Settler & pioneer “heritage hipster” styles in the age of Idle No More, Chinatown gentrification, &c.

via Vancouver Sun
Men in British Columbia, 1859, one in a newly discovered collection of early photographs of white settlers and First Nations in B.C. Via Vancouver Sun © Royal British Columbia Museum, reprinted with permission

An abridged version of this essay has been published in the May/June 2015 issue of Briarpatch Magazine

I am probably as bored of casual hipster-slagging as you are. In fact I may be as fed up with hipster-bashing as I am with the hipster phenomenon itself—in all its varieties. I think what is most tiresome about critiques of hipsters, though, is not that they predictably fixate on the easy target of a repetitive fashion, but that most analyses are disappointingly superficial and ahistorical. Annoyance at the tribal codes of hipsters is too often itself just tribal. Either that or it never surpasses “if you’re going to look like a logger, best learn how to use a chainsaw,” not that I don’t have a lot of sympathy with that sentiment. But virtually no one seems to be talking about the fact that certain hipster aesthetics have some pretty troubling historical antecedents which, when juxtaposed with current realities, seem more disturbing with every passing day. In particular, I’m bothered by the fact that here in my own place and time, haunted as it is by its colonial past, I’m seeing men adopt a late 19thC white male, pioneer aesthetic. In short: WTF.

Why are political-historical critiques of this ubiquitous style so absent? Maybe it stems from the fact that if you even tentatively point out problems with hipster codes in a casual conversation, people get really exercised about it. Even some of those engaged full-time in cultural studies or related fields will disavow that retro aesthetic references actually mean anything, pop up for any real reason, or have any significant connection to any particular history. Try it. You will likely face defensive, condescending, eye-rolling reactions like “that was then, this is now,” or “anything goes these days,” or “but you don’t realize meaning is fluid!” or  just because I’m wearing a haircut widely called the Nazi Youth doesn’t mean it has anything to do with Hitler; Hitler is dead and so on. If you propose that aesthetics aren’t purely random—if you suggest that aesthetics are in fact the thin end of the wedge of politics—you quickly find yourself in an unpopular minority in the room. I’m serious; try it.

Road to unpopularity or not, I want to talk about how jarring the “heritage hipster” phenomenon feels now that it has become the face of such things as the wave of gentrification hitting Chinatown and neighbouring areas of old Vancouver.

As anyone who has watched the satirical TV sketch show Portlandia knows, the “heritage hipster” style harks back to late 19th C white male North America. Portlandia has it as “the Dream of the 1890s” (see video above). The style’s historical referents are actually a little all over the place, being an amalgam of merchant or pioneer styles from 1850 to 1910, perhaps with some Depression-era 1930s and a little 1940s-50s overlaid on top. However the 1890s (that lesser known decade of catastrophic economic depression) seem to be its magnetic centre.

It’s interesting to note that the era 1850-1930 coincides with one of the largest waves of white European immigration to North America, largely facilitated by the advent of the steamship and availability of more affordable fares while also driven by increasing agricultural unemployment in Europe due to mechanization. In Canada this period was known as the second wave. It was also marked by increasing agitation in Canada against immigration from non-European parts of the world.

I have wanted to make an observation about the heritage hipster style for at least seven or eight years, but I kept thinking it had to be on its way out—why not just let it quietly fade away along with its folksy homemade pickles, pies, striped canvas aprons, taxidermy and saloon decor involving rusty antique handsaws. Even two years ago I thought I’d missed the boat and that it was too late for even a post-mortem. Now however I see that news of the heritage hipster’s death was premature.

heritage hipster in a gentleman's club chair

heritage hipster

hipsters 1890s

hipster sea captain
nt fashion collection by Pull & Bear

What I think about when I see you wear this stuff in my neighbourhood

I live in a diverse and historically conflicted part of Vancouver, right at the confluence of Chinatown and an area known as the Downtown Eastside (DTES). It is the oldest part of Vancouver and one of the poorest postal codes in the country. Because it is close to downtown, condo tower developers have recently set their sights on it in what can only be called a land rush, one that our developer-captured City Hall has done nothing to decelerate. In Vancouver’s infamous climate of rampant real estate speculation, this neighbourhood is now experiencing skyrocketing rents, renoviction and demolition which are quickly driving out the neighbourhood’s traditional inhabitants: Chinese and other elders, the urban poor, many First Nations people, low-income workers and the homeless.

Coincidentally—or not—much of this neighbourhood dates precisely from the 1890s. Chinatown was founded in the mid 1880s but only really grew to a noticeable size and population in the following decade. The same is more or less true for the whole Downtown Eastside, since Vancouver was officially founded there in 1886. The Uchida/Ming Sun building on Powell Street, one of Vancouver’s 18 oldest buildings and one we’ve been trying to save for housing, dates from 1889. It was a crucially important building in Nihonmachi (or Japantown) until it was confiscated by the government during the WWII internment of Japanese-Canadians. What I’m getting at is that workers of many different origins lived around these parts, all working in the colonial resource sector including at the Hastings Mill or in the service sector that grew up around it. In short, this neighbourhood was not solely populated by white guys with waxed moustachios who looked as if they’d just exited a barbershop quartet.

For Chinatown, the 1890s and early 1900s were marked by constant conflict with a city government that habitually imposed on it repressive and racist laws: curfews, bans of traditional BBQ (a restaurant and social mainstay), and other regulations that were clearly targeted at a specific cultural group. (And I’m not even getting into the issue of the oppressive federal Head Tax here.) Tensions ran high and anti-Chinese racism, only legitimated by all the racialized regulations, carried with it the threat of intimidation and violence. Finally on September 7, 1907, “members of the white Asiatic Exclusion League marched to Chinatown where they beat up dozens of Chinese, wrecked stores and smashed windows. Order was not restored for several days.” (Read more at Simon Fraser University’s “Vancouver Chinatown 1886-2011.”) That’s what it was like in Chinatown around the turn of the last century.

And the history of Chinatown is only one element here. Vancouver was in the 1890s a new colonial city only several decades old. It was built on land taken not long before from the Coast Salish people—Musqueam, Tseil-Waututh and Squamish—without even so much as a treaty. Today Vancouver still sits on this unceded indigenous territory. More broadly speaking, Vancouver’s settlement in the late 19th C was part of a systematic Canadian process of clearing the West for the railway and settlement, driving First Nations from their land and way of life using forced removals, deliberate starvation, residential schools and other tactics that are relatively well-known. The photo at the top of this post, the one showing bearded white men in BC in 1859, was taken smack in the middle of this era, as was the photo below (both courtesy Royal BC Museum with permission, first seen in the Vancouver Sun).

Early BC photos, First Nations man, white man
White settler, indigenous man, B.C. circa 1859. Via Vancouver Sun © Royal British Columbia Museum, reprinted with permission

 Many shots of settlers in Canada in the late 1800s in The Ballad of Crowfoot by Willie Dunn, National Film Board of Canada

To be fair, while some of this racist local history is known, many of its most glaring elements are not. When writers Ali Kazimi and Henry Yu gave some historical background at the launch of Kazimi’s book Undesirables (about Vancouver’s Komagata Maru incident of 1914), even an informed local audience was visibly surprised. I question why it is not fully understood that this was an era of overt, almost casual white supremacism appearing in all levels of government, from local Vancouver city politics to the provincial capital to Prime Ministers John A. Macdonald and William Lyon Mackenzie King. Still, enough is known about Vancouver’s racist history that anyone who lives and works in this neighbourhood, and who doesn’t at least vaguely sense these histories, would seem to be indulging in some degree of studied oblivion.

