Monday, July 2, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: Samuel, 16th and Walnut

Ten years back, the term "hipster beard" meant perma-stubble, around three days in length, or the first, and shortest setting of an electric beard trimmer. Then perma-stubble became the norm on Calvin Klein models and in Volkswagon ads, and hipsters cut their hair into mustaches. It was meant to be ironic, but soon became iconic, and as the commercial world caught on, hipster mustaches become more and more elaborate, carefully cultivated, sometimes even waxed and twisted in an ol' timey manner, and always meticulously groomed. Hipster facial hair must be cultivated; it is not simply grown. When mustaches got old, the hipster look shifted to proper beards, full and manly. And when the beard reached its saturation point, a standard-issue feature of any rapidly gentrifying urban neighborhood, hipsters grew theirs out to lumberjack lengths, not quite ZZ Top, but certainly longer than the average college professor's. But as they did so, they also cut their hair, keeping it trim and neat so that no one ever confused them with real genuine lumberjacks. I'm not saying Samuel is a hipster — it just isn't polite to call someone that these days — but let's just say that he's not unfamiliar with the type. His look is a great example of the burly beard tamed and contained.

Samuel was on his way to work when I stopped him, his lunch break almost finished, and I walked with him along the way to shoot closer to his destination. As we walked down Walnut St, a scraggly dude on a skateboard rolled up. "What kind of music do you guys like?" he asked, brusquely. I think we both assumed he was scalping tickets or something, and I hate being asked that question, even though I often subject my models to it. It's a trap. There's no right answer. I grumbled out the generic "Lots of kinds." Samuel, meanwhile, said something like, "That's hard to say, but mostly I listen to death metal." The dude on the skateboard then told us he was new in town, and that when he saw us walking down the street looking "metal as fuck" he just had to stop by and say "What's up!"

I recount this anecdote for a couple of reasons. First, the bemusement factor. I've never been called "metal as fuck" before. Sure, I like me some metal, particularly of the power chords and demonic grunts variety — the more obnoxious the better — but I've never identified with being a metal fan. My awkward growing out hair must have sent off mixed signals. Second, I would not have guessed Samuel was a metal fan either. I was thinking more alt country or underground electronica. But then what does a metal fan look like these days? The headbanger army is far more varied than it used to be. And plus, metal fans don't feel quite as strong a need to commit themselves wholly and completely to a single style of music as they used to. I read a coffee table book a year or so back called Street World that argued that all the urban subcultures of the last four decades (including punk, metal, skate, and hip hop) have merged into a single global "street culture." At the time I blew it off as needless hyperbole. Now I'm not so sure. Clearly we aren't in any danger of achieving transnational subcultural homogeneity any time soon. But as I've argued on this blog before, the subcultural lines are no longer distinct either. They bleed into each other. When people say "the scene" these days, they no longer mean the genre of music and fashion towards which they affiliate; they mean "THE scene," that massive, heterogenous network of partiers and creatives who affiliate with street culture in some way without necessarily subscribing to an identifiable type. 


  1. Great post! I loved your dissertation on "hipster hair" and I want to be able to use the phrase "Metal as Fuck" just once in my life!

  2. If you wanna check out the ultimate Hipsters "Hipster The Get Down" on YouTube


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.