Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset
November 10, 2012 11:55 AM   Subscribe

Why has there been no new youth subculture since 1998? 1960s had hippies, '70s had disco and punk, '80s had hip hop and goth, '90s had grunge. And yet kids and twenty-somthings have been wearing trucker caps and ironic sunglasses for 15 years now. What happened?
posted by four panels to Society & Culture (45 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I disagree. I'm officially old and over 30, but even I have heard of emo....
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:57 AM on November 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

You got old and stopped seeing the differences? I mean, I couldn't name many particular youth subcultures, but unless I'm living in some alternate universe, culturally speaking, no one is doing the ironic trucker hat thing anymore -- at least not to the extent that they were in, say, 2000.

To name a few "new" subcultures that I can think of, there's been emo. There's been the "pedo-stache" hipsters, followed by the "lumberjack" hipsters. Hip hop culture has evolved a lot from the '80s, to the point that it's arguably something completely different than it was 30 years ago.
posted by asnider at 12:02 PM on November 10, 2012 [19 favorites]

I disagree. I'm officially old and over 30, but even I have heard of emo....

I should rephrase : why has 'hipster' been the prevailing youth subculture for 15 years now, when historically these come and go with much greater frequency.
posted by four panels at 12:02 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by jlibera at 12:03 PM on November 10, 2012

Sorry, didn't see your edit - never mind.
posted by jlibera at 12:04 PM on November 10, 2012

Well, I probably haven't been around long enough to really answer your question fully, but it seems like you may be a little biased by the current perspective.

I'm assuming at the end of 1962, you'd still find plenty of evidence of beat/beatnik subculture around, and people wouldn't be able to tell you that the defining youth subculture of the decade was going to be "hippies". Likewise, in 1982, would people have been able to identify goth and hip hop as new youth subcultures? My guess is no, but they would recognize disco and punk, and think those subcultures had been around for a while by that point. The subcultures start out being true subcultures with few members that are underground/little known, and then permeate the popular awareness.

So what I'm saying is, we know that emo/hipster was the prevailing subculture of the decade that just ended, but right now the subculture of the current decade is just being born.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:12 PM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think hipsters are a subculture in the same way that the previous youth subcultures were. The latter involved more than simply dressing a certain way; they involved an ethos that was more than just "irony" or "retro".

I think it has to do with the way that music is created and distributed. The Internet and recording technology has made it a lot easier to do that as individuals, whereas previous subcultures tended to need communities to do that. I know that was certainly the case with punk, and while I'm not old enough to remember the hippie era, that also seems to be the case as nearly as I can tell.

Anyway, music seems to have something to do with it.
posted by mikeand1 at 12:12 PM on November 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Just because there are still hipsters doesn't mean nothing new has come along. I mean, there are still hippies and punks and goths, too, y'know?
posted by box at 12:13 PM on November 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I was going to ironically say: Napster and everything since.

But seriously...take a look at hip hop.
posted by victory_laser at 12:14 PM on November 10, 2012

why has 'hipster' been the prevailing youth subculture for 15 years now,

I would suggest that youth subcultures have always been composed, to varying degrees, of the hipsters of that particular moment -- going back at least to the beats in the US in the '50s and the mods in the UK in the 1960s, but plenty of others. That is, "hipster" is more a general descriptive term and not really a name of a particular subculture.
posted by scody at 12:15 PM on November 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Adding, I don't think hipsters are as cohesive as prior youth subcultures.
posted by mikeand1 at 12:15 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Answer: your premise is wrong.
posted by wrok at 12:17 PM on November 10, 2012 [19 favorites]

If you're classifying "hipster" as "young people being ostentatiously anti-mainstream and countercultural," then hipsters in one form or another have been the dominant youth subculture since long before James Dean lit up his first smoke.
posted by Etrigan at 12:18 PM on November 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

15 years? Trucker caps are ~2004.
posted by rhizome at 12:18 PM on November 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

I blame the internet.
posted by klausman at 12:19 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Music distribution, music purchasing and the ethics around them have changed. When I was a mere slip of a girl, it really mattered whether one was on a major label or not, and everyone knew someone who ran a tiny label out of their bedroom, etc etc. I can't get over how my fellow anarchists listen to, like, Beyonce. That would not have gone over well in 1996. As a result, fashion/music subcultures are, I think, more permeable and fluid, and there's less oppositionality associated with music.

