Becoming the hipster antithesis

BY TERRY MATTINGLY Published: June 28, 2012

Christopher Kerzich is preparing to permanently embrace a truly retro, timeless look.

The basics -- black jacket, black pants and black shirt -- will be stark and radical, providing a kind of "this is who I am" vibe. Black fedoras, scarves and long overcoats are optional. For accessories, he'll have a silver cross and a white collar.

In other words, Kerzich is a seminarian at the North American College in Rome, preparing for his 2014 ordination as a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Although this wardrobe will stand out in almost any crowd, the last thing Kerzich expects to be is "hip." If anything, he hopes people his age and younger will see him as the antithesis of hip, which he believes will help him relate to the masses of fashionable young people known as "hipsters."

"If you are going to try to reach out to hipsters, the main thing you have to be is authentic. You have to be real. You have to be rooted in your faith," said the 28-year-old seminarian, during a recent home visit. "The one thing you cannot try to be is hip. You can't try to be something you're not. That would be a fatal mistake."

Defining the term "hipster" is a task that has baffled researchers -- from advertising executives to college administrators. Kerzich finds it interesting that whenever he types a word like "hipsterdom" into his computer, the software underlines the term with the red, squiggly line that suggests it is not a real word.

The problem is that hipsters do exist, and their culture is real -- and growing. If religious leaders want to understand what is happening, Kerzich said, they must realize that there is more to the hipster ethos than Rat Pack hats, '50s dresses, plaid blazers, skinny ties, skinny jeans, rumpled hair, flashy accessories and occasional flashes of androgyny.

In his book, "Hipster Christianity," the evangelical writer Brett McCracken noted: "The only real requisite to being a hipster is a commitment to total freedom from labels, norms and imposed constraints of any kind. And this attitude must be very public, which is why hipsters are fairly easy to spot. ... The hardest part of the whole endeavor is also the most crucial: they must look like they don't care how they look."

There is more to this stance than mere appearances, he stressed. While there is no hipster creed, there are common attitudes.

"Chief among them is the instinct to be better than anyone else," noted McCracken. "Hipsters view any sort of prescribed system or hierarchy as absurd. ... They project themselves as being totally independent of any controlling influence, and masters over their own life and meaning."