On the college campus where I have been living, the students dress in a style I do not understand. Continuous with what we wore fifteen years ago and subtly different, it is both hipster and not. American Apparel has filed for bankruptcy, but in cities and towns across the US the styles forged a decade ago at the epicenters of bohemia still filter out. Urban Outfitters is going strong. In Zürich, on the banks of the Limmat, elaborate tattoos cover the bodies of the children of Swiss bounty. The French use Brooklyn as a metonym for hip. In this context, in such saturation, hipster can no longer stand for anything, except perhaps the attempt or ambition to look cool. But since coolness venerates its own repudiation most of all, every considered choice bears hipster’s trace. Hipster is everything and nothing—and so it is nothing.
Yet even before hipster petered out, confusion dogged its meaning. Starting in 2009, Mark Greif and his colleagues at n+1 undertook the most serious attempt to date to understand and situate the hipster in context. This realized itself in essays and panel discussions and ultimately a book, What Was the Hipster?1 Admirable as these efforts were—and Greif’s essay of the same name remains the high-water mark in hipster criticism—something elusive always troubled the boundaries of the concept. As Rob Horning wrote for PopMatters after one such panel, “The participants never really made much of an effort to establish a stable definition of what a hipster is,”2 a failure that may reflect the impossibility of the task.