By Rachelle Bergstein.
In May 2015, the New York Times published a story about modern-day yuppies: Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals known for their unapologetic consumerism.
In the 1980s, when the label “yuppie” first emerged as a lighthearted slur, they were often bankers and other Wall Street-types who loved cars, clothes, accessories and gadgets (Patrick Bateman, antihero of Brett Easton Ellis’s bloody satire American Psycho, is frequently mentioned as the quintessential pop culture example – minus the murder, of course.) The author of the Times piece invoked hipsters – stereotypically bearded, tattooed and pierced Gen X-ers and millennials living in big cities – as the yuppies’ not-so-distant cousins, equally materialistic but motivated by different markers of status and success: “All but the most bohemian of hipsters still relish the trappings of late capitalism…the designer jeans and Chuck Taylors, the small batch bourbon and maple-marinated tempeh, the borrowed HBO Go password and cracked-screen iPhone.”
Now, PwC’s 2016 Holiday Outlook confirms that hipsters – defined as “upwardly mobile, college-educated millennials living in enclaves such as Austin, Brooklyn, Oakland and Portland” – will spend an average of $500 more than their peers during the upcoming holiday season. The report is optimistic in tone, predicting a 10% increase in holiday sales over the 2015 season, with hipsters characterized as particularly sanguine about the economy in general. Thirty-three percent of respondents from this demographic describe financial conditions as improved since last year, compared to 26% of consumers overall. Hipsters expect to lay out an average of $1670 this holiday; PwC reports that the national forecast is $1121. Although, to be fair – the hipster’s budget is not all reserved for gifts in the traditional sense. These particular consumers admit to setting aside a third of their budget, or about $553 (compared to $285) to buy things like “footwear and apparel; personal and home electronics; and vacation travel” for themselves.
Cue the jokes about self-centered hipsters, a present-day echo of yuppie scum. In truth, young city dwellers likely carry fewer financial burdens (mortgages, multiple car payments, children, medical expenses, retirement saving) than older, family-oriented homeowners holding it down in the ‘burbs. So how do retailers attract these relatively freewheeling customers? PwC found that somewhat unsurprisingly, they’re big online shoppers, who tend to discover brands by way of influencers and social media instead of the old way: on television. Yet hipsters will also make the effort to visit brick and mortar locations: “these well-heeled customers are more likely than shoppers overall to seek out luxury and specialty stores.”
Hipsters, like the yuppies before them, are a small consumer category with substantial cultural influence and major buying power. And, at least in theory, they’d like to use their position to do good. The report finds that a quarter of hipsters will give more to causes this year than they did last year, compared to 20% of the general group. They’re also more likely to seek out brands that are charitable or otherwise demonstrate a positive global impact.
I write about shoes, diamonds and other objects of obsession. I am the author of two books on the intersection of fashion, business, celebrity and culture. The first, Women From the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us (HarperCollins, 2012) was called “wickedly provocative” by Kirkus, “fleet-footed” by the New York Times, and was named one of Janet Maslin’s top beach reads of Summer 2012. My second book, Brilliance and Fire: A Biography of Diamonds (HarperCollins, 2016) was called “exhilarating” by the Wall Street Journal, was picked as one of Amazon’s top nonfiction titles of the month, and was featured in best of summer lists at Harper’s Bazaar and The Knot. I have appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Marketplace, and have been interviewed for WSJ Lunch Break and Yahoo Finance. In 2012, I traveled the country giving presentations on the topic of women and shoes. I live with my husband and our son in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.