Also, fast fashion and big changes in the distribution and status of vintage and thrift store fashion. I'd argue that up through the nineties, second hand clothes were a little bit declasse; they aren't anymore. Clothes more than 20 years old were easy to find in the thrift stores and were of fairly high quality. Now even the last of the union-made eighties clothes are hard to find and can be quite pricey. (I mean, I remember when I bought a 50s silk-satin Dior dress - not atelier, but still - for $5.99 at Saver's.) So style changes faster and it's harder to associate style with oppositionality and with a stable 'style tribe'.

"Style tribes" themselves are pretty well commodified, too - you can make a nice living catering to goths or VLV folks or whatever. So there's less, I guess, libidinal investment there.

Also, life is more precarious and it's harder to get work. Back when I was properly young in the nineties, if you didn't have a job you could just temp. It wasn't fun (remember that zine Temp Slave) but you could keep a roof over your head. A lot easier to do subculture stuff then. Even the serious anarchists I know now scrabble a lot more for work, food and money than back then.

Rents are higher - where in 1995 you could run a whole anarchist community center on $300/month plus utilities - which could be paid with three people who had jobs and could chip in $100 each, now you're looking at $1200/month plus utilities and fewer people who can kick down $100.

I mean, there's still plenty of youth fashion, music and neat stuff going on - it's just that the support structures are more fragile and temporary and the borders between things are thinner.
posted by Frowner at 12:22 PM on November 10, 2012 [46 favorites]

I work with a lot of youth and I can't think of a single one who would identify with the term "hipster".

What do you mean by "youth subculture"? Many if not most things identified as being hallmarks of a "youth subculture" are little more than marketing strategies by various corporate entities. Youth interact with these things, but that doesn't mean they identify with them wholly or uncritically.
posted by jammy at 12:22 PM on November 10, 2012

Yeah, for one example, there's a lot of "hipster" girls with feathers in their hair and little leather shoes wearing long dresses with nineties floral prints, but that style doesn't fit the "ironic trucker hat hipster" idea, to me; and it's definitely a more recent stylistic veering.

Check out Your Scene Sucks for a more visually understandable guide to the myriad of intricate sartorial decisions that todays youth are making. The NeoThrash Hipster and Scene Queen, in particular, are a certain type of kid I'm seeing around more and more, and Apple Store Indie just seems like normal clothes to me.

Although those are all outward styles, the writeup underneath each entry does talk a little about the perceived "scene" nuances.
posted by redsparkler at 12:25 PM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Two reasons:

1) Because more broadly there is no more "generation gap". There are no clearly delineated differences in thinking between youth and age anymore.

2) Because pop culture, on which "youth" culture is based, is thoroughly fragmented. There is nothing to unify around.
posted by dzot at 12:28 PM on November 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think the former fixie-riding, tight pants and bearded (where appropriate) people (can't call them hipsters!) have been succeeded by Preps. But what about Anonymous and Occupiers? They seem like subcultures (subcultural groups?) to me.

Love Frowner's answer above.
posted by halonine at 12:31 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am no spring chicken. But even I can see that the current version of hipsters, the vogue for dressing quite smartly, has been largely unheard of since the days of mods. This is not the same as neotrucker ironic fashion. It is a large and recent fashion trend that has also blended elements of preppy style and new romanticism. But it is not just a continuation of something started a decade ago.

Musically, there is perhaps less of a dominant theme now, but I think that is true of the 80s and 90s too. You cite grunge, for example, in the 90s. But house music went fully mainstream too as acid house crept out from its dusky warehouse. So did rap. Don't forget the massice reinvention of the boyband either, or the huge wave of ballading lower lip wobblers that dominated the charts. And the whole Madchester scene in the UK.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:10 PM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think what my friends and I call 'cutesy hipsters' are definitely a distinct subculture. I'm talking about the ones where the girls wear little vintage teadresses and knit, and the blokes have facial hair and make their own cheese. They're definitely a movement in the sense that they represent a way of life (baking, handicrafts, this idea that you can live a 1950s village lifestyle in today's London) which can be embraced to a greater or lesser degree, and which has clearly percolated in a diluted form into broader popular culture, at least in the UK. They also seem of a piece with twenty-first century postirony. Calling them 'hipsters' plain and simple obscures the massive gulf between wearing an ironic trucker hat and being earnest enough to write a blog about breadmaking. It also obscures the fact that these are clearly not the same 'hipsters' that are walking around in neon clothing and those sunglasses made out of plastic with slits.
posted by Acheman at 1:22 PM on November 10, 2012 [11 favorites]

I think the biggest issue is significant fragmentation. There isn't one major sub-culture group to stand out, as there are hundreds of music niches that have formed in the last decade or two, some surviving and growing (example: dubstep), while others fade into obscurity (example: seapunk). They're variations on past sounds, merging unusual styles together. And because this music is available so widely, localized styles spread and merge with other aesthetics, making the edges hazy at best.

