupted in the 1820s in which dandies scooted around on a pioneer of two-wheeled transportation called the “dandy horse.” Lacking gears entirely, the dandy horse was an all-foot powered device that allowed menfolk to glide around town in style—without having to rely on the barbaric custom of riding a horse.
Being Mistaken as Homosexual
Being an eclectic dresser has its consequences. The term metrosexual, used to describe a man who takes his fashion seriously, has made its way into the average American’s lexicon, and it can describe both groups quite well. Due to the hipster’s obsession with hair products, tight jeans, and satchel bags, some people will mistake a hipster for a woman from afar; upon closer examination, realizing that the person is male, the hipster will often be erroneously identified as a homosexual.
Of course, some hipsters are homosexual, and the term dandy has grown to be a somewhat derogatory term for a male homosexual anyway. By the 1920s, dandies had become less tolerated than in their 19th century heyday, and conservative individuals began to use the word to describe an effeminate man, often described as a dandy fop. The subculture came under heavy scrutiny of anti-gay citizens until the cultural revolutions of the 1960s.
Hipsters have been known to make disapproving guttural noises when overhearing someone else talking about their musical tastes. They also tend to hang around in areas where they can be seen using the brand new laptop they just bought, which is clearly better than yours. If you don't know why, they're not even going to bother to explain it to you.
Likewise, the dandy was often characterized by an elitist attitude, being men who cared intensely for their fashion and taste in decoration and lifestyle in general. Dandies were often seen standing in groups near the entrances to theaters and informing customers that they'd "already seen it" and that it "wasn't as good as [obscure play]."
If all of this wasn't convincing enough, consider that American dandies became known as "dudes" by the end of the 19th century. Now picture a room full of Victorian-era hipsters riding their dandy horses to the nearest theater in 90-degree weather while wearing fanciful neckwear and calling each other "dude." Sound familiar?