︎︎︎episode 28

2000’s Trends: Signature Hipster Stuff -  Nerd Elitism, Ironic Racism, PBR, Skinny Jeans, Scarf Scandals and the Origins of FOMO

Feb 9th, 2021

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Amanda: So we have some hotline messages to share with you today that are specifically related to our recent episodes about the 2000s/hipsters.   We are sitting on some other messages that are unrelated and I promise we haven’t forgotten you! 

  1. Our first message today is from Janelle, who is here to remind us of some denim brands that I had forgotten about

  1. Our next message is from Natalie and she’s going to tell us about pizza, hipsters, and being a hipster parent.

  1. Our last message is from Rebecca….

Ironic Racism: 

Amanda: So let’s start with Stuff White People Like. It began as a blog, which you can still visit (although it hasn’t been updated since 2010)

According to Wikipedia:

The blog was created in January 2008 by a white Canadian, Christian Lander, a Los Angeles copywriter who grew up in Toronto.  Lander co-authored the site with his Filipino Canadian friend Myles Valentin after Valentin teased Lander for watching the HBO television series The Wire. Lander's blog became popular very quickly, registering over 300,000 daily hits and over 40 million total hits by the end of September 2008. Although the blog "has spurred an outpouring from those who view it as offensive and racist", it is not about the interests of all white people, but rather a stereotype of affluent, environmentally and socially conscious, anti-corporate white North Americans, who typically hold a degree in the liberal arts.

The book, Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions, was published in 2008 and it was on the NYT bestsellers list for months, thanks in part to the gazillions of books sold at Urban Outfitters. 

The kinds of things white people like include sushi, yoga, Mos Def, shorts, coffee, farmer’s markets...things, that to be honest, seem as if they could be oh I don’t know, liked by people of all races? So basically we’re already so narcissistic that we’re like “hey, we are just going to totally co-opt everything for ourselves and gatekeep it from people of color.” I do not like this, obviouslI also just don’t think it’s funny.  It’s along the lines of “you know you’re a redneck when…”  I found a 2008 New Republic article called “Why White People Like 'Stuff White People Like' and it broke down why white people really responded to this blog/book so much.

The writer Adam Sternbergh said, “with this brand of comedy, the goal is to comfort, rather than challenge or disturb, the audience”. He went on to break it all down”  In fact, all the site’s entries, while superficially chiding, can actually be divided into three very comforting categories:
  • 1) Entries that don’t reflect your lifestyle choices like going nuts on St. Patrick’s Day, running marathons, and therefore make you feel superior.
  • 2) Entries that do reflect your lifestyle choices (Apple products, recycling), and therefore make you feel like you’re in on the joke, and that you’re good-humored enough to laugh at yourself (you know--like Gene Simmons!), and therefore make you feel superior.
  • 3) Entries that nod to commonly held comic stereotypes (white people like assists in basketball and standing still at concerts), and therefore, because you recognize them, make you feel superior.

He summarizes it by saying, “Because if there’s one thing white people really like, it’s pretending to poke fun at themselves while actually being allowed to feel superior.” Someone left a comment on the Stuff White People Like Blog in 2008 that also gets to the core of it:  “white people also enjoy being critical, but not necessarily in a constructive way.”

And I do think this really gets to the core of why the (primarily white) hipsters loved themselves some ironic racism that wasn’t actually ironic and was in fact, racist and damaging.  This goes back to all of the faux ironic racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic stuff in Vice.    The hipsters felt that they were SUPERIOR to the mainstream culture (which maybe wasn’t hard to feel when you take a look at how messy the mainstream culture was at the time with Rock of Love, celebutantes, Perez Hilton, and so on)...and ironically participating in just about everything was a way that the hipsters could maintain that oh-so-rewarding feeling of superiority.

Today Kim and I are going to be talking about some of the “hipster signature stuff” and I would say irony belongs on the list.  But like, irony to a sad, disgusting fault.  Like, “ironically” enjoying various types of media (which is just sad because why would you waste your time on anything you don’t “actually” like), to “ironically” appropriating Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous cultures...really all the cultures that aren’t intrinsically white...but also “ironically” co-opting the cultures of poor white Americans too (throwing white trash parties, using the #trailertrash)...this was the disgusting end of the spectrum.