What fantasy 1890s are you in, exactly?

Now that this heritage hipster aesthetic has clearly entered the mainstream, I think it is fair to start asking a few questions. Even if you could, for yourself, surgically remove your settler aesthetics from their origins, how can you guarantee that others will understand the distinction? What fantasy 1890s are you in, exactly? More importantly, what identity are you asserting? Do you care that your getup might have odd associations for local descendants of our colonial history, who probably have a totally different view of it? Do you care that they might correctly identify your aesthetic as a mainly white male phenomenon? And do you care that you and your antique lumberjack getup might (inadvertently or not) be helping to whitewash, mythologize and perpetuate consent for the profoundly colonial, resource extraction-based economic structure we still live under in Canada in general, and BC in particular? Has it not occurred to you we need to get past this colonial national identity as “hewers of wood and drawers of water”? Does your colonial fantasy, married to gentrification, bear some relationship to the  drift of youth to the political right as documented in recent studies? [See the UK study which found that although people born between 1980 and 2000 are more progressive around issues like gay marriage and euthanasia, they vote markedly further to the right than either their parents or grandparents did at their age. Also see 7 things people who say they’re ‘fiscally ‘conservative but socially liberal’ don’t understand.]

Vancouver, racist policy, 1906

white supremacist quote, William Lyon Mackenzie King
Top, B.C. MP R.G. MacPherson’s remarks about Punjabi immigrants to the province. 1906. Above, future Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s dream of a white Canada, from a 1908 report.

Settlers redux

Before the recent wave of gentrification in Chinatown, the few non-Chinese shopowners in Chinatown made at least some attempt to fit in and honour local history and aesthetics. There weren’t that many of them and they did a good job of bringing some activity to the area in a way that seemed creatively sensitive to context.

But a couple of years ago as buildings in Chinatown and the DTES emptied out in advance of condo developments, and as shopfronts become available either as placeholders or as deliberate window-dressing for future condo locations, hipster joints full of antlers and beards began to appear overnight. There was zero visible attempt to work with the local historic context. Shops with ampersanded anglo names (Jones & Smith? Smith & Wesson? Bear & Buck? I can’t remember) arrived and so did restaurants with turn of the last century butcher shop aesthetics and lots of generic settler/pioneer decor that looked more like the eastern woods, or Brooklyn for that matter, than Vancouver. Meanwhile, at the very same time, resistance to the social and architectural destruction of Chinatown was growing. (See David Wong on loss of Chinatown culture in La Source.)* I am not suggesting that incoming merchants should have adopted a twee Chinois appropriation aesthetic and everything would have been fine. I am just pointing out that to many of us local residents, all this dressing and decorating like a white 1890s settler in Chinatown, while also giving convenient cover to the incoming condo developers, looked pretty effing audacious.


Idle No More - solidarity

Idle No More - sovereignty

The awareness that we still live under a colonial structure in Canada and across the continent is not new. If you’d like an example, here’s one from my own book research. Native Council president Gloria George at UN Habitat’s founding conference in Vancouver back in 1976: “The native people of Canada are being subjected to the aftereffects of a colonial government which the present and past Canadian governments are evading and have effectively kept hidden from the international political arena.” This complaint just isn’t going away, and for good reason.

Issues of historical settlement, land title and racial politics in this region have increasingly been in the news in recent years, so even for those who lacked an education in our local or national history, it  would be difficult to remain in total ignorance. Regarding the unceded aboriginal territory issue, during the past few years we have seen in BC and across the country a marked resurgence of actions by First Nations, notably against resource development on traditional lands. Idle No More, a high-profile movement initiated by First Nations activist women in December 2012, was a clear sign of a FN population increasingly organized against a colonial system which, like the Indian Act of 1876, clearly still persists. In addition to Idle No More we have seen the First Nations Truth and Reconciliation Commission dealing with issues including residential schools, as well as a key Supreme Court win for BC First Nations with the Tsilhqot’in victory.

In fact 2014 was a year of reckoning and “reconciliation” not just for First Nations but also in three key non-white communities in Vancouver and B.C. While there has been discussion within all these communities of the problems with ideas of “recognition” and “reconciliation” because those concepts remain embedded in a colonial discourse, the point is that we are currently seeing a racist and colonial history (past as well as recent) brought to the fore. This year saw the 100th year anniversary of Vancouver’s Komagata Maru episode, which included a federal apology; there was a City of Vancouver apology for the WWII internment of Japanese Canadians; and a BC apology to Chinese Canadians for the 1885 Head Tax. All these well-publicized processes—you’d have to be living under a rock to have missed all of them—are concurrent with the accelerated luxury condo development in neighbourhoods associated with these communities.

And now into that complicated matrix blithely walks a carefully coiffed Paul Bunyan.

 Wohlsein condo Brochure
2015 condo ad for “The Wohlsein,” a development half a mile from Chinatown. “Here’s to the start of something new.” (!) The text at bottom of the red panel reads “Snappy Dressers, then as now. Reassuringly old. Refreshingly new.”

Fur trade beard
Via @424ds

It is the confluence of all these things in 2014 that has suddenly made the 1890s white male colonial hipster aesthetic so flat-out intolerable. In light of both the history of Chinatown and the DTES and what’s happening here now, the sheer obliviousness of this mode of self expression and boutique chic is hard to ignore, disingenuous at best and aggressively colonial at worst. It seems to assert “I’m a brave white pioneer here,” and its whitewashing nostalgia serves to obscure a far from innocent past. I don’t need to point out what happens when we don’t have a sense of our own history here, but I will anyway: a repetition of the displacement of others. And the defense that the lumberjack/merchant of provisions thing is ironic doesn’t wash. I don’t detect any irony in it—it seems painfully earnest—but if irony is the intent, who are they performing that irony for, exactly?

McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 1971, Robert Altman. Shot in Vancouver in 1970, set in a Pacific Northwest mining town, 1899. The bartender’s obsession with his facial hair is a recurring comic motif.

It seems paradoxical that a lifestyle that purports to be outside our current cutthroat and wild west moment of capitalism would choose to emulate a not-so-distant echo of our present hyper-capitalist reality. For anyone tempted to idealize the 1890s in the Pacific Northwest, and its many crossovers with our current system, I strongly recommend Robert Altman’s brilliant anti-Western film McCabe & Mrs. Miller, shot in Vancouver in 1970 but set in Washington State in 1899. The ruthless, virtually unregulated corporate reality of that mining “frontier” bears a pretty strong relationship to the current deregulated hell in which we find ourselves. Again, is the heritage hipster a coincidence, or does it reveal our exact current coordinates? Is this a return of the repressed?

Colony, bar on Main Street

Strange Empire TV show prostitute schoolmarm Annie Oakey

Somehow I don’t feel like wearing long dresses and not having the vote

As an aside, I would also add that even without the racial and colonial issues, I’d have a problem with this style for reasons involving its disingenuousness around gender and class. Why does no one talk about this style’s near–100% male adoption? I polled many friends on this topic and none of them could think of a true female equivalent–at least not one that’s worn in public. (Tellingly, burlesque and Victoria’s Secret were suggested as the probable match.) Indeed, how could women (white, let alone non-white) adopt an 1890’s style in the same casual way? Somehow I don’t feel like wearing long dresses and not having the vote. For that matter, the heritage hipster is only one of many traditionally masculine styles that are currently being dusted off with way too much enthusiasm and all of which seem nostalgic for some old school, white masculinity or other. Secondly I haven’t dealt with the fact that the heritage hipster is a largely working class style affected by white boys who grew up middle class. This spree of class tourism isn’t justified by the fact that even though their upbringings were middle class their futures may not be. Hiding present-day privilege in the workaday past fools no one. The “slumming” issue has its own complicated history, one I can’t deal with here but that has been well-covered elsewhere. I’ll just ask this: if you are a disenfranchised millennial or Gen Y man, is there no other means of signalling that you are DIY and libertarian than these retrogressive and worker-alibi trappings? But I digress.

