As I was walking to pick up my lunch I saw a hipster waiting to cross 56th Street wearing a yellow T-shirt with a faded decal that read “Supermom.” Once the point of wearing a patently inappropriate shirt like this was to signify that you didn’t care how you looked in public, that you’d throw on any old thing and go outside. It signified that you were indifferent to what other people thought. But when the shirt, despite fitting into the old threadbare genre, is obviously something that you couldn’t have had lying around, wearing it then signifies the opposite: that you care a lot about other people noticing you. It’s always hard for me to fathom, but people do respect that kind of effort, they respect someone who dresses up for their approval — perhaps it flatters them. But what this does is make every old T-shirt seem like an effort to earn attention rather than an expression of actual expediency, and suddenly those people who thought they were eluding the game by just wearing any old thing now discover that they are regarded as playing the game, and merely playing it badly. Of course, this may be true simply by virtue of consenting to appear on a Manhattan street.
But this is why the hipster is more than simply a parasite and a harmless narcissist. The hipster preys on all forms of indifference to fashion and expressions of authenticity, and inadvertently does the work of ruining them, making all signs of indifference into salvish adherence to fashion, all attempts at sincerity seem contrived. A hipster in your midst makes everyone around you, including yourself, a suspected phony. The hipster makes everyone he knows seem like they are trying to hard.