Now when we talk about of the hipsters’ love of “ironic” racism, it’s really based in this idea of feeling superior to “actual racists.”  I read a great 2012 Jezebel article by Lindy West called “A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism” . And she says, “It's the gentler, more clueless, and more insidious cousin of a hick in a hood; the domain of educated, middle-class white people (like me—to be clear, I am one of those) who believe that not wanting to be racist makes it okay for them to be totally racist. "But I went to college — I can't be racist!" Turns out, you can.” Later she says, “Sure, you can't say racist things anymore, but you can pretend to say them! Which, it turns out, is pretty much the exact same thing.”

West goes on to unpack some of the most common versions of hipster racism:
  1. The first one she calls "Tee-Hee, Aren't I Adorable?"  She says, “This category includes things like wide-eyed acoustic covers of hip-hop songs, suburban white girls flashing gang signs, and this Tweet from Zooey Deschanel: "Haha. :) RT @Sarabareilles: Home from tour and first things first: New Girl episodes I missed. #thuglife." See, it's hilarious, because we aren't thugs—we are darling girls, and real thugs are black people who do crime!”  We saw a lot of this in Portland, girls covering Dr. Dre using a ukelele and TOTALLY including the n-word, lots of #thuglife hashtagging, even white people who we’re really talking about craft beer or collecting wine saying like “oh, we’re a gang” that kind of stuff
  2. Next on West’s list is "Recreational Slumming: Wherein privileged people descend for a visit inside the strange, foreign spaces of othered groups. Like, I don't know, IHOP. Or that "scary" bar in the south end. Then they go home again. Catchphrase: "It's soooooo ghetto, but I actually totally like it!"”  Can we just cancel white people saying ghetto? Or “ghetto fabulous.” Or “baby mama/baby daddy?” And I’ll just add here that this is also a  VERY COMMON form of “Hipster Classism,” too.  Like #trailertrash, trucker hats, tubing in the river, drinking shitty beer, buying shotguns...I mean some people genuinely love these things but plenty of people were putting on super short denim cut-offs and hanging out in a kiddie pool in the yard and throwing out #trailerpark, #whitetrash
  3. #3 on West’s List is “Ummm, I'm a writer and I'm Trying to Write in Here!" which includes the incredibly flawed argument “white kids whining that it's "unfair" that black people "get" to use "it".” And “It's all tied up with the deliberately obtuse people who conflate "freedom of speech" with "immunity from criticism."
  4. And lastly--we’re kind of going full circle here, “God, Don't White People Suck?" which is really saying “Isn't it great that we can make fun of ourselves while still reminding you that we're better than you?” Because the conceit of that humor is “well, non-white people are too stupid to enjoy all of the highfalutin things white people love.” 

And ultimately the idea of all of this “ironic racism” was that it was funny somehow?  Or hipsters were showing that they were actually like “down” with a specific minority group because they could joke about it? I mean, that makes no sense to me and as West says, “You cannot unlock some secret double-not-racist achievement by just being regular racist. Otherwise, Bill O'Reilly would be president of the NAACP.”

Example here:  Ghettopoly. “The four railroad properties are replaced by liquor stores. Other properties include a massage parlor, a peep show and a pawn shop. The Community Chest and Chance squares become Ghetto Stash and Hustle squares, while taxation squares are replaced by police-shakedown and carjacking squares.

Instead of building houses and hotels, property owners can build crack houses and projects. The seven game pieces include a pimp, a ho, a 40 oz, a machine gun, a marijuana leaf, a crack rock, and a basketball.”

Also, unless your humor is punching up, it’s just plain racism/sexism/homophobia etcetera

It’s not funny and it’s not cool.  We’ll be talking in the next episode about how “hipster sexism” was really just rancid misogyny, but I think you’re all really picking up on a trend here.  And I guess the moral of the story is that while hipsters thought they were superior to mainstream culture (and really everyone), they were actually just fucking assholes.

