Illustration by Andrew R. Wright
I have a purse that looks like a small bowling bag with a fuchsia shoulder strap and teeny tiny Disney characters repeated in neat rows all over it. There's Mickey and Minnie and Pooh and Tink and Sheriff Woody. I carry it because I love everything Disney and I think it's adorable and because my kids gave it to me for Christmas.
This makes me a dork.
Now, if you were to take this same purse and put it in the hands of a 19-year-old VCU student (let's call her Chloe), who is wearing knee-high socks, red kissy-lip sunglasses and a blouse with a Peter Pan collar, and she's rocking a squirrel tattoo, then the purse suddenly becomes ironic and, therefore, a statement.
This makes Chloe a hipster.
Our friend will not admit to being a hipster. She and her hipster friends will probably deny the very existence of hipsters, but make no mistake, she is one. She loved that band way before you ever heard of them, but now that you like them, she only listens to their early stuff. On vinyl, of course. She studies fashion design, is vegan, collects "tiny things" and has a Tumblr.
There are a lot of Chloes in Richmond. And in case you hadn't noticed, Richmond has become a hipster town. I can just hear the collective groan from the hipster community, except let's be honest: They're not reading Richmond magazine. So we can speak freely here.
If you don't believe that Richmond is officially a hipster town, just ask the Queen Mother of Hipster Towns, Austin, Texas, which recently sort of passed the crown to Richmond in an online magazine.
Just look around you. When was the last time a tattooless person served you food or cut your hair? (Richmond, as we learned last year, is the third most tattooed city in the United States.) Food trucks everywhere, young people with skinny jeans and earlobes stretched to the size of saucers, women's roller-derby leagues and, coming in July to Strange Matter (the epicenter of hipsterism in RVA), an air sex competition. It's like air guitar, only with humping.
I love this kind of energy in a city, but I'm sure not everyone does. Remember the old joke about how many Richmonders it takes to change a light bulb? Five. One to screw in the light bulb and four to talk about how great the old light bulb was. Well, the other part of that joke should be about how they resent the new light bulb, because it's a newfangled, spiral CFL. The hipster of light bulbs.
"Old Richmond" folks might not want to believe that the days of Style Weekly's "You're Very Richmond If" being dominated with phrases like "You only know women with two first names," or "You ask, ‘Who was your mother?' when meeting someone new," are pretty much over. Or at least they must now share space with "You're very Richmond if you went into a decline after the closing of Nate's Taco Truck," or "You've been photographed for Dirty Richmond."
For at least as long as I have been here, which is 20 years, there has always been a kind of schizophrenic tug-of-war for the defining character of Richmond. Is it a well-to-do, St. Paul's, gold flats, tennis skirts, Windsor Farms, cotillion, Miller & Rhoads/Thalhimers, Monument Avenue, bowtie kind of town? Or is it a tattooed, multipierced, Grace Street, Biograph, World of Mirth, Sticky Rice, Lamplighters, moped-gang, vintage-clothing and homemade-bicycles kind of town?
The truth is, it's both. We are the Sybil of cities, and our identities are each authentically Richmond. But at least for right now, it's our hipster side that has the momentum. We are gaining a national reputation as a hipster town, which trumps our previous national reputation of no reputation at all.
It almost makes me want to take off my tennis skirt and dig out my vintage Cascade Lanes bowling shirt with the name Kay embroidered on the lapel and wear it in public.
Ironically, of course.