There are always exceptions that prove the rule, so I should point out that not all critiques of hipsterism are depoliticized. See Bill Deresiewicz’s excellent Generation Sell, which identifies a conservative entrepreneurialism as the affect-free heart of the hipster ethic, and I also liked A Complete Guide to ‘Hipster Racism’ from Jezebel in 2012. Here’s an interesting observation from its comment stream:

“What no one seems to talk about are the racial politics of hipster culture, which is odd since the early hipsters were engaged in a dialogue with amongst other things BeBop and therefore black culture, just as the Skins in the 60’s were addressing ska and Blue Beat and the Punks in the 70’s were influenced by reggae. Hipsterdom today seems like an unapologetic return to unmediated, sartorial proletarian whiteness. Troubling.”


Are our historical aesthetic references innocent or not? It seems to me that fashion is a language or at the very least a mode of cultural expression, and that people make aesthetic choices because consciously or not they chime with their aspirations, fantasies and values. I just don’t see how it’s possible to avoid making the connection between a a faux-1890s style and the 1890s, considering that we still live with the legacy of that era. The implications just seem very, very stark. For the sake of argument, though, let’s entertain the idea that culture consists of items that spin meaninglessly in a blender and can be conveniently unmoored from history and used as tiles, say, in an abstract mosaic. In that case, how is one style chosen over any other? Are our choices purely random? Is is simply that we suddenly like shiny—or plaid—things? Were we randomly hit by a plaid asteroid? Is it merely an accident that people have retained this aesthetic for eight straight years (highly unusual in fashion), and in this place? I find it impossible to believe that this is not a deeply meaningful code, and a code designed to assert a particular type of entitlement—and I use that term in the general sense as well as pertaining to land use. If dressing in the style of a white pioneer from the late 19thC means nothing, why defend it so vigorously when challenged, year after year? That the men in suspenders doth protest so much suggests this particular identity has import far beyond the realm of fashion. In short, this is one of the few instances when I agree with the otherwise idiotic New Age maxim that “everything happens for a reason.”

New vintage merchant/heritage barbershop, Chinatown


[Update on gender: Regarding the point made by friends  that the only real female equivalent to this, fashion-wise, is the trope of pioneer/Klondike saloon prostitution: burlesque and Victoria’s Secret: Tellingly, these colonial-era styles are worn indoors in the private, nighttime sphere and for male pleasure, while the male styles happily occupy the public, daylight sphere. On TV, of course, there are more options for women than in real life: long-skirted schoolmarm, or Annie Oakley in leather pants. I don’t see any of these characters as the public face of Chinatown gentrification “hipness” of course, though they may well represent a more hidden part of that sector’s male fantasy life. As for”Strange Empirem” isn’t it a typical empire?] Again, to get a sense of what a resource settlement would feel like in this region in the 1890s, you need to watch Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller: the town of Presbyterian Church is populated only by male miners and businessmen, and the only females present are prostitutes, work in the brothel or are Chinese workers in Chinatown.]

[Update on the frontier brothel element: one of the new heritage hipster restaurants in Chinatown, Mamie Taylor’s (funny review here), models itself loosely on the brothel establishment of some sort of backwoods madam. On the Easter 2015 long weekend, it posted this “joke” message on its sandwich board: “You look like a whore.” For a host of reasons, not least the tragic and well-publicized murders and disappearances of sex workers in this area, this sign has inflamed the neighbourhood. But despite repeated requests from neighbours that the owner to take it down, he has steadfastly refused (Facebook link). So the relationship between the male heritage hipster style, taxidermy-festooned walls, some fantasy of old-school, resource rush-era prostitution, and gentrification seems more than just theoretical. Thanks for proving my point, bro.]

Mamie Taylor's Sandwich Board - "Whore"
Mamie Taylors – taxidermy-filled restaurant in Chinatown. Above, sign that reveals how the plaid-clad proprietor of this joint thinks. For more see this Facebook note. Photo by a resident of the Lore Krill Housing Co-op. I took the shot below. Antlers and bears, oh my.
antlers bear taxidermy


1. Tragedy and Farce

Sorry to over use this Marx quote but: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Farcical and innocuous as the pioneer costume design may seem, given the fact that we’re talking about gentrification and eviction and rapidly widening inequality, farce may just be cover for another tragic land grab.

2. This article isn’t just about hipsters, is it.

For those who ask “why so much hatred for hipsters who are, after all, just trying to do their thing?” I would say what many have already guessed: no, this essay isn’t really just about hipsters. They are a symptom. It’s about the larger sociocultural and economic relations we all find ourselves involved in now. Fashion, even when only subcultural, is interesting in terms of what it reveals about the dominant culture that it either reflects or rebels against (or, more typically, both). This particular hipster fashion is a window on our current conditions, at the same time as helping to perpetuate them (even if it thinks it’s doing the opposite). The hope was that in identifying a persistent colonial dream, we might open a doorway into understanding the real history of this country, so that when we creatively refer to the past — and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, there’s no point in throwing out the baby with the bathwater — we might use our nostalgia in a more constructive and inclusive way, perhaps with a little less whitewashing and a little more care and political awareness. And when I say “we” — well, I mean those of us who have had the luxury of remaining oblivious. You know, those who benefited from the colonialism that is still all too present.


3. *Re Gentrification and who’s really responsible

Before my discussion is derailed by the sidestep argument that it’s not the kids who are really responsible for gentrification, or it’s more the artists moving in than the hipster entrepreneurs, let me say this. First, obviously neither is the prime mover of gentrification here. The culprit would be the free unregulated land market and the collaboration of the BC government as well as Vision Vancouver (the current ruling civic party here) with its developer donors who now effectively own City Hall. That is, the driver of gentrification is unregulated land use and property speculation. This article is more about how culture reveals where we are, provides cover for big money, and excuses our collaboration with the property speculators. As for the hipsters and artists and the cover they provide for developers: while some art galleries have moved into the area, in my view it’s not so easy to say they’re agents of gentrification in the way the posh hipster restaurants are. Centre A and Gallery 221A are part of the Chinese community and have furthermore been highlighting and even opposing rampant luxury development in Chinatown. Last week I went to the best community meeting I’ve ever attended at Centre A, in which diverse members of the community were brought together to talk about how to stop a tower slated to tower over Sun Yat Sen Gardens. And that’s only a tiny part of the community building activities that these art centres have been involved in. While it’s always impossible to avoid artwashing entirely, I see the role of these centres as somewhat distinct from the new restaurant and real estate entrepreneurs. But really, the main point of this article is that we—all of us—still live inside a disastrously predatory and colonial economic structure and culture, and we might need to start looking at how many of us are complicit with it in a variety of interlocking ways.

What if it’s outside Vancouver?

