The urban landscape is changing and with it a new breed of cultural figure is emerging, deafened to any criticism, a walking paradox – the embattled middle class hipster is undergoing a transformation and turning his attention to working class footballing culture.
Early last year, walking down Tottenham Court Road in central London, i noticed a young trendy sitting outside a small artisan coffee shop chain (the sort aimed at creative media types and students, the sort that has a vintage butchers bicycle hanging over the doorway). He had the regulation full length hipster beard, thick rimmed glasses, slip on shoes with no socks, tight 3 quarter length trousers and was wearing a Stone Island jacket. A proper, no-nonsense, fuck-as-you-like Stone Island jacket. After a quick wtf double take at the sartorial oddity i thought nothing more about it until i read an article by the men’s fashion editor in the Guardian¹ and it became apparent – this actually exists as a fashion. It’s been given a name, several names, a new fad, a new marketing tool, for real.
What is happening, or at least being documented in the media fashion pages, is a new trend of the middle class boying it about town wearing football gear, ironically, ladding it up, slumming it with the scummy working class scum. Hipsters in particular are now evolving, adopting the dress code of the football casual, terrace monkey, hooligan filth (in a weird repositioning of cultural status) and with it comes a very real clash of social identities and harsh realities. Traditional working class culture once dismissed and derided, avoided at all cost is now the acceptable focus of privileged middle class attention.
So what’s going on? Is it just another case of posh lads slumming it? Cultural tourism for the out-of-work creatives and advantaged social elite? Student irony of the gap year aficionados? Or does it signal something a bit more unsettling – the realisation that the middle class are slowly “buying in” to every aspect of what it means to be working class? Question is why? And why now?
Shoreditch High Street
Hipsters are a genuine cultural phenomenon, they represent the middle class completely at ease with the arrogance of their own class. They are a product of their time emerging through the prism of a post-industrial society where wealth creation is not reliant on work production, a 21st century bohemian lifestyle but one tightly regulated for a consumer society thriving under a display of carefree entitlement. It’s the privilege of their class declaring – we can be whatever we want to be, coupled with a deeply ironic social concern for their own sense of dislocation.
Hipster found its form at the beginning of the century as there began a migration of middle class graduates into the newly expanding digital technology creative media industries. As a fashion trend it was built on social and cultural dissonance, a depreciation from what was going on in the world – global economic uncertainty, and significantly, a refusal to take any responsibility for their part in it. While the middle class have traditionally always aligned themselves with the success of society (the rich will always rely on the middle class to manage society on their behalf) the hipster values an idiosyncratic step back from any obvious signs of social hierarchy or formal power (while inwardly retaining all the elements of their class, that individual sense of self-entitlement). And it’s this apparent tension which has given the subcult its lasting appeal amongst certain sections of the population. It’s a celebration of the appearance of disenfranchisement.
Stand your ground
So what’s with adopting the clothes of the football casual and smart terrace boys? Because hipster is a purely middle class expression there is nothing to anchor it to ‘authentic’ experience, it was ephemeral from the start. You cannot cultivate thin air. Hipster-ism is ‘appearance’ utterly without content – this it has to be said was its original core appeal; a blank canvas, a start again, breaking away from the constraints of previous cultural identities, a dumping ground for social experimentation etc. If hipster was just fashion, it was fashion without roots or weight, with no responsibility to share the political baggage of their generation. And so it must appropriate cultural content from elsewhere. Those restless hipsters are now looking for that cultural content – meaning to their identity. One element of that is co-opting aspects of working class culture they see as ‘real’ without ever having experienced those things that made it real. And with all things hipster they are doing it with a necessary shield of ambiguity and a heavy dose of ironic middle class knowing.
