What Is A Detroit Hipster, Anyway?

2015-05-04T08:58:27+00:00 April 1st, 2015|

By Aaron Foley

I am 30 years old, a fan of top-shelf cocktails and Chuck Taylors, and a Detroit resident. I like live music, and I tend to know about new art galleries before the rest of my friends. Could I be a hipster? Maybe. I’m not quite sure.

One of the consequences of the collapse of journalism is that newsrooms are now gutted of their diversity in age and race. We’re left with veteran journalists forced to guess the habits of their grandchildren’s age, and younger, green journalists who haven’t figured out how to communicate with people that aren’t just like them. And that’s a given anywhere, not just Detroit.

Detroit [credit: Paul Turgeon, via Wikimedia Commons

Detroit [credit: Paul Turgeon, via Wikimedia Commons

Here in Detroit, we not only rely on the media to keep us informed on what building their new landlords have scooped up – three outlets and counting now inhabit office space owned by the mortgage-company billionaire Dan Gilbert – but also to define the identity of those who inhabit such buildings. And by and large, those populations are classified as “hipster.”

I’m still not sure exactly what a hipster is, since it’s not exactly spelled out by Detroit media. No local columnist has ever tried to define it, as if it were to be already understood to readers as far as Brownstown Township or Brandon Township what it means. It’s just sort of plopped there as a given.

But it’s curious that as media reinforces ideals in their editorial pages about Detroiters coming together, both in the city limits and across county lines, that they continue to beat around a term that’s irrationally divisive. I thought that, all this time, Detroiters fit into two categories: Eastside and Westside. Chicago does this with North Side and South Side. New York City does the borough thing.

I’m feeling frustrated, because hipster is starting to sound like a code word for something else. We can’t put up “whites only” or “colored only” signs anymore up here in the North, but if one were to trace the local media’s path of what exactly defines a hipster in Detroit, those ancient sentiments are hard to ignore.

Obviously, hipsters can’t be black, since if you do a Google-image search right now of “hipster,” you’ll photos of find bearded white men in plaid shirts. Here in Detroit, you might drive down Schoolcraft and see bearded black men in plaid shirts – but they can’t be hipsters, because the dividing line, as defined by Huffington Post Detroit, comes between who provides what is most needed in Detroit. Hipsters don’t, but black people – with their history here, and the businesses they open, which is certainly not to be dismissed – do. But on that same line, blacks aren’t hipsters.

[blocktext align=”right”]I’m still not sure exactly what a hipster is, since it’s not exactly spelled out by Detroit media.[/blocktext]So now that we know hipsters in Detroit are indeed white, what does the Detroit hipster wear? Again, it’d always been my general understanding that hipsters wore plaid, at least according to Google Images. Not in Detroit. According to the Detroit Free Press, it was hipsters who made the rugged Carhartt brand popular outside the construction industry – not Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg two decades ago during “The Chronic” era, nor the countless hip-hop heads in the years since. Owning a Carhartt jacket is a Detroit hipster staple.

So, OK, once we narrow down that hipsters are white people in Carhartts, you might want to ask these people what their purpose is in Detroit. Oftentimes, the media only refers to hipsters’ role in revitalization. Hipsters, therefore, are incapable of doing bad things; they are not the ones stealing cars in Corktown, they are not the ones on the City Council asking for raises. They are the superheroes of Detroit, whose methods may irritate the general populace but are inevitably necessary.

Do they have secret hideouts, like the Justice League? No, but you can find them in a handful of bars; WWJ says the hipsters are at Bronx Bar or PJ’s Lager House, which is “hipster heaven.” The non-Detroit choices are Whiskey in the Jar in Hamtramck, Gusoline Alley in Royal Oak, and the Loving Touch in Ferndale, which means Macomb County is totally devoid of hipsterism. Anywhere else besides bars? There’s a map of spots put together by Bridge magazine that says hipsters can only be found – saving? – downtown. The good deeds of Detroit’s hipsters are not welcome in Southwest Detroit, apparently.

dan gilbert c

Hipster(?) Dan Gilbert

You can also spot a hipster by his – they’re clearly not women – haircut. The Free Press again refines its definition of a Detroit hipster by noting that their hygienic needs are met at “high-end, vintage barbershops” in the Midtown neighborhood. And according to The Detroit News, those hipster guys also dress like University of Michigan football players; “While the long locks are gone, Ryan has maintained his stylish ways. He is a fashion connoisseur and takes pride in his hipster styling.” And the end goal for a Detroit hipster is to open a coffee house, according to Thrillist.

So now I know what a Detroit hipster is: An image-obsessed white male who owns a business and only hangs out downtown. Dan Gilbert himself might be a hipster, except he’s a State grad and not all that young. But if you’re a young, white male Detroiter, now you know which code word to look for when you’re looking for a story that appeals directly to you.

Aaron Foley is a Detroit-based writer, and will be writing a monthly column for Belt as well as authoring How To Live In Detroit Without Being A Jackass, to be published by Belt in fall 2015.

Banner photo credit: Stephanie Hume / Hell Yeah Detroit

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4 Comments

  1. Detroit Expat April 1, 2015 at 11:13 am - Reply

    This is a fun article. It seems hipster has become a lazy mainstream media label for young people who most likely grew up in the suburbs and now seek to live in an urban setting. They are a bit nomadic in nature in that they don’t want to return to where they grew up, probably went to college in a town or city that can’t provide the professional opportunities they desire and so they wash up in happening, urban areas where there is some vitality and dynamism Where once Detroit was totally hopeless to attract this crowd (see lack of vitality and dynamism) signs of life appear and they can pull in some of these souls who may have moved onto New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. Some of this has to do with how expensive (and gentrified) these others places have become –– Detroit is now a low-cost, DIY beacon of hope and dreams.

  2. GP For Life April 2, 2015 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    We prefer the term “colorless people”, Aaron. Thank you.

  3. ziz April 2, 2015 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    I don’t agree… I know a lot of “hipster” men (and women!) of various heritages including African American in Metro Detroit, and elsewhere. I really think it’s just a blanket term for a young person who is in tune with up and coming trends. And that’s it, really.

    • ziz April 2, 2015 at 3:25 pm - Reply

      And I don’t even see a consistency in their childhoods (like growing up in suburbs).

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