Anyway, thank you to everyone who called in! Keep it coming because Kim and I are really committed to DOING THE AUGHTS TO DEATH, so please remind us of the things we are missing.  Plus, taking a critical view of the hipster culture has actually been so cathartic for me, as a person who was part of that culture, but also experienced a lot of trauma and “otherness” while in it. 

Underground Hipster Eye-dentity

Kim: Hipsters were synonymous with the chunky glasses also called horned-rimmed glasses - it permeated so many different parts and subsets of the counterculture that if you look at many variou archetypes they almost always come with a pair - and this was pre Warby Parker (which launched in 2010). It was considered a rather polarizing accessory in the aughts. One that - if you listened to our other episodes - eventually found its footing in mainstream culture so we barely stop to think about it. Now they are accessible and cool for both corrective and fashion reasons. But it didn’t always use to be that way. So where or where did the trend of horn-rimmed eyeglasses come from?

There used to a big old lame label attached to people that wore glasses. They came with a real stigma because of nerd symbolism and stereotypes perpetuated by the media in the 70’s and 80’s - think Revenge of the Nerds in the 1980’s. I wore glasses from the 2nd grade on (this is the 1980’s mind you) and i was a total nerd. I mean I had to deflect the name four eyes for years until I got contacts. But “four eyes” didn’t bother me because it was kinda a stupid insult and never really was humiliating since the person saying it just looked stupid when they used such an archaic slur.

When we got into the 90’s something magical happened.  Cool “alternative” people started wearing glasses - the underground music scene particularly perpetuated this new embracement of something deemed so dorky for so long. In the 1990’s alternative rock was sorta the precursor to today’s indie rock. American indie and punk movements, which had in general been underground since the early 1980s, actually became part of mainstream culture during the mid-1990s. Nirvana really is to credit for the mainstreamification of alternative music and of course, major record labels and MTV capitalized on the popularity of alternative rock and other underground music by signing and promoting independent bands.

When this all started to happen - the shyer and more moody Emo retreated more underground to build a subculture away from the limelight - According to Andy Greenwald in his 2003 book Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and EMO "this was the period when emo earned many, if not all, of the stereotypes that have lasted to this day: boy-driven, glasses-wearing, overly sensitive, overly brainy, chiming-guitar-driven college music." Doesn’t that just take you back!!

Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and EMO>>>

Emo culture of 90’s and the aughts had a love affair with subversive, counterculture and punk fashion styles.  Within that literal frame - we got the return of the iconic Buddy Holly style glasses that they called “nerd glasses” that we now call, well, glasses as well as the thick black Wayfarers. Emo bands embraced this trend with their vintage tees and argyle vests. Some even called it “geek chick” which romanticized intellectuals as outsiders. Weezer’s frontman River’s Cuomo was a particular example of this punk, counterculture Geek Chic happening in the Emo scene. Weezer held a lot of sway and their album Pinkerton was actually considered one of the most influential emo albums of the decade. I am sure this is arguable but this is just what I read. I mean it was a bit too mainstream for me - But his style was ICONIC and propelled this look as the  bands fame grew. Now, as you remember hipsters evolved from the underground music scenes particularly 90’s emo so it makes sense that we see that trend keep growing larger and larger into the aughts.

Another thing that was happening was a shift in how the “nerd” was perceived by society. By the end of the 1990s, people who were well-versed in technology and computers were becoming not only accepted by the mainstream but idealized. Those who were among the first to adopt new technologies and gadgets became the trendsetters, blurring the line between geeky and hip.

So there was a shift as well in the trendy scene - the cool kids embraced being smart and intellectual, essentially something like Nerd Elitism. Hipster clothing styles became similar to the British intellectuals of the 60s and 70s (think of Wes Anderson’s signature style!) and as a result, I would even argue that intellectualism and intelligence became a foundational hipster trait - whether it was real or just implied for the drama since hipsters often had a superiority complex. I mean if hipsters had superior taste then they must have superior intelligence right?  And as a highly consumerist counterculture, they were able to buy a presumed nerdiness with a simple yet distinct pair of nerdy looking glasses. Creating a ripple effect trend in the demand for glasses! I am sure this was also the case for ownership of a library of books  which also indicated intelligence. I remember - before kindles and ipads - owning a larger and curated library of books was very important to your personal brand identity as well as which books you had - bonus points if you actually read them! 