Example: a vintage-loving artistic friend of mine on FaceBook posted Thrift Shop by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and her friends chimed in. It's a fun, bouncy hip-hop song, which I didn't think would fit their aesthetic from my superficial view of their love of vintage styles, but they aren't stuck in a vintage niche.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:31 PM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I just think you're out of touch. Somewhere on metafilter not too long ago was a comic defining hipster as "someonew who is cooler than you", showing a lineup of various different subgroups categorizing the person ahead of them as a hipster.
"Hipster" isn't a cultural subgroup. Like someone said, its just this media imposed title. Like "goth" even. There was never one group that was goth-it was a bunch of kids that dressed different than society, but close enough together to get labeled as such.
Your Scene Sucks has already been mentioned, and I find it really true to form. And someone else mentioned Preps, though now-a-days they're more "dappers", cause there's too much old money associated with being preppy, which isn't at all required for modern days. Others I can think of off the top of my head: modern hip hop guys in bright neon colors; dub step dudes sporting confusing t shirts and sweat bands on their wrists; new wave feminist girls who knit and have reclaimed the domestic duties of old; old time revival guys, accompanied by beards and home crafted beer; folkster girls with feathers in their hair and tiny floral blouses, and then there's the kesha party girl with glitter in her hair and tape over her boobs.
Say hello to my friends. theyre all "hipsters", i guess. But saying they're all the same and are the same as the youth 15 years ago is pretty misguided.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:43 PM on November 10, 2012

I have 3 children 21,24,26 and they are all ravers. Dance Electro for 6 or 8 hours and Cross-fit so they can do it again. This is a culture that didn't exist 10 years ago but it certainly looks familiar to my growing up in the 60's eyes.
posted by ptm at 2:04 PM on November 10, 2012

Ravers have been around since the late 80s.
posted by empath at 2:15 PM on November 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Cultural historian Simon Reynolds argues that we've reached sort of an "end of history" in pop music because the development of new technology for music making reached a dead end in the 1990s with the arrival of cheap and endlessly maleable pure digital recording. Previous musical revolutions and their associated subcultures were related to the arrival of new technologies.
posted by chrchr at 2:26 PM on November 10, 2012

I think in the past scenes tended to be in one geographical location (hippies in San Francisco, hip hop in NYC, grunge in Seattle, etc.) and when people all live in the same town and see each other regularly it's easier for them to adopt a similar style. Now a lot of similar new subcultures or fan groups form online (dubstep, bronies, fanfic communities, etc.) it's a lot more geographically distributed and there's less of an emphasis on physical appearance.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:48 PM on November 10, 2012

I disagree with your whole premise, down to the assertion that kids have been wearing "trucker caps and ironic sunglasses for 15 years now".

Firstly, I think that, if anything, the media is less hyped up on The Youth Generation nowadays, and so there isn't the push to create one unified subculture that can be shorthand for "young people today". This was the thing to do in the 50's through 80's when the Baby Boomers were young. Now that the Boomers are middle aged and headed for retirement, suddenly nobody gives a shit about the youth fads of the moment. Because it was all always about Baby Boomers.

Secondly, since the 90's there have been dozens of concurrent subcultures, and as time goes on said subcultures aren't necessarily youth-related at all. Because the Boomers are interested in preserving their youth forever, we no longer see this as a Young People Are Doing X Crazy Thing vs. everyone else who is being... normal? I guess? Or whatever old fogeys usually do? Instead you have a culture that has completely invested itself in diverse subcultures, from middle school girls into Justin Beiber to Twi Moms and Leather Fetishists and Wine Snobs and Juggalos. In another 20 years, when the Boomers start seeing senility, we'll probably have retirement communities and assisted living facilities organized along subcultural lines.