While this phenomenon has a particular meaning in Vancouver, I would propose that whether seen in Berlin or Brooklyn or Sydney, the frontiersman look has the same echoes and meanings. The appeal of the colonial story of “discovery” and “taming a continent” seems universal among urban hipsters. But just remember; there is and was no terra nullius. Papal decrees aside, there never was empty land—or neighbourhoods to be “discovered first.” Does “I was here before it was cool” sound familiar? All of it belonged to someone, and the aggressive, gentrifying redevelopment of cities is just the newest form of aggressive settlement. Almost everywhere in the developed world that you find re-settlement through gentrification, you will see this costume. It serves to glamourize and masculinize gentrification and displacement in those places too. Why would North American tropes have currency worldwide? Because these colonies supported empire (British, American) and still have its caché. They represent “clean,” masculine discovery. For the American side, this essay appeared in The Atlantic a few months after my post came out. It’s useful in the way it fills in details of the American colonial past. It spends more time on the class issue, but the point is similar.

heritage hipster fashion matrix
A New England hipster look, via AskAndyAboutClothes


5. NOTE on “The Lumbersexual” and gay aesthetics

This Guardian article on the “Lumbersexual” theorizes that the lumberjack look is straight white guys borrowing a gay bear style. It also argues that the style is ironic. I think those are two separate issues. I don’t buy that this gear is truly ironic (except in an unintended sense), but I think she’s probably right about the influence of the gay bear look. But the thing is, this is still a form of hypermasculinity regardless of the sexual orientation of the wearer or how over-coiffed the rendition. And the gay bear reference just sits like an extra layer on top of the style’s whitewashing of the settler/colonial resource extraction era, rather than contradicting it. Sure, it’s a masculine working class look, but doing that in posh bars… Anyway, I think the article is somewhat guilty of the type of light, de-historicized analysis I reference in my essay. There’s also this similar piece in The Daily Beast

PS: Given the gay fashion connection, I’m quite amazed that the article’s English author would fail to mention the Monty Python lumberjack sketch, in which an Englishman is obsessed with a B.C. lumberjack getup (but turns out to be gay or transsexual or a cross-dresser, disappointing his fiancée).

“I never wanted to do this job in the first place!
I… I wanted to be…
Leaping from tree to tree!
As they float down the mighty rivers of
British Columbia!
I cut down trees, I eat my lunch,
I go to the lava-try.
On Wednesdays I go shoppin’
And have buttered scones for tea.

— The Lumberjack Song, by Monty Python



Acknowledgements: I chatted about this idea for many months with many friends, all of whom were fantastically helpful, but in particular thanks to Lisa Prentice, Elee Kraljii-Gardiner, and Riaz Behra.



Related articles

For your reading pleasure—or not—here is a plethora of links on heritage hipsters and related topics (list will be periodically updated).

Also, I have written other posts that develop the same or a similar argument:
The Hitler Youth Haircut
Colonial Aesthetics and Ralph Lauren
DSquared’s Provocational “Dsquaw” Hashtag and American Indian Fashion
Mountain Don’t &
Murder Murder
Condo as Colonialism Redux – again


The Great Heritage-Hipster Clusterfuck of 2009/10/11 (… it didn’t end in 2011 – Ed.)
The Rise of the Lumbersexual
How Straight World Stole ‘Gay’: The Last Gasp of the ‘Lumbersexual’
Out of the Woods, Here He Comes: The Lumbersexual (Guardian)
Safe Space for Capital
Heil Hipster, or Nipsters: The German Neo-Nazis Trying to Put A Stylish Face on Hate
Moscow embraces “Hipster Stalinism”
Vancouver people dress poorly, by IHateVan
Why do people hate hipsters?
Piss Off You Hipster Git
Will Self: The awful cult of the talentless hipster has taken over
Will Self, keep your cardigan on. Blanket disdain for hipsters is so tired
Is it OK to Hate HipstersBeware of cupcake fascism
The pernicious realities of artwashing
The Heritage Hipster Matrix 2010
The racially fraught history of the American beard
Vancouver Lexicon: The Lumberjoke
Hipster Business Name Generator
Charting the rise of Generation Yawn
Borealis: A history lesson in Canadiana that tastes unforgettably good
I Spent a Night at the Urban Cowboy, Williamsburg’s Hip, New Western-Themed Bed and Breakfast
The end of the hipster: how flat caps and beards stopped being so cool
Nu-lads on the block: post-hipster style [yet another style of working class (white?) masculinity]
The poor fetish: commodifying working class culture: “Bullshit jobs and a pointless existence are increasingly driving London’s spiritually dead middle class towards a fetishization of working class culture.”

Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native
Stephen Harper and the Myth of the Crooked Indian
The Colonial Aesthetic and Ralph Lauren
The problem isn’t aboriginals as Stephen Harper suggests. It’s us: Siddiqui
Canada’s Indian Policy is a Process of Deception
Does this haircut make me look like a nazi?

“In other words, he looked entirely typical of the kind of 21st-century hipster conformist who has adopted a wild-man-of-the-woods look even though he works in marketing and only leaves the city to attend music festivals.” (Guardian)

Blistering review of taxidermy cuisine in Chinatown

I strongly recommend watching this video of a panel of short talks for the launch of Glen Coulthard’s book Red Skin White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Excellent introduction to First Nations issues, strategies for undoing persistent colonial structures, and a political approach to the land (which also addresses such problems as urban gentrification and land use).

And check out the sketchy new Mountain Dew ad. My take on it is here: Mountain Don’t.

Mountain Dew ad, April 2015

Condo ad: “25,000 Hipster Neighbours”…

“25,000 Hipster Neighbours” boasts the ad for a new, much-hated new condo tower. “The Independent” by Rize Development is just up the hill from Chinatown, and it’s just blocks from “The Wohlsein” which is pictured earlier in the article.


[Drat. When I migrated this blog from one of my domains to another, I lost my former social media sharing count, which was over 2K shares (and the post itself was at 20K hits). I mention this only to observe that the hipster topic certainly guarantees a lot of interest. Anyway, starting the count over. Please also see the abridged version of this essay in Briarpatch Magazine.]

26 comments on "Settler & pioneer “heritage hipster” styles in the age of Idle No More, Chinatown gentrification, &c."

  1. Since it’s a digression, I’m adding this UK data in the comments:
    “…we same boundary-less youths of Generation Y – those born between 1980 and 2000 – have now been labelled “Generation Right” by Radio 4 (FYI: the preferred radio station among my friends). Though we are more socially liberal and accepting than previous generations when it comes to things such as gay marriage and euthanasia, according to the polling company Ipsos Mori we are likely to be more politically Right-wing than our parents or grandparents were at the same age.”

    From “Generation Yawn”

  2. Excellent article. (It’s terribly interesting on the male uptake front, I agree. I just wish I could get those 100% wool petticoats and bone corsets back in style, said no woman ever.) The addendum about Generation Right is also fascinating. Social media provides a glimpse into this phenomena for me when I see that generation complaining about the steep rental market in Vancouver on the one hand, and then outraged about the homeless encampment in Oppenheimer Park all summer on the other hand. I’m confused as to why the connections between the two aren’t established (esp after they witnessed the whole Occupy movement right in front of them.) .

    I can’t help but think about how university is too expensive for many who are trying to avoid a lifetime of debt and how this is the missing link. When I was coming of age in the nineties, it was people who didn’t go to university who openly wore bindi dots, citing that these cultural symbols “didn’t mean anything anymore”. I remember those first few years in university — you spent a great deal of time learning to defend yourself and your opinions. That level of scrutiny taught you the painful lesson of knowing your shit before you spoke and understanding ALL of the implications of your references, lest you be called out on your arrogance etc in front of everyone. At SFU especially, this extended into fashion (hence my bindi dot reference) and definitely into music.