Glasses still to this day evoke a level of intellectual superiority according to an endless number of studies.

The popularity of the nerd look has gone as far as the criminal defense system, where defense lawyers have been known to offer thick-framed glasses to their clients in order to make them look less intimidating.  It actually is called the Nerd Defense.  I mean this concept makes sense of seeing all the “Me Too” assholes going to court with walkers and canes - props to adjust perceptions and marketing these men to look weak and create empathy. 

So in the mid-1990’s and early aughts, we saw some really iconic characters - take Daria which came out in 1997 - i think it is interesting to note that Sex in the City came out in 1998 a year afterword. Who resonated more with you, Amanda - Carrie or Daria? MTV or HBO?

Daria was the embodiment of the grungy, alt-rock chick - Highly intelligent, disillusioned with mass culture and embracing an emo and counterculture sensibility.

How about Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore? There is an article by Jesse Hassenger from the AV Club from 2018 that explores how Wes Anderson walks the line between nerd and hipster in his films using Schartzman’s characters. “But 20 years ago, when Wes Anderson’s second film, Rushmore, was released to critical acclaim, nerdiness was still a simpler notion—one that Anderson’s films have complicated, often with the help of Rushmore’s star, Jason Schwartzman” the article even talks about this transition of the perception of nerds saying “In 1998, nerds were well on their way from genuine outcasts to more socially acceptable, often romanticized underdog figures who might say, get zany revenge over the jocks.”

2001’s Ghost World was an amazing symbol of the disenfranchised hipsters in their infancy. Embracing what she calls “authentic 1977 punk” fashion - the main character Enid flaunts the thick-rimmed Geek Chick glasses and vintage tees. This is based on a comic book with the same thick eyeglasses character from the mid-’90s taking cues for typical alternative and counterculture style.

Cool, influential celebrities and musicians caught onto the glasses trend as well as fashion influencers of the time like Chloë Sevigny and Mary-Kate Olsen. This trend of the glasses really blew up and kinda hasn't died down. I was reading articles that ironically enough people were clamoring for them as they became trendy and acceptable to wear -  because ultimately glasses project authority and bestow confidence.  What is particularly an interesting part of this is when they were so popular that people were wearing them as a fashion accessory without lenses - not even just clear lenses! Do you remember that?

Out of this came Warby Parker - a game-changer - democratizing glasses and making those thick frames or really any frames with a slight retro edge available to all. And turning everyone into a bespectacled hipster.

This nerd trend can also be seen in meda - and two rather popular shows started in the 2000’s. The IT crowd launched in 2006 and Amanda your favorite TV - The Big Bang Theory came out in 2019.

The Skinny on Skinnys

Kim: Another post-punk trend that was synonymous with the hipster was the rise of the skinny jean on men and women. The emo and alternative scene from the 90’s also made it acceptable for everyone to wear the skinniest jeans imaginable. In fact they were really the only option if you were cool in the Aughts.

What is also interesting to note is that with the resurgence of the skinny jean plucked from 70’s glam rock and punk movements the denim industry worked on innovating their stretch technology and by the mid-2000’s we had some seriously stretchy denim that could fit like leggings. Which is why they were able to scale and grow so much - they were actually comfortable. The 1980’s denim had stretch but was no match to the materials of the aughts - gone are the days of having to lay down to zip them up!

By 2006 the stretch was so insane that it was kinda gross and getting cheap - you could add super aggressive abrasions and finishes and still be some alien denim with a four-way stretch.