Thirdly, trucker hats and ironic sunglasses? It sounds like the problem is maybe not that there's no more youth culture, but that you got old. Because trucker hats and weird sunglasses were over like five-ten years ago.
posted by Sara C. at 3:41 PM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

We called ourselves ravers way back in the late 50's.
In England.
We listened to jazz, ancient n modern, played skiffle n folkmusic,
could hardly afford any distinctive clothing,
though one of us wore clogs,
A genuine subculture possibly.
Of five people.
Then the mainstream caught up with us.
posted by jan murray at 3:54 PM on November 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

What about Juggalos?
posted by KogeLiz at 4:24 PM on November 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

A newer rockabilly culture was here in late 90s, early 2000's as well.
posted by KogeLiz at 4:32 PM on November 10, 2012

I think part of it is the internet. For two reasons:

1) It used to be that you had to dress to signify what you represented in order to attract others of your tribe. And even then you had to go to certain places (clubs, record stores) that celebrated that particular subculture in order for you to have a shot at meeting those others. Now you can just do this all online.

2) The big shift I've noticed is that kids today approach music in a way that just wasn't possible when I was growing up. They approach it like literature, cherry picking from the canon. I think this is because they have access to the whole catalogue via the internet. When I was 15, it was unthinkable to me to listen to music by someone old enough to be my mom, but I didn't apply that thinking to the books I read. Nowadays, both art forms are treated similarly.

On a side note, I've recently noticed a new (to me) youth culture. And it's not new-new, it's retro-new, but it's the first subculture which I've felt is truly inaccessible to me as an adult. I can be goth or mod at any time, but I just can't get a Princess Di haircut, wear shoulder pads, put on blue eye shadow, and consider myself alt.
posted by january at 4:48 PM on November 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'll wager you might find atemporality for artists an illuminating talk.

Or else, uh, I'll go with explanation #2: "rave culture had very strong drugs".
posted by ead at 5:09 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Going along with some of Frowner's (and january's) observations: one very, very crucial thing about subcultures up through the last decade or so was the kind of effort it took to obtain those subcultural signifiers (in particular music and clothes). For example, to state the obvious: there was no downloading of artists' entire catalogs (or even a single new song) off iTunes or Amazon; you had to physically obtain everything. So if you had interest in any sort of musical subculture, the flowchart basically ran like this: you had to A) be aware of this music in the first place, which was B) largely spread by word of mouth or such channels as non-mainstream radio (e.g., college radio) and alternative print publications, etc., and to acquire music yourself you had to C) have access to a record store that stocked such music (or would order it for you).

To get academic about it: this is a far more labor-intensive way of obtaining cultural signifiers than exists today, requiring a fairly high level of commitment as a way of signalling subcultural group membership. If you were (say) a mod in Britain in the '60s, you had to work -- both literally, in terms of earning spending money, and more abstractly, in terms of obtaining insider knowledge and access -- to find the right bands and the right clothes and the right accessories for your scooter (this is what the famous mod slogan "clean living under difficult circumstances" was coined to mean). If you were into punk in the '70s and into the '80s, you had to WORK to find out what bands you wanted to hear and to access the records and clothes you wanted to buy. This was the basic model for decades.

All of these dynamics necessarily made subcultures smaller and their members more obviously different from their peers -- which in turn also made them more likely to be targeted (teased, harassed, etc.) for being so visibly different (especially outside of big cities), which required a certain willingness to endure social pressures to conform to more dominant cultural norms, but also created a much more intense identification with the subculture itself. In a digital world where virtually anyone, anywhere, can obtain these once semi-secret things -- whether knowledge or music or goods -- I don't think it's that surprising that the lines between a dominant culture and nondominant subcultures has become much more blurred.
posted by scody at 5:16 PM on November 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

On a more positive note, I'd argue that youth cultures - no longer sub - are more flexible and a bit harder to commodify now. All you have to do is look at the ever changing cultural stuff on tumblr to realize that politics/culture/fashion stuff is networked in a much smarter and more interesting way than it was fifteen years ago. There's much more of a mix of high and low culture, and things are potentially at least less expensive, hence more participatory. Like, a lot of the most innovative fashion stuff I see on the internets is make-up based, or uses hairdye on regular hairstyles. You don't need a lot of money or the ability to get jobs where you can work and look "subcultural" when your fashion washes off and can be painted back on.

