Young man of Athens, your vanity peeps from the holes in your robe!
-Socrates to Antisthenes
Earlier this month, I had two Friday evenings in a row which required hurrying directly from my standing Bavarian gig in Newbury Park to the geographic and cultural center of Los Angeles to give performances more in line with the aesthetics of my life's work: first with a one-off improvising group assembled by Garrett Hickman at the Hyperion Tavern; and subsequently to celebrate the unusual occasion of three Evil Geniuses being in the same city at the same time.
In both cases I chose to remain in my "work clothes" rather than change out of them (no small task) and risk being late. I have previously made a few perfunctory appearances at parties and bars wearing this outfit, and I thereby have learned to expect not ridicule, as I initially feared, but rather adulation, including occasional heightened interest from the opposite sex. The preponderance of evidence coalesced rather decisively one Saturday last summer when two of us wore our full Bavarian garb into the diviest of dive bars, deep in The Valley, complete with "regulars" who looked like death and horses parked outside in a strip mall parking lot. I thought we were not coming out of that bar alive, or at least not with all of our possessions, dignity, and teeth intact; in fact we were literally treated like royalty, were profligately photographed, and were told that our appearance would not soon be forgotten.
On one level I am thankful for all of this, but ultimately of course it merely confirms so much about world and culture that we would change if we could. Any yokel with a few hundred dollars of disposable income can purchase some German clothes and strut all around Southern California wearing them, whereas not just anyone can make something of themselves, or at least not without putting in quite a bit more time and effort. And yet, if you want people's attention and admiration, preliminary results strongly suggest you'd be better served opting for the funny clothes and leaving the hard work of perfecting art and craft to the foolhardy and the narcissistic.
In any case, by the time of my recent calendrical near-collisions, I had long overcome any fear of appearing in my work clothes outside of work. I also knew given the venues that I would probably not be the only one up to some sartorial mischief. In fact, this was the ideal chance to play at being a hipster while ultimately possessing an airtight alibi to any such accusations. After all, those clothes help me pay my rent each month and the cost of purchasing them was a 100% legitimate tax write-off last year. No hipster can say that about their various thrift store raids.
I pulled a similar stunt when the geniuses at PSC decided to strictly enforce the company's grooming policy at Oakwood (incidentally the contract of theirs which undoubtedly boasts the most hipsters per capita, laying bare the obliviousness at play). Thus forbidden from having facial hair below the lip, I resolved to grow the thickest, nastiest cop-stache that heredity would allow. As with the funny clothes, the only feedback I ever heard with my own ears was positive, and as it also forced me to play with less pressure, I discovered a marginal practical excuse as well. (A trombone colleague told me he gets "that mustache sound" under such circumstances and immediately goes to shave, but as with most every other embouchure question, tubists seem able to get away with pretty much whatever we want.)
The very word "hipster" has of course been thoroughly worn out over the past several years, but it is a real phenomenon and we really ought to call it out when we see it. I will always view it as superficial, defensive, and a path of least resistance. However, having somewhat accidentally conducted the fieldwork related above, I will no longer view it as ineffective in any of those ways.