February 1, 2007

The H Word

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I was forced to consider the prospect of growing up over winter break, and it terrified me. Trust me, my young friends, that you too will miss the near-inconsolable boredom of winter break. Sure, we all return to our placid suburbia frustrated that we can no longer throw a stone and find a party on the weekend, but the opportunity to demonstrate what we’ve learned up at school — specifically how attractive we’ve become, how much better we can coordinate our outfits – is far too self-serving to pass up. The countless attempts to find a designated driver to take you to your local dive are ultimately overshadowed by free room and board, cooked meals, and television; by senior year, however, these luxuries are themselves outweighed by uncomfortable business attire and interviews at seven in the morning.

Admittedly, spending two straight weeks visiting Manhattan law firms leads to a strange sort of soul-searching. Although my circle-skirts and knit voile blouses were replaced by subdued Brooks Brothers attire, my iPod and clutch purse shelved in favor of a portfolio crammed with resumes, references and study materials, I had neither the time nor the energy to complain. However, when I returned to school hauling two suitcases of clothing I hadn’t worn for four weeks, I couldn’t help but wonder: can I really shed my hipster past for a foothold in the professional world?
On some instinctual level, saying that h-word still makes me shudder; this societal subset thrives on the façade of effortlessness, and there is nothing a hipster hates more than discussing the nature of her existence. We are meant to appear as if we have fallen into unexpected clothes and a fabulous asymmetrical haircut, that everything we wear cost three dollars at a thrift store in the middle of nowhere, and that our varied musical tastes are the result of offhanded networking with all the right people. Men and women are attracted to us because we present the alternative to the mainstream while still retaining a basic attractiveness. Sure, I can occasionally find something in my size at the Salvation Army, and I once did some very foolish things to my hair with a pair of kitchen scissors, but hipster culture has lost nearly all element of discovery. With enough money you can buy your originality at Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, and with an internet connection you can subscribe to the musical altar of PitchforkMedia.com.

These are certainly not revelations, but after going to a party and seeing seven people wearing elements of my fabulous fall wardrobe, I am forced to wonder what happened to my initial drive. In high school, my friend Julia and I used to make legwarmers out of the sleeves of our old sweaters, dye our hair with Manic Panic and take our musical cues from mixed cassette tapes, local shows and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I was thrilled to come to college and discover that people actually knew about Belle & Sebastian; I only mustered the nerve to go to my first real college party because its hosts were playing the Postal Service, and from that night on my social connections blossomed from this musical and fashion solidarity, an amiable rejection of the mainstream college culture.

To an extent, hipster culture has formed its own comfortable niche at Cornell. Winter in Ithaca is supposedly the great fashion equalizer, yet every girl seems to own skinny jeans, knee-high boots, and a knit baseball cap. I don’t want to imply that this is a negative development, but merely that the definition of the hipster has performed a complete one-eighty, changing from a rejection of social trends to an embrace of the fashionista. We all look nice, but I rarely spot a look that is shocking, intriguing or inspiring anymore, which was my original objective when, in tenth grade, I chopped off all my hair and blew my allowance on knee-high, steel-toed boots.

Perhaps we’re all just growing up a little earlier than we had intended. At the risk of sounding fifty, I can safely admit that keeping up with the latest in fashion and music is fun, but damn, is it tiring; furthermore, cab fares from all of those interviews has left my wallet in no condition to tackle the wish list I’ve acquired on the Free People website. Honestly, I think I can finally deal with that. True, my decision to spend winter break in a dress suit was one I would have vehemently rejected when I was younger and couldn’t believe that there was something more important than raising eyebrows, but with graduation four months away, and my professional career kicking off not long after, I can shelve the struggle for the time being.