And although it's certainly sad that the used clothes market has grown "vintage" and old and sclerotic - which it has, lord it's a depressing thing to see your own generation taking the cultural wheel, everyone smug and well-off and boring and dressed in imitation fifties dresses, all the real life gone out of them - in some ways it's good that there's no more old stuff around to be reverent about merely because it's old. Better to be a bit futurist and neon makeup about it all than sit around wishing you could have been a mod or a ted or something.
posted by Frowner at 5:32 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that everyone saying that pretty much everyone has access to all culture right now means that there is much more mixing, not only horizontally but vertically, as in age-wise. People's age used to be a much more marked signifier of how they dressed, and vice-versa. I also agree that music distribution has a lot to do with it: kids used to dress a certain way to identify as part of a group based around music, and it was frequently very different than the music their parents listened to.

There was an interesting article from maybe about a year ago that discussed how clothing styles have really not changed from the 90's. If you transported pretty much anyone contemporary from 1976 to 1966, or 1996 to 1986, they would stick out like a sore thumb. Not so much from now to the 90's, unless you make a point to choose a guy in the tightest pants possible, and even then he'd just look like one of the arty semi-punk rock kids of the 90s. 2010 people could totally pass for mid nineties people, generally speaking. There used to be much more significant generational markers in clothing from decade to decade, and that hasn't happened so much recently.The author's theory was something along the lines of: technology is where all the forward-looking creative evolution is happening, and so we tend to dress the same or look to the past for personal style.

Most of the underground clothing trends of today are based on the past, and I think that's because we have so many cultural artifacts up in our faces all the time to be influenced by. That's always happened to some extent, such as when French women began to emulate classic Greek and Roman imagery because there was a big trend in digging stuff up, and political interest in democracies and republics. But I think people today are more insulated from other drivers of fashion, that in turn give youth cultures something to rebel against. The zoot suit came about because during WWII everyone was under fabric rationing, and extraneous material in your clothing meant you weren't being supportive/being non-conformist. Punk was rebelling simultaneously against the excesses and complacency of the long-haired hippy types and the boring conformist squares and rightwing politics who were driving greater class inequality. However, we've been fighting a war in the US for years now, and there hasn't been any rationing, or draft, or other significant national response that would provoke a culture clash. Occupiers tend to look like... other people who aren't occupying anything. Parents don't dress all that differently from their kids. Hip-hop and rave were kind of the last counter-cultures that had really obvious tribal clothing. Hipsters, for lack of a better term, aren't really a counter culture, they're a post modern recombinant culture with no obvious political ideology.

So my feeling is: music distribution, politics (and to a lesser extent, age) do not drive fashion expression like they used to. I think that there are many different youth cultures now, but they identify themselves in other ways and coalesce around other forms of identification.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:57 PM on November 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's an interesting question, I know exactly what you mean, although it's difficult to ask without seeming a little threatening to people who've invested heavily in their scenes.

A couple comments -- I'm what you'd call a 'boomer' (but how I've come to loathe that term).
  • Blue jeans. They've been youth culture's uniform for what, sixty years now? Why don't they ever go out of style? I've rebelled in my own way, haven't owned ANY blue denim trousers since the early 70s, after schools abandoned their dress codes and I realized absolutey everybody was wearing this stuff, and they STILL are.
  • Rap music/hip-hop. Been around since the 80s (and before that, we'd hear this rhythmic chanting but only at a square dance). Around the turn of the century, this sound became dominant, and hasn't gone away yet. Why? I've heard bitter rockists characterize the effect as a brown wave smothering all the good music, but casting back even further I wonder why kids can't break free from the default electric-guitars-and-drums which seems to have calcified youth music since the 60s. Why doesn't an entirely new style catch on?
  • .
The answer might be found in the ideas of a 2001 PBS Frontline called The Merchants of Cool which describes how business now controls the fads of youth.
posted by Rash at 9:42 AM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Weird, we were talking about this the other day and I do agree with the OP to some extent. We have largely the same top popular actors, actresses and clothes as we did when we were in college (late 90s, west coast) and a lot of the same musicians. Which is like 2 generations of kids past us. I don't see this generations version of Singles or Reality Bites or Winona Rider or Wes Anderson or anything really. Things that were considered great in the 80s were largely derided by 1991. But you could take my old college wardrobe and still fit in OK today I think. Our theory is that it's not that there are no cool new things it's just that, for once, the old things never got uncool. We were SO cool that we still are! We mostly blamed this on Paris Hilton and reality TV, I forget how exactly.