  3. I think that there are a lot of very interesting points in here, and fully agree that it’s disingenuous to insist that aesthetics be considered as separate from every historical context. So I’m asking this not out of defensiveness, but because I’m genuinely curious about your thoughts:

    Given that there’s hardly a historical era where white men weren’t complicit in some significant racism and sexism (at least on the macro scale), and given that dressing in styles borrowed/appropriated/stolen from other cultures is rightly considered problematic, and if “class tourism” is also frowned upon, what options does that leave for white males’ sartorial choices? The pioneer aesthetic, as you say, connotes historical moments that aren’t exactly to be celebrated, and in general interpretation, covers through the dust bowl at least. The jazz era had its own issues with race and with materialism and decadence that seem tasteless now. The ’50s connotes an emphasis on traditional gender roles that carried over into the conservative side of the 60s, and unfortunately the more open-minded side of the ’60s (ie the bright colours and flowing lines of the hippie movement) doesn’t hold much aesthetic appeal to me personally. The 70s were a resurgence of machismo, the 90s an abundance of class tourism. And so on.

    So if one can’t draw from their own cultural history without (intentionally or not) aligning themselves with the unpleasantness of history, and certainly can’t move on to others’ cultural history for inspiration instead, is there a modern equivalent to the pioneer style that carries the same aesthetic qualities (typically muted colours, neatness/tidiness, durability) without pinning itself to the politics of the past? At some point, is it alright to say I recognize that the way I dress carries certain negative connotations, but it also carries ones that when separated from the prejudices of the time are positive (a certain work ethic and belief in moral duty, a connection to the earth, a mindfulness and groundedness, and a connection to one’s own ancestors that can be comforting even while acknowledging the mistakes of past generations and present ones), and to hope that your actions, attitudes and demeanor will help to make clear where your attitudes lie?

    My apologies for the length of this comment and its rambling nature; as I said, I think it’s a very thoughtful post. And I’m likely exaggerating the dearth of options in how to dress, but once you eliminate the aesthetics of most of history, lower classes, and non-white cultures from the wardrobe of people born as white middle-class males, the options do seem to become rather limited.

  4. well said Rube. Maybe all those white middle-class males could learn to wear Orange jumpsuits and live in the suburbs.

    Teh truth is that middle class white males are easy targets if you want to pin the entire history of violence on them. I am confused though about this article.. is it about fashion? or gentrification? or racism? oh wait, it’s supposed to all be tied in, but……. it isnt!

    This reads more like a an academic rant pointed at privileged white males taking over the DTES than anything. So some young people are dressing retro and all of a sudden they subconsciously chime with the likes of John A. McDonald and the rest of the racist cronies in our history books? I dont see dots connecting to be honest. The symbolism might be there, but really that about all that’s there.

    “people make aesthetic choices because consciously or not they chime with their aspirations, fantasies and values”

    So every white male that ever settled here was a racist, and subconsciously these hipsters are appealing to those values by adopting their fashion? Or by taking on this retro look they are being insensitive to the cultural attrocities? Certainly beards are not the cause of gentrification or racism…

    If you want to attack fashion, why bother with far raching symbolism and simply point the fingers at anyone wearing sweatshop clothes (oh wait we are all proabably wearing some right now)… And like Rube said, if people are supposed to not appropriate culture, which includes fashion, then where do they look for cues if they can not look to their own past? Wait wait. I digress… this article really isnt about fashion anyways….

    As a low income resident of 25 years in the DTES, I have witnessed the gentrification over decades and see it in its full fruition now everyday. Yes I see ‘hipsters’ moving in with their retro shops, and plenty of others too… men and women. It’s not about males with retro beards, its not even about hipsters, its about money and what’s cool. There’s all the super-privledged Yaletowners with their fancy leather shoes and BMWs in the hood now too, and lots of joe average dressed people with tonnes of debt working their ass off to pay for something they can’t even afford. There’s a whole swath of people who live here now who arent working class, nor poor, a lot of which are uneducated priveldged assholes with too much money who live a very insular lives. It’s heartbreaking to see a community be invaded by these types, really, becuase we want to see healing down here, but the whole hood is filling up with NIMBY shitheads who live in the W2 (and more to come in the Chinatown spots) who feel entitled to whine about Oppenheimer & Insite, but guess what?… they arent ‘hipsters’.

    Half of those bearded ‘hipsters’ under the scrunity of this article are actually the people working in the SRO’s with the marginalized people everyday. Insite, PHS, Raincity, Atira.. are all full of ‘hipsters’ who clean up vomit, rigs, blood every single day. Even some of the Vancouver Coastal Health workers are ‘hipsters’. These people arent the cause of gentrification, nor the cause of colonialism, nor the reason why there is a class war. These ‘hipsters’ are part of the everyday lives of the marginalized people who are the most at risk from gentrification. Why not spend time writing about root causes instead of arbitrarily attacking a group of young white men with far reaching symbolism?

    Take5, DTES graffiti artist, living in DTES since 1988.

  5. Interesting read but I have to agree with every thing Rube has voiced. Furthermore, I’m interested on your thoughts of when women participate in dressing in this ‘pioneer’ aesthetic. I think the article stated that this was purely done by males however in my particular lesbian community there are plenty of us who dress like this.

    1. Zoe: perhaps, but I’m talking about a dominant fashion. I have never (or very rarely) seen the thing you speak of, which I would view as a subculture. This article is about a now nearly mainstream style that everyone has seen. In the short walk to the corner store this morning we saw more 1890s style loggers than I could count, and not a single woman or non-white male dressed in anything that we would have identified as 1890s. The more you look for it, the more obvious it gets. And in this place, a still very colonial context, it’s really striking. As for the subcultural pioneer dress in your lesbian community, I’m more interested in your view on that. What is its semiotics/fantasy investment/payoff? You could answer that far better than I could and I’m curious what you think.
      I did write something about a pioneer kitsch aesthetic but that is, I think, much
      different from what you’re talking about (not a well thought out post but sort of preliminary thoughts on the subject):

  6. I’d like to keep the comment stream on topic where possible. I generally don’t comment on comments, but to be clear:

    1. I’m not talking about the enormous and diffuse category of “hipster” nor am I the slightest bit interested in doing that. I recommend everyone watch the video of Bill Deresiewicz addressing that, however. It’s brilliant and interesting and gets to the heart of the libertarian politics of “hipsters”:

    2. I am not in charge of holding to account all the entitled yuppie NIMBYs and asst’d wankers moving into this hood. I’m only critiquing one cultural style in this article because the connotations of that style interest me. I agree with most of Take5’s complaints about our ‘hood, but it isn’t my point nor is it my job to deal with all of those here. One thing at a time. I’ve written about those privileged types and hockey riot bros and frat boys and yuppies and all the other tiresome manifestations many times before in different contexts. This post is not The Book of Everything. I encourage others to write the essays they feel need to be written on these topics. I am sure I will enjoy them and often agree with them.

    3. I do not have ESP and do not know what is in the minds of people adorning themselves in the hipster heritage way. I am doing an analysis of a particular colonial style and relaying how it comes off to someone – me – who is embedded in a particular place and time. I’m an observer not an omniscient narrator. If you are a bearded heritage hipster, I’d be more than interested in hearing your thoughts on what you mean by your style as well as hearing your reaction to my impressions.

    4. Sadly I don’t want to be anyone’s style advisor. I will say that I can think of a vast multitude of far less jarring sartorial options for men. I could make a long list. Some of it would be speculative since I am sure there are styles that have not been invented yet, even if nowadays it seems newness is over and looking back is – apparently – the only option. But even if we could only look back, there are many eras to choose from. Why is there currently such a conspicuous absence of decades and styles that don’t involve fascistic over-grooming, extreme machismo, gentlemen’s club stuffiness &c.?

