Hipster and hippie/hippy both owe their existence to the older adjective hip/hep meaning “smart”, in its twin senses of “street-wise” and “stylish”. But the Oxford English Dictionary online notes that the 1976 record for all three entries is currently being updated, and clearly their uses are changing. Hipster is slightly older than hippie, dating from the 1940s when it referred to someone who was up with the latest, especially in jazz or swing music. By the 1960s it was eclipsed by hippie/hippy, used to refer to the young people associated with that ideological movement from California, whose members took on an alternative lifestyle and made use of hallucinogenic drugs. Their unconventional dress is remembered in this year’s nostalgic exhibition of Hippie Chic in psychedelic colours at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. With all but old hippies relegated to history, the hipster re-enters, though not on equal terms. The hipster’s appearance (hairiness, down-market clothing) and independent political tastes are not of the mainstream – yet their behaviour is seen as affected rather than a real commitment to alternative values against their middle-class connections. The word hipster itself may have something to do with it, since the suffix –ster has negative connotations more often than not. As the bicycle sticker has it: More hippies, less hipsters.
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