And we were totally wearing ironic sunglasses in the mid-90s, trucker hats came along shortly thereafter, I'm sure some people had them in college because No Depression et al... Emo was a thing in the 90s too, Sunny Day real Estate anyone?
posted by fshgrl at 6:21 PM on November 12, 2012

clothing styles have really not changed from the 90's.

Completely untrue unless you are talking about the most mainstream and classic styles, especially those worn by older generations that aren't really a part of this "youth subculture" conversation. (e.g. what you would find at Wal Mart or maybe Old Navy.)

I mean, really. The only way anyone could make such an assertion is if they had not bothered to actually look at the clothes young people have worn over the last 20 years.

I hit puberty (and thus, became interested in What We Are Wearing Now) in about 1994. I graduated from high school in '99. I graduated from college in 2005 (yeah, I know, dad). Styles changed so radically between those times that, now, almost a decade after the most recent of those years, I can look at photos of myself as a "youth" and wince at my horrendous fashion choices. Trousers have ballooned out and then shrunk back in almost full circle and are now heading for another rotation. Hemlines have gone up and down so many times I sort of don't even know what to do with myself anymore. Flannel happened and then stopped happening and then happened again. Ditto leggings. Women's shirts got more fitted and then less fitted. Men's clothing in general got hugely baggy and then shrunk back to slim cuts not seen since the early 60's.

Only someone who knows nothing about fashion could claim that things haven't changed in the past 20 years.
posted by Sara C. at 8:46 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Only someone who knows nothing about fashion could claim that things haven't changed in the past 20 years.

I certainly agree that fashions have changed in a number of ways over the past 20 years, the scale of change over the past two decades in no way compares to other two-decade spans in fashion during the 20th century. I mean, just looking at popular fashions in the postwar era: the change in fashion and clothing between 1952 and 1972 was absolutely cataclysmic, literally from foundation garments to silhouettes to hemlines to accessories to fabrics to color palates. The changes from 1972 to 1992 were not as drastic in terms of foundation garments and accessories, but silhouettes, fabrics, and color palates of course continued to change significantly. The differences between the fashions of 1992 and 2012 exist, but they are -- relatively speaking -- generally subtle rather than radical.
posted by scody at 10:43 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not so much from now to the 90's, unless you make a point to choose a guy in the tightest pants possible, and even then he'd just look like one of the arty semi-punk rock kids of the 90s.

I disagree. Twenty years seems to be the tipping point at which things seem old - 2002 doesn't seem that different pop-culturally speaking, 1992 feels like ancient history. The fact that teenagers of the now are dressing up in 90s styles is a big indicator that to those younger than yourself, it was distinctly a very long time ago. Look at an early episode of Friends - it looks phenomenally dated today. (One major change I've noticed is that clothes have gotten a lot cheaper and cosmetics better for the money - along with blogs and YouTube how-tos, it means a lot of kids won't go through the awkward stage we did as teens.) In the UK, it was not common to see people dress in sportswear for non-sport activities (besides trainers) not long ago - in some areas of the country it is now the dominant style of dress.

And things go from 'cool' or 'weird' to 'normal' quicker than you realise - Starbucks was massively cool here when it opened in the late '90s; now it;s fashionable to avoid them and go to 'artisan' coffee bars, apparently. Tattoos used to be the mark of outsiders, then ear tunnels - the former are no longer something that would bar someone from gainful employment (I sometimes feel unusual for not having one) and the latter are pretty commonly seen in cities now. By the same token, transgender people and polyamorous people are more visible, if still sometimes seen as weird and deviant. I was watching Ellen recently and it took me a while to grok that in the late '90s, there actually weren't many out lesbians in Hollywood. Add on the internet and you have a massive set of pop-cultural changes over the past 20 years which have fragmented and altered things to the point that if your hypothetical 90s guy was transported to now, the familiarity might start and end with the tight pants.