    5. Analysing one face of gentrification is different than – and a lot more complicated than – “blaming hipsters for gentrification.” Let’s focus. But since we’re on that topic, who do *I* blame for the gentrification of the DTES and Chinatown? I blame Vision Vancouver and the NPA before them (Vancouver civic political parties); by extension I blame the condo developers who own City Hall; this election time around I also blame the building trade unions who support Vision Vancouver; and I blame financialized capitalism & low-rate mortgage peddlers. In the face of all of those forces, the collusion of heritage hipsters, while annoying, is admittedly secondary. However, the seeming depoliticization of nearly an entire generation however, which is what this article is really about, even if it gets to it only implicitly via the meaning of a style (see the Deresiewicz video for more on that), is concerning to me. That depoliticization is not helping matters re: gentrification and I do find it a kind of collusion with/legitimation of a sort of colonial incursion into neighbourhoods. But anyone defending these people against the charge I am blaming them for the entire thrust of gentrification is not responding to the gist of my post. The gist of my post is that we are re-legitimating colonialism all over again. Not all fashion styles do that.

  7. Interesting ideas here. I do wonder though, as someone already pointed out, if men have been complicit in racism and sexism for.. forever, why the trouble with these particular maskuline Codes? It seems more like a reaction to something we can all feel… for example the loss of professions based on skills and connection to production that is more human. The Lumberjack, the paper boy, the railroad worker etc. As a woman, these are not mine, I don’t really connect to them or to the Codes for women of that era, but I must admit, I get all fuzzy inside when I see some of these guys walking the street… Suspenders are so darn cute. There is a praticality here too, beards are so much easier than shaving everyday, wearing old and worn out clothes is no longer taboo, plus, returning to natural materials (wool, linen) and classic basics might just (even for a milisecond) impact the cheap fashion industry.

    1. RF, You and I will never pine for the same man. :–) To say I’m not into what suspenders do to the back of a man’s pants is an understatement. But to be serious, I think natural fibres and facial hair are one thing, a reference to the 1890s is another. We saw facial hair and natural fibres in the 70s but then it was often done differently. I just think there’s something very specific going on here… and persisting far longer than the usual fashion cycle. I just sense it has to do with the assertion of a particular type and era of masculinity, one that makes me uncomfortable precisely because such a huge chunk of the population is unable to be nostalgic for it. And because it specifically harks to the single most foundational era in our colonial history, and right at the very moment when the brutality of our colonial roots is being exposed AND our cities are being aggressively recolonized. It seems like a pretty interesting conjunction as well as a starting point for an essay about colonialism, past and present.

  8. interesting. couple thoughts: So much of what were considered “traditionally” masculine traits are no longer valued the way they once were. Perhaps these chaps are looking for a way to signify masculinity while shunting the less appealing aspects that no longer fit in with modern society. I have a big ass beard and a lumberjack jacket. Not sure it makes me a hipster. The coat cost 19 bucks at costco.

  9. I am a white male. I lived in portland from 2009 to 2013. I am a journeyman electrician. I dress in mostly work clothes like double knee carhatt pants, work boots, ivy cap sometimes. I am 6′ 220lbs. I wear a full beard year round. So did my dad and so did my grandpa (who did work in the timber industry).

    Once I let my wife cut my hair. She cut it a little short (as in all the way to the scalp with the clippers). I had to shave it off. But I didn’t want to shave my beard. I feel weird without it, you know.

    So later that day I went to the store for something. If you’re familiar with portland, our house was right by the gateway max station. Pretty busy area in the middle of the day. Anyway people coming towards me walked to the other side of the street. Not just a few either. Everyone was staring. One guy shouted something. I don’t remember what. It dawn on me until after I got back home and told my wife what happened. I looked like a supremacist. Needless to say I shaved.

    I consider myself liberal and progressive minded. As white male I realize that ‘the system’ has favored me in ways that I don’t always even realize. And I have thought about this a lot being married to a hispanic woman who is not a citizen. There are things that other people go through that being who I am I can never understand.

    No one should ever feel ashamed of who they are. No one should be afraid that someone is going to hurt them. So can you imaginagine how disheartening it is that your face can and has inspired these feelings in another person? If you are not a white male then probably not.

    I found this article to be more than a little bit harsh and kind of mean spirited. White males are held to a different standard. Me having a shaved head and a big bushy beard carries a meaning. It says ‘this guy is probably a racist’. Me wearing a flanel means something too. It says ‘this guy is probably cold’.

  10. Hi again, I love the dialogue your article has sparked. (and the diversity of responses). OK, so what suspenders do for shoulders can never undo the havoc behind. good point! I do have another idea about the persistence, as you say, of this trend. It is entirely possible that the majority of the hipsters in your area are ignorant of their complicity in the racism and genocide rooted in this era and continuing today. But I think something is lost in the argument… I sense a disconnect. The DTES has been on the verge of gentrification for ever…. when I lived there in the 90’s we felt it was just around the corner. Despite that, it is still home to many of the same diverse people and the home of strong and effective community initiatives. I think this is not the battleground you perceive it to be, although it is annoying in your beloved back yard. Because I no longer live in the country, I have a slightly different (broader?) perspective (not that you don’t! but I am not confronted daily with latte sipping lumberjacks dumbly claiming the neighbourhood as theirs because they match the building facades. The real battles have risen to an unimaginable scale. Maybe we are pining for the old days of racism, colonialism with a face, relocations, racist immigration policies that were plainly written, and the like. A human scale of evil. Today’s level of destruction leaves us all powerless. Alberta tar sand extraction, Mount Polley, caps on refugees, deportations to “safe” countries, spying, control, unabated capitalism. etc! Your arguments about the history are essential and should be required reading before dawning suspenders and caps. The disconnect I feel… gives too much power to the lumberjacks, the critique is a distraction and sparks in-fighting. They aren’t that important and would probably make good allies given the right indoctrination technique ;>. I’m still fumbling around for why I feel a little skeptical of your excellent writing, it is soo good!

    1. Hi RF, these are great points and I want to respond to them. You’ve made a good counter-argument that I did consider while I wrote this essay, but I decided that it was worth proceeding anyway and here are some of the reasons why.

      First off I don’t blame gentrification on these people – I just talk about them being part of its face. This is a design blog, not a political economy blog, so by definition I’m really interested in the way we present our selves and our spaces publicly. I’ve written many times elsewhere about the woeful global economic forces collapsing our human potential, but this time I wanted to look at a small blind spot I encounter every day.

      Also of course you are right that gentrification’s creep started earlier, esp starting in 2002 when prices took a big jump in East Van, but the speed at which it is happening now is unprecedented. As an old ex-New Yorker said to me recently, “what is taking 2 years in Chinatown took 20 years in SoHo.” Again as you say this is a global phenomenon in which the .01% are buying up property because it’s the safest place to park their money, among other frightening massive-scale developments in the global economy.

      Still, when trying to raise awareness of those things, one starts locally. The reason I chose to focus on one seemingly smallish fashion is that it often takes a vivid local example to elucidate larger issues and histories. This one was a useful entry point while also being a personal daily irritant that I simply felt like writing about.

      Let’s also remember that gentrification is only one of the issues I focused on. I mentioned two issues in the post’s title, but commenters are all mentioning gentrification while hardly commenting at all on the issue I mentioned first in that title: Idle No More and the general zombie colonialism we experience here in Canada. This is something that just keeps dividing us in ways many don’t realize. By the way, colonialism’s structures have also given birth to or dovetailed all too neatly into the type of resource extraction neoliberalism we are enduring here now, but that’s a whole other post, or book, or books.

