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Out-Hipstering the Hipsters

If you’ve set foot in an American city in the past few decades, then you are probably familiar with hipster T-shirts. They might be regular old T-shirts, but instead of having earnest logos such as “Dysart’s Truck Stop, Bangor, ME,” they have ironic logos such as “Dysart’s Truck Stop, Bangor, ME.” The sensibility is what makes the difference: If a working class guy in his 50’s in Milwaukee is wearing a “Pabst Blue Ribbon” T-shirt, then it’s probably not a hipster tee. When a guy in his 20’s on a fixie in Portland wears a “Pabst Blue Ribbon” T-shirt, then you can be sure that it is a hipster tee.

Unironic shirts donned with ironic intent are only one kind of hipster tee. Another variety are ironic shirts donned with ironic intent. When Seinfeld was the big Thursday night NBC sitcom in the 1990’s, Vandelay Industries T-shirts were born (“Importing/Exporting — Fine Latex Goods”). Now that The Office is the big Thursday night NBC sitcom, Dunder Mifflin and Schrute Beet Farm shirts are worn with pride from the Mission to Bushwick. With shirts such as these, one gets to wallow in corporate consumer culture while simultaneously showing one’s cool detachment from corporate consumer culture: hipster heaven!

I’m not a serious connoisseur of hipster tees, so I won’t try to explain the full taxonomy here, and I know that I’m lumping a lot of disparate styles under the rubric “hipster tees,” but I’m sure you know the sort of shirts I’m talking about. Many hipster T-shirts have a cool or funky design on them, or a clever phrase, or some combination of the two. As long as it is worn with an appropriate level of ironic distance, any T-shirt can be a hipster tee.

Ceci n'est pas une pipeI was thinking the other day about what a quintessential hipster tee might consist of. Since many have a combination of word and image, and often a self-referential element that subverts the entire premise of putting a design on a T-shirt, this train of thought carried me to Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images,”  with the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”).

Magritte, like a lot of the surrealists, was something of a protohipster (an ur-hipster? a hipst-ur?). Nothing is meant to be taken entirely seriously, the work tends to undermine itself in one way or another, and if you don’t like it…well, that just proves that you’re not in the know. If something is not said or done in earnest, then earnest objections to it tend to look silly (cf. David Denby).

Just as media critics ask, “Who’s watching the watchdogs?” and the movie ads ask, “Who’s watching the watchers,” I naturally asked myself, “Who’s ironizing the ironists?” Well, it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it, so I have given notice at my job and have founded a T-shirt company that will try to out-hip the hipsters (probably a futile aspiration, I know). I’ve tried to come up with something for everyone, starting with the basics:

Ceci n'est pas une hipster shirt

Or maybe you want to embrace your hipsterdom wholeheartedly, by removing the negatives. (And I don’t want to hear that “une” should be “un” or any similar objections. Keep in mind that these are just preliminary mockups; the final products will be much more professional when we debut them in Milan later this year.)

Ceci est une hipster shirt

In the self-referential spirit of the hipster aesthetic, some people may want to add multiple levels to their hipster tees:

Hipster shirt within a hipster shirt

With the powers of recursion and basic image manipulation software, the possibilities are limitless, and for a small additional charge of only $2.75 for every shirt-within-a-shirt, we will offer infinite insets.

Not all of our products will be tips of the hat to Magritte. For instance, we will offer a “cultural critic” line of hipster tees:


Ode to Lillian Hellman

We will also have the usual assortment of puns and quips which form the core business of most T-shirt purveyors:

My other T-shirt is a Lexus

And finally, a sample from our literary line of T-shirts:

April is the foolest month.