Someone is moving toward you; at first glance, it’s indiscernible whether the figure is male or female, but, regardless, the jeans are cigarette-leg skinny. The ankle-length cowboy boots on this figure continue the trek, who is also sporting an ironic T-shirt with a plaid, flannel button-down left open and layered on top. Buddy Holly-inspired glasses (not necessarily prescribed for improved vision) and a well-worn leather carry-all satchel complete this air of uncaring. Alas, a hipster is approaching.
The hipster can be your friend though! Growing up in Manhattan and attending an artsy high school taught me quite a bit about what it means to be a hipster, and it’s definitely about more than just appearances (though if you can breathe, then your jeans aren’t tight enough). That I prefer handwriting my class notes in uniquely designed notebooks merely toes the line of hipster-dom; true hipster status would culminate in writing every essay by hand, on recycled, handmade, flower-pressed paper, obviously.
Across the pond, a similar ironic lifestyle grows in more meticulously plotted soil — Paris, France. Coined by David Brooks in his comic sociological reflection “Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class And How They Got There,” the “Bourgeois-Bohème,” or bobos, present a synthesis of the liberal idealism of the 1960s and the self-interest of the 1980s. After spending the second semester of my junior year abroad in Paris, I know the bobos très well.
Even though my New York experiences have desensitized me to the sometimes-shocking exploits of hipsters, I was fascinated to see that the Parisian bobo does not fall far from the American Apparel-outfitted tree. The distinction lies in their desire to create a better society by spreading their personal tastes and beliefs.
Bobos and hipsters share similar points of view, one being the resentment of mainstream societal conventions applicable to dating preferences. The muscular and athletic male ideal is no longer attractive to chic and cultured bobo women, who instead seem to prefer the ability to share apparel with their slender mate. One night at “Social Club,” a popular and eclectic nightclub for young Parisians, I found myself in the thick of romantic scenarios where traditional rules of attraction did not at all apply.
Bobos are the tip of Parisian tastemakers. The best spot to bobo-watch is the Ninth Arrondissement — citadel of bobo cool. You’ll find restaurants created around retro schoolroom furniture and menus that strum the chords of smart eating, rustic sophistication and childhood nostalgia. Most venues are modeled around the bobos’ deep passion for New York City, with an artistic décor that’s meant to evoke vibes of SoHo.
Bobo yuppies claim highly tolerant views of others and purchase expensive and exotic items, arguing their aversion to blatant consumption and emphasizing the necessities of life. They feel for the working class, referring to money as a means to achieve their ends rather than considering affluence as an optimal end itself.
While I was already in a constant state of awe regarding the complementary daily fashion shows occurring on every street, I observed that the bobos had truly mastered the Parisian chic mentality, combining unique pieces with expensive brand names, blurring our ability to tell where one ends and the other begins.
Politics are not a strong point for bobos. Hipsters cannot be pinned to one party over another, but the bobo is at once a social liberal and an economic conservative, promoting freedom and justice for all, but ignoring economic inequalities.
Like hipsters, bobos consider the wealthy to be relatives of Philistines, equipped with money but not with the nose for culture.
They chew on organic food, don all-natural cottons, but can’t seem to live without their iPhones, pondering the road to enlightenment.
As the American masses seem to be growing weary of hipsters, criticizing young people for joining a wannabe fringe movement in a post-war era (i.e. beatniks, hippies, punks, etc), the bobo provides a fresh face, and perhaps a new lifestyle to ultimately attack.
The bobo is far less ostracized for their status as an “other” though, receiving a modern and less negative connotation. As a fusion of ’60s counterculture and ’80s entrepreneurial materialism, they have created their own comfortable contortion of capitalism, proving that your career can be something you love: a good morality for building a decent society.
While I may not qualify as a total hipster (my favorite beer sadly does not include Pabst Blue Ribbon), my friends seem to be correct in mocking some of my actions and habits. But if being a hipster means hanging out at fashionable coffee shops, indie rock shows and underground dance clubs, where do I sign up? For me, the ultimate debate is now New York versus Paris: My home is in the former, my heart in the latter. Whether with hipsters or bobos, either way I know I’ll feel among friends.