Speaking of Leggings -  Actually, leggings had a renaissance as well in the mid-aughts. They started shyly sneaking onto celebrities - often as capris and under dresses and denim skirts at first. But soon people were wearing them as pants which was super polarizing. I mean today we have the yoga pants look that generally is a more athletic thicker knit. Leggings were rather thin so it was a rather bold statement. American Apparel really pushed the leggings and most hipsters got their legging from there - otherwise, you had to go to what Macy’s or Kohl’s or something lame to get some Hue brand. Essentially American Apperal was a trendsetter in its day and whatever they deemed cool - was usually picked up by the trendsetters as well.

Around 2008 the legging got edgy - liquid leggings were being seen by all the celebs.  Eventually, American Apparel introduced the Disco Legging which was seen shot by all the big party photographers.

I mean the trend likely had particular velocity because it aligned with the raunch and scnatily clad trends of the time. So it makes sense that women and men were really into wearing bottoms that leave little to the imagination.

Pouring One Out for PBR 

Kim: I think before I get into talking about PBR it’s worth a mention that there were endless trends in the drinking culture during the 2000’s because hipsters embraced a more party and social lifestyle - that was at the core of their activities. I also would arge that FOMO originated with the hipster - it was a time to see and be seen. The party culture was so pervasive and being a scenester was a an achievement.  There was an elitism as to which parties you were invented to and could get into, even who you knew   - at least this was the case in New York - all of this along with the party photography and feeling like you were missing out in all the fun was the perfect recipe for FOMO.

That being said - I know there was a significant trend in alcoholism in hipsters - I think the lack of good role models and the endlessly increasing opportunities to drink, schmooze, get your photo taken by a party photographer and live it up - often times for free booze from a liquor sponsor - made it a really easy slippery slope - which is still disrupting people to this day. I remember I was on dating apps last year and i would say like 50% of the people were sober because you had to claim how much you drank in the profile. How many people do you know are now sober?

So in the early 2000s Pabst was in the throes of a real slump in sales. In the 1990’s they were closing breweries and in financial trouble. They didn’t really have their finger on the pulse of culture and were targeting their demographic of 45-60 yo men with no indication of trying anything new. There was a young, hungry divisional marketing manager named Neal Stewart who had heard word on the street that “alternative people” in Portland were actually drinking significant amounts of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Which was really the brightest spot in the national sales report besides a few other whispers of some “alternative people” in other cities. So Neal jumped on a plane and went and talked to them! They shared a very distinct reason and insight: They hated marketing.

Which was really eye-opening and foreign to the marketing landscape at the time. So Pabst took a rather unconventional approach to build on this trend that appealed to the new wave of trendsetters. Essentially a form of anti-marketing.

Neal would go to bars -  and unlike his competitors - wear basic street clothes and sit in a booth. Word would get out that the Pabst rep was there and hipsters would go to him and ask him for swag - the brand was considered authentic, cool, kitchy - so swag was actually considered treasure for hipsters. Kinda unheard of back then - the intangible brand value was gaining credibility and well gaining more value in these really important trendsetting circes.

Turns out that within this group of “alternative people” there was a large population of bike messengers that had embraced the beer they so fondly called PBR and Pabst actually underwrote cycling contests organized by the bike messenger community. Instead of taking the mainstream approach of drenching the event in advertising with some dressed up reps hustling at the event to hand out product...Pabst did the exact opposite. They put up no banners or any other messaging and sent no one to be their advocate. The bike messengers loved the considerate anti-agenda angle and in turn drank more PBR. The appeal kinda blossomed overnight.

Additionally,  “Alternative people” of course are Hipsters and Hipsters fetishized authentic lowbrow and blue-collar culture of the 70’s and 80’s which was epitomized by PBR- it also didn’t hurt that it was cheap! With so much FOMO and social events it got really expensive to go out and PBR offered a much cheaper, yet still cool alternative. Thus - Appealing to the young kids in basements and skate parks everywhere - P.B.R.'s scarcity, and its cheapness, also helped make it an ''underground darling.''