Why Stone Island in particular? The obvious answer is it is the pinnacle of hoolie attire, the ultimate status symbol – it emits a sense of achieved masculinity. It’s not only hipsters who recognise this, the far right have long since adorned themselves with Stone Island clobber on their demonstrations as a shortcut to the same achieved masculinity. The SI logo, such is its history and reputation, means you immediately acquire status by association. Of course SI jackets are also financially speaking prestige garments – so despite, or in this case because of, the vulgar working class associations, they are aspirational. And it’s this edgy aspirational aesthetic that gives it such resonance with the new type of hipster, just as living in the poorer parts of town make the life of a hipster seem just that little bit more daring, even if it is on the back of their parents second mortgage.
What. Ever. This
From a psychological point of view the middle class male is currently going through a prolonged crisis of representation, existential angst, uncertain of his purpose in an increasingly uncertain world (left-wing academics writing articles about the predominance of useless jobs). The arrogance at their sense of privilege remains (this is pretty universal – go to any university and watch the middle class at play…) but is ultimately fractured and set adrift. And the hipster (the future generation yuppie with a social conscience) is a projection of the middle class attempting to come to terms with the contradictions thrown up by the shifting social/economic and political landscape.
As a response the hipster evolved into a hyper-masculine being – the exaggerated facial hair, the lumberjack-style clothing, the excessive visible tattoos, which were all never quite enough. The next stage is to parody the unreconstructed masculinity of the unreconstructed male by adopting their clothing style and going to their football matches using the class credentials of the working class as a fashion accessory.
There’s a further contradiction in that hipsters (and the middle class in general) look at working class culture with a conflicted air of envy and contempt, longing and revulsion – the barbarism of a failed education system brings with it a sort of curiosity and comfort for those looking in from the outside. And during times of economic insecurity, where the rich and the poor are often in open conflict with each other, the middle class (who have always acted as a safety barrier between the poor working class and the wealthy ruling class) downplay not only their role, as a class, in protecting the rich, but their own individual economic status and wealth. All these elements conspire to create the malignant presence of the middle class in what were once solidly working class environments….
It’s no secret that the gentrification of football has been going on for some years now, the ticket prices, the prawn sandwiches, the corporate boxes, the banning orders, the sponsorship deals, the half and half scarves, all indicators of the steady erosion of the presence and ultimate exclusion of the traditional football fan – the working class male. Whereas historically the football ground was a bruising coming together of competing working class tendencies based on fierce local rivalries and territorial loyalties (and the culture that grew up around it – fashion, music, politics) it’s now a middle class celebration of their class presence, a ‘safe space’ where all behaviour is monitored, scrutinised, modified, authorised, policed and sanctioned by outside forces. It is no longer ‘ours’. The middle-classification of non-league football (as exemplified by Clapton FC and Dulwich Hamlet for example) can only have occured so easily because they were already abandoned working class environments, basically occupying an uncontested space.
Musical interlude: Some twisted melons
Back in the late 80s/early 90s, the scally² look caught on, this got lost in amongst the music of the day and was transformed into a loose-fitting musical genre ‘baggy’ sanitised for a middle class student market/audience (bereft of the poverty and menace that made the scally what he was) which eventually became Britpop and a generation of working class kids were sold their own culture back to them on the handshake of Tony Blair at the Cool Britannia party. A party incidentally we were never invited to.
At the other end of the scale from the Stone Island hipster is the nu-lad – those desperately in search of a more real working class experience to elevate their own sense of authentic self. It’s a sophisticated updated version of ‘poor is cool’ taking the novelty value of class tourism to its ultimate conclusion.
Of course as a fashion statement it could be all over by the end of the year but the point is the middle class have always had a knack of appropriating other cultures to serve as a refuge for their own benefit. The football fan was never simply a consumer of the game just as the football casual was never simply an embodiment of fashion label chic. What this highlights now is that the working class remain alienated and unwelcome as ever, unacknowledged and utterly without a voice even within those areas that already supposedly belonged to us. The Stone Island hipster isn’t really about being a hipster, or indeed about football, it’s about how the working class are being written out of our own history.
- Why the Working Class Has Become the Ultimate Fashion Subculture
- The Working Class is not a fashion subculture