      While I don’t approve of relentlessly politicizing every choice in everyday life – there’s often a certain self-serving, preachy purism in that behaviour – I do think we have to get a bit more sophisticated and thoughtful about the ways we come across. I think aesthetic tribalism can deeply damage our chances for political solidarity – solidarity, say, against the privatization of effing everything. I think tribalism inhibits political engagement, and the deck is already too stacked against that engagement.

      I think a lot of these 1890 lumberjack types are probably pretty nice (even if oblivious). I just wanted to say that self-presentation as a pioneer or old-style white dude in the face of continuing local colonial structures and systems seems pretty weird to me. Do I really have to point out that there never never was any “frontier” – unless you’re talking a frontier against First Nations people and not, say, a frontier of “wilderness”? Some sort of “empty” space that could be settled or pioneered in? That space was never empty. It was kind of already occupied. Let alone wearing the costume, even the words settler, pioneer, frontiersman are all so loaded. Through my essay – and by the way the French origin of that term, essayer or “to attempt,” describes what I was trying to do here in experimenting with an idea – I wanted to think about the unconscious, seemingly innocent but sometimes offensive ways in which we express our utopian hopes – and/or have them dashed.

      By chance I had two recent experiences that further sensitized me to this settler/pioneer style that had always bothered me. The first is that this year through friends I became involved in a community fight to save a Chinese Benevolent Society’s DTES building – and the elder housing it provided – with a team of friends from different local backgrounds: Chinese, Japanese, and First Nations among others. When you get involved down here in the DTES in local projects like this one, it’s impossible to avoid sensing the sheer emotional and intellectual force of the historical realities and reconciliation efforts in those communities. Not just the pain and anger and pressures resulting from historical insults (that’s a mild way of putting the confiscation of land, property, rights and dignity) persist in part because those histories have not been adequately examined and no really significant changes or reparations etc. have been made. Secondly, I’m involved with a festival (Indian Summer Festival of Art and Ideas) which this July featured much discussion of these “reconciliation” processes, starting with the Komagata Maru anniversary which was then linked up in interesting ways to Chinese-Canadian, Japanese-Canadian and First Nations initiatives. These sorts of involvements can give you a welcome exposure to local history (some of which I didn’t know myself, even though my family have been here for generations). I guess because these histories are visceral and disturbing and important, I wanted to talk about them. Vancouver after all is famously amnesiac, and we know what we’re doomed to repeat if we don’t know history. There is a variety of reasons for this amnesia – a newspaper monopoly and general poverty of media critique is one – but I think much of it has to do with the fact that approx. 70% of Vancouverites were not born in this city; most were born or grew up in other provinces or countries. Lack of local historical awareness is a problem because in very real ways it can lead to chasms between people, divisions and misunderstandings that threaten any chance for solidarity. I wanted to look at this “heritage” pioneer thing because for me it was the most visually striking and near-to-hand example of this divisive historical obliviousness. It also provided a way of talking about who we really are as a city behind all that glass and steel.

      I take your point that it’s better to build bridges than offend potential allies – usually I’m the one making that point re: the Vancouver left – but on this issue frankly I think the softer approach has been tried and was not working. I think sometimes we escalate our tone when other avenues have already been explored. I didn’t see there was another way of pointing out that even if a settler aesthetic seems friendly and innocent to those involved in it–who may feel it harks back to a sweeter time than today’s cutthroat capitalism–it seems to a large chunk our population strikingly exclusionary in cultural terms, ridiculously hyper masculine, and aggressive in many other ways. It’s simply not a fantasy that is remotely shareable. Not to mention that it seems like a dangerous flight from reality in a time when we ought to be banding together to oppose large modern corporate actors rather than thinking that small scale old-fashioned DIY entrepreneurialism and voting for Vision Vancouver (one of the civic parties most guilty of facilitating gentrification and a widening income gap) is going to change the world. Those latter views seem dominant amongst the bearded set I’ve been exposed to.

      I would add that while I situated this aesthetic in my own familiar local context, I think it could be extended all over North America. Where, in fact, is this aesthetic not a fond and sanitized memory of settler/white/expansionist history? Seriously? Our nostalgias can hold us back.

      I would urge people to see the very first comment above, where I included the stats about Gen Y and millennials voting to the right of both their parents’ and grandparents’ generations despite their seemingly progressive self presentation in terms of the politics of class, race and gender. I haven’t seen any studies on the politics of heritage hipsters specifically in terms of voting or political viewpoints but the exposure I’ve had to them suggest distinctly conservative views. I would love to hear what people think on that topic. Please convince me it’s not true – I hope it’s not. Before responding though I would recommend everyone watch Bill Deresiewicz’s highly entertaining video on that topic. I mention it in the essay but here’s the link again. It’s brilliant.

      Thanks again for your comment, RF!

  11. OK pals, to everyone making the point “what about everyone wearing sweatshop clothes” etc., please read Rebecca Solnit ‘s post at this link, esp. if you are also guilty of saying “I can’t believe I saw someone at Occupy with an iPhone”: (Facebook link)

    Also loved one of the responses to it: ” I always have to explain to people that the argument from hypocrisy is one of the weakest arguments you can make. It seems to be made all the time against radicals. Back at the time of the anti-globalization protests, I was profiled by the Washington Post. The reporter thought he could expose me as a hypocrite by treating me to lunch at some expensive D.C. lunch spot. First of all, who is going to turn down a free lunch? Secondly, I was very conscious of what he was doing and turned it against him in my careful responses. I also tell people who think they can expose anti-capitalists as hypocrites when we use capitalist products, by explaining to them that it is impossible to opt out of capitalism on our planet.”

  12. What an insightful read! Thanks so much for putting into words what I couldn’t quite articulate myself. I lived at the border between Chinatown and the DTES for 4 years before being renovicted and watched the streetscape change dramatically as these young white frontiersman-types moved in with their particular style.

  13. Dear commenters, because I haven’t made an explicit commenting policy on this blog, I’m hereby declaring that abusive comments will not be approved and if you put down your email as “fuckyou @ gmail dot com” I will probably laugh then deposit your comment in the trash. You know who you are. Carry on dressing like a lumberjack, acting like an ass and proving my point. Yours faithfully &c.

  14. OK so I’m frequently being asked for sartorial advice now. But among the people asking me for advice, it’s interesting that every time they ask for fashion options, they first dismiss the non-macho vintage styles out of hand. Apparently these are not possible. Why is this? You can’t ask me for advice then dismiss whole swaths of fashion history and future. I’m not interested in hyper-masculine styles or exaggerated gender differences in general. Is this really the historical moment for that? Is it because in times of economic trouble – currently the acceleration of income inequality thanks to deregulation – men return to a sort of dog-eat-dog macho aesthetic to match the mood of Darwinian competition? In times of economic trouble we also see a return to racism, anti-immigration attitudes and a return to the political right, so that’s the company the increase in machismo is keeping. I’m not sure hypermasculinizing your image is really socially salutary. It looks more like a desperate, doomed bid. Here’s some reading I found interesting – it’s totally refreshing to see a straight man happily gender-bending. Just one option among so many. It makes me wonder why so many elements of the 60s and 70s are so overlooked? The answer to that question by no means obvious, but I’d like to see some guys try to honestly answer it. As far as I’m concerned, Noel Fielding is hot. In whatever he’s got on. Just one example among so many possibilities.

  15. Thank you for writing this excellent article!

    “who are they performing that irony for, exactly?”