I had the misfortune to be in my late teens in 98/99, when there wasn't really a subcultural movement I wanted in on, but the 00s brought us emo kids (as in the mini goth teens hugging in pink and black clothing in suburban shopping centres, not the Sunny Day Real Estate type emo that 'emo' meant in the '90s) and 'chav' as a subculture as much as a term of abuse. Dance music has been dominant since the late 80s, but like rock turned into grunge, sometime in the last five years dance birthed dubstep. A couple of years ago I noticed young black kids wearing their baseball caps in a way that was slightly perched on the head and chunky diamond studs in one ear; this year I've noticed a lot of people getting script neck tattoos; middle class kids in my area of London are wearing Jack Wills clothes and have those bushy, backcombed haircuts with tons of black eyeliner; other kids are wearing pyjamas as daywear to the extent that supermarkets have instigated 'no pyjama' policies. I'm too old or uncool to know what it all means and what it's called, but there are still youth tribes if you look hard enough.
posted by mippy at 10:07 AM on November 13, 2012

In the UK, it was not common to see people dress in sportswear for non-sport activities (besides trainers) not long ago - in some areas of the country it is now the dominant style of dress.

Yeah, but the clothes aren't new, they haven't changed. Those sweats could easily be worn by 1990's hip-hop heads, 2000 ravers, or a new group of kids today. That just supports the argument that clothes haven't really changed much in 20 years, which is a shift from the previous decades. Transport that group of guys in sweats to 1992, and people won't think they're from the future, they will think they're a b-boy group. People are remixing the same stuff. I wore pyjamas out in public, the students at UC Berkeley have worn pyjamas to school forever. Pyjamas look the same as they did years ago. That's not a new style. You could take pretty much anyone today and send them back 10 years in the past and their clothes would not be wildly out of place. Here's Helmut Lang , Gaulthier, digital prints, MiuMiu. Here's Fendi, Dior, Versace, Vera Wang. The first bunch are all from the 90's, the latter F/W 2012. Either group could swap places and not look alien. One of my favorite tumblrs is 90's runway, and you can find tons of shapes and silhouettes on it that show up today. You couldn't do that from the 80's to the 60's, or the 70's to the 40's and have anywhere near as much overlap (though there would be some if you were choosy). There's just not the same scale of fashion changes in that existed in the past. The biggest difference from runways 20 years ago is wedges and platform shoes.

Here's that Vanity Fair article that I couldn't find earlier.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:26 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Transport that group of guys in sweats to 1992, and people won't think they're from the future, they will think they're a b-boy group. People are remixing the same stuff. I wore pyjamas out in public, the students at UC Berkeley have worn pyjamas to school forever.

You're looking at this in a very American way. Tracksuits as everyday wear has a very specific cultural meaning in the UK which has been derided then reclaimed as a subculture in the past ten years or so. It was not common in the UK for people to wear sportswear with a full face of make-up or very precisely gelled hair until relatively recently, it was something one wore to do sports (ravers here went for dayglo rather than Adidas). It's hard to explain as there's a lot of political, cultural and social stuff to unpack here, but it's a very specific look and a Briton wouldn't confuse those kids with ravers or B-boys.

The 80s remixed the 50s IIRC, the 90s was really heavily influenced by the 70s in terms of Britpop fashion, I think every decade is nostalgic for the one twenty or thirty years ago.

As for the pyjamas, it's newsworthy because it's not just a student thing but something which regular people are doing to the extent that stores are now selling clothing heavily based on pyjamas. It started as a Liverpool fashion, like the fake tans and 'Scouse Brow' popular up there, and then became a look in itself.
posted by mippy at 2:40 PM on November 13, 2012

Death of the monoculture. The reason we can use cultural shorthand like 1960s = hippies, 1970s = disco and punk, etc. is that culture used to be a lot more homogeneous, with larger subcultures that were easier to identify. The pool of things people could get into was smaller since the windows of access were few. You joined subcultures in part because they were the way to get information and access to things you liked, and to communicate with others who shared your interests.

The Internet made that pool of things gigantic, and suddenly you have tons of windows of access. Idly curious about Black Flag? Download their entire discography with one web search! As a result, the culture is far more heterogeneous now than 15-20 years ago, and I think exposure to a much wider range of things has caused people's interests to become more eclectic. Consequently, they're less driven to identify with one particular subculture.

I think the reason it seems like the past 15 or so years have been basically "hipsters" is that "hipster" has become shorthand for what used to be derisively called "dilettantes." A lot of people nowadays are just into sampling things and exploring a diverse range of interests, and are therefore harder to pigeonhole. People might explore punk, grunge, disco, etc., but they're no longer defined by them.
posted by Mo' Money Moe Bandy at 10:18 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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