Lo and behold in 2002, sales of the beer, which had been sinking steadily since the 1970's, actually rose 5.3 percent and that was only the start - the upward trajectory kept growing and PBR was even endorsed in the 2003 seminal work of Hipster Culture called “The Hipster Handbook”

The Hipster Handbook>>>

Subtly yet ubiquity became their specialty - I mean every party I went to had Pabst - it was so easy to get sponsorship!

So, as not to alienate their growing and loyal fan base, Pabst had to try new ways of marketing that also didn’t look like they were marketing at all. They needed to be perceived as an underdog and stay untarnished and authentic as a blue-collar beer who could care less- not a large corporate entity trying to manipulate the situation. They turned down tons of opportunities - even some big, pricey deal with Kid Rock - which honestly could have been a nail in the coffin since hipsters didnn’t associate themselves with Kid Rock and I am sure was hard to turn away. They stayed micro and supported small communities of hipsters - without asking for anything in return - but what they got was continued loyalty. So each small event - art gallery, skateboard movie screening, music show - opened the brand up to more trendsetters. They started an Ambassador program as well in all the small cool cities with kids in the know that could hook them up with more local events and continue to expand their underground network. 2003 was the peak of these grassroots marketing efforts and nearly half of their workforce was involved in these efforts including reps that would go and convince local bars to carry the beer that their young, hip clientele was actually demanding.

The brand became a part of the subculture- a political statement and drink of choice for the disenfranchised. Ultimately playing an important role in the hipster party and drinking culture. But, like most hipster stuff, PBR eventually went mainstream in 2013-2014 - as did the hipsters themself come to think of it.

I think an interesting reference point and onion peel to consider was that because of Sex in the City cocktail culture was thriving - like the Cosmo that literally blew a whole industry open and created not just trends in the cocktail industry but like everyone was doing a cosmo something - like Cheesecake Factory did the cosmo cheesecake. I remember that these kinda boujee bars started opening up in Madison.  Same sticker shock that came with the price of a Starbuck Coffee. “Did you hear that a cocktail bar opened and each cocktail is $12?!!!”

So like the raging popularization of these high-priced cocktails - the counter-culture countered with the cheapest beer in the supermarket. AND another thing to note is that the Ye Oldes kinda created their own version of the high ticket cosmo - with mixologists and hipster cocktail bars popping up - you couldn’t get a cosmo but you could get a $16 Old Fashion with some super old-timey cocktail sorcery.

Micro brews and Craft Beer also grew during the aughts. Growlers were available to refil in brooklyn and breweries popped up everywhere.

Scarf Scandals

Why do hipsters wear scarves in the summer?

They want to wear them before its cool.

Look up an article about hipster style, or even take a quiz like “how to tell if you are a hipster,” and they all include one key accessory:  the scarf!!!

I can’t figure out where this began, we actually called the Dandy Warhols/rock and roll hipsters in Portland “the scarves,” and I guess I was part of that to a certain extent but I always preferred a nice vintage neck scarf/neck kerchief because I have longer hair (and it’s much more mod, which was my thing). 

For several years in the aughts--in peak scarf era--I managed the scarf business as Urban Outfitters and IT WAS ON FIRE. Like I could make any kind of scarf, any kind of print and it would just BLOW OUT!
  • Eternity scarves
  • Snoods
  • Skinny scarves
  • The “striped nubby” scarf, $14, stripes of lurex, we sold thousands of these every month for years
  • Even pashminas had a moment

The “desert scarf” aka The keffiyeh or shemagh was like the signature scarf of the white, urban hipster dude.  It “is a traditional Arabian headdress, or what is sometimes called a habit, that originated in the Arabian Peninsula, and is now worn throughout the Middle East region.”  You know it when you see it:  a geometric pattern, two colors, a square, the pattern is woven into the fabric (rather than printed).  The white hipster appropriation of this style in the aughts was incredibly controversial...and it was made worse when places like Urban Outfitters started selling it under a hot new name “The Anti War Scarf.”   This is especially “ironic” because outside of white hipster culture, this scarf is actually seen as a symbol of Palestine solidarity.

Other hot accessories of that era:  fascinators, arm warmers, berets, and dum dum dum...eventually fedoras!