    B makes the case for an ‘objective irony’ arising from symbolic objects themselves; a reversibility belonging to the secret binary core of the socially constructed system of values/symbols which must always function against itself by virtue of its differential structure. The total codification of the world leads to a volatility/reversibility inherent in the code itself, and “the more that [socio-symbolic] systems advance towards their own perfection, the more they deconstruct themselves.” Irony, according to B, is the only spiritual form in the modern world, and ‘objective irony’ irrupts as a counterpart to the insistent ‘reality principle’ of modern society, to its reification, and to the loss of illusion.

    I’m surprised that Roy A. couldn’t agree that aesthetic values are necessarily part of the system of social codes (…of conduct). I couldn’t agree more that they are inherently political/value-laden.

    1. Michael,

      Hey thanks. Re: irony: yes, but I’d say that the objective irony of Baudrillard, or Benjamin too for that matter, is nowhere near the debased and supposedly self-conscious irony we may or may not be seeing in mainstream hipster fashion. (Not that the self-conscious part is the sort of irony you’re talking about.) The term “irony” now comprises so many things along such a long continuum, but I barely even consider many of the items found there to be any form of irony (this is a longer discussion). Anyway, if that fashion is self-consciously ironic I guess I feel it’s nothing more than the posture of “I know this is a joke” even if the joke seems ill-understood (and may reside entirely in the fact that the version of lumberjack we’re seeing comes down to us from the colonial era through gay bear culture, and that’s its excuse). As for the structural iron(ies), I guess over time we’d find out if this code’s internal instability was going to go somewhere. In any case my mention of irony in the essay was an aside – I didn’t have the time or space to deal with that whole other kettle of fish. But I agree with the position that it’s the only spiritual form in the modern world; I just don’t see the hipster thing as even approaching irony in that sense.

      I guess it’s in dispute what popular codes mean or how they function, and I did appreciate Roy’s willingness to rebut even if we disagree. But I agree with you. I always want to ask those who think that, say, Nazi codes can be unmoored from their origins: “So, how is that rehabilitation of the swastika going?”

  16. ‘Do you care that your getup might have uncomfortable associations for local descendants of our undeniably brutal colonial history?’ Good question, and a distillation of the legitimate points of the article. But I have to wonder if the (white) author’s concerns are based on conversations with these local descendants or just a contrivance to articulate her aversion to hipsters and gentrification in general (the latter a worthy bone of contention, don’t get me wrong). Pretty much all working class males of European descent wore variations of these fashions in the late 1800s; are every single one of them colonizing racists? I somehow doubt it, but even if they were, was the style of dress so closely associated with their actions that it has the traumatizing effects the author is postulating? Is it simply possible that the one thing these dudes of yore may have gotten right was the way they dressed and groomed themselves?

    1. Dear Buddy: I’ll make a few observations here, even though I’ve made a number of them already:
      1. There was a need for someone to point out the problems with this romanticization of early colonial/pioneer/settler dress. I know this because before I wrote the essay, I had heard many expressions of irritation with that whole historical fantasy (usually not from from white men, but from every other group). And after I wrote it, the was a flood of people with the same feeling about this, especially on social media. I couldn’t track it, because you can’t with Facebook, but it seemed a pretty big chunk of the positive responses were from women and/or people of colour. 1500 shares on Facebook weren’t mostly posted by trolls or critics of it, let’s put it that way. I specifically heard a lot of appreciation from indigenous people in Canada and the U.S. Which leads to the second point:
      2. The only complaints (that term is putting it mildly, given some of the extremely abusive trolls this essay has attracted) I’ve had about this post are from white males, as far as I can tell (there was chronic author anonymity but I’m assuming based on the arguments made or outright declarations). As a friend of mine said: “makin’ the point.”
      3. Fashion, like most cultural phenonema, means something, whether people like to admit that or not. Meaning is developed socially and somewhat consensually – we have broadly understood (if vague and unconscious) agreements about what things mean, sometimes across the culture at large, sometimes only within a subculture. But I think people have to expect that on occasion meanings will be contested and not everyone is going to make the same reading as they are. Either they’ll disagree on a style’s meaning, or over whether a style is positive or negative in some way. Based on my experience posting this essay, which was admittedly somewhat polemical, I have discovered there are extremely strong opinions on this style and that they predate my essay. And they hold whether people are thinking about gentrification or not – it’s a thing unto itself.
      4. I guess it’s pretty obvious I’m not a fan of the rapid, brutal gentrification we’re seeing here nor the sort of entitled swagger it’s being carried out with. But you’d be mistaken if this essay was about something as narrow as gentrification in one neighbourhood or even a single style. Everyone has focused on the attack on the one style when clearly the attempt was to find an instance of the still-colonial structures dominating our country, province and city. People defend the style but interestingly they won’t touch its root history, and that seems like an admission to me. We are plagued by this colonial hangover in numerous ways but Canadian society seems stubbornly and deeply unconscious of this fact. My point here is that many Canadians (and N. Americans) are deeply attaching to some founding national myths – brave pioneering myths so appealing they can be exported to any country. I think the colonial hipster style is an example of “the return of the repressed,” wherein problems emanating from our early origins keep resurfacing into consciousness, to be worked out. Why focus on hipsters? I simply chose one instance of our colonial inheritance or haunting to discuss, partly because its nostalgia seems the most blatant and because it was near to hand. I could have chosen any number of other signs and symptoms of this colonial hangover, though. Maybe it could have been a list. But it wasn’t, and for me it was interesting to go down the rabbit hole of one particular cultural fantasy to see what it would yield.
      5. Like you I don’t mind some of the objects of Canada’s past, but quality and tradition are one thing, and I think whitewashed nostalgia is another. Dealing with a few objects isn’t an entire lifestyle. I really recommend everyone go back and watch Altman’s McCabe and Mrs Miller again, to get a sense of what 1899 in the Pacific Northwest was really like, even when mostly white. We need to get out of our moose/mountie/lumberjack fantasy in this country and province and start devising a different historical imagination to get ourselves on a path to decolonizing both our economic structures and our relationships with each other.
      6. This essay isn’t painting all male persons in Vancouver in the late 19th C as racist abusers. That is not its point and it wasn’t ad hominem, except perhaps in the case of the tosser who owns that restaurant. It is talking about an era of colonization that is being referenced in a particular fashion style. And it is taking on the stubborn, persistent colonial structures in our economy, political structure and culture. I’m just trying to flesh that history out a bit less romantically, using an example that happens to be at hand. I’m just not a fan of the nationalist myth that our “hewers of wood and drawers of water” Canadian trope props up. And the US is similar. And much of the world outside the New World has appropriated that fantasy. See the Monty Python sketch.

  17. Sorry to have to reiterate this but: all abusive or combative comments will be deleted. If your comment has not appeared here, it’s because I didn’t think it was abiding by the rules of polite discourse or was otherwise obnoxious or off topic. White males are definitely trying to have their say here and that’s fine but I’m I’m only printing comments that aren’t idiotic. You know who you are. Alternatively with rude or abusive comments I may just check to see if submitted email addresses are real and if they are, I’ll print them along with the comment. Sorry to be hardnosed, but people! Behave. And beware.

  18. LB I found this after reading the Briarpatch abridged version. This is a fantastic piece and captures very similar dynamics in Australia, but specifically Melbourne. Amazing! Thanks for this

    1. Liz,
      Thanks for that. Interesting to hear Melbourne is the same, given Canada and Australia’s similar colonial mythologies. Has anyone written anything similar for Australia? I’d be very curious. Glad you found the original; I had to clean up the language and snark a little for Briarpatch Mag (always a good exercise). – Lindsay

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