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Ya Hip?

December 4, 2008 By:
Frank Rosci, JE Feature
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Experts agree that being hip is about having an "in" outlook, a certain "with-it" stance that identifies one as cutting-edge, contemporary, "in sync" with the times and even a bit ahead of the popular-culture curve.

While the word "hip" is used most often in connection with young and younger people, there are a number of older people, too -- those in the film and fashion industries, for example -- who have, and still do, fill the hipster bill, dressing stylishly in the signature black of the in-the-know set.

But, in general, as people age, does being hip fade away, black clothes notwithstanding? Does it have to? And is it ever too late -- because of age, personal views and self-image, and the perceptions of others -- for Jewish men and women, specifically, to consider themselves hip and to be considered hip?

"Hip to me means being willing to take a bit of a risk and not being conservative. But it's not what you wear; it's how you wear it," said Israeli-born fashion designer Yigal Azrouel, who now lives in New York. "Anybody can be hip at any age because it's about personality, and all about having confidence."

But being outrageous is not being hip, the designer warned. It's much more about being natural, he noted.

At the Art Institute of Philadelphia, fashion-design instructor Karen Karuza remarked that it's never too late for people to be hip but, in reality, some people have hipness and some don't.

"Hip is really an inherent quality that some people have naturally, a kind of streetwise savviness, an inquisitiveness they possess, while some others don't have it and never will. James Dean was hip, and the Beatles were. Paul McCartney, now in his late 60s, is still hip.

"But there is a fine line between being hip by nature and forcing it, as when people think they're hip if they can discuss trendy topics at cocktail parties and in art galleries, after having stored up a few timely facts from Newsweek, for example, or the day's newspaper. That's not hip; it's just shallow and flashy.

"You can style hip but you can't force it. If you do, it comes off looking phony and artificial," concluded Karuza.

As for how hip meshes with ethnicity and age limits, she said people of any ethnic background and at any age can be hip. "I have a friend who's in her 90s, who stays on top of fashion and politics, who has her pulse on the moment and who maintains a worldview, so I'd say she is still very hip," stated Karuza.

Professor David Berg, behavioral sciences department, Community College of Philadelphia, talked about hip in academic and colloquial terms.

"According to [the late psychoanalyst Erik] Erikson, identity formation -- that is, what a person is and what that person believes -- takes place during the adolescent years, so that every group, every cohort going through adolescence tries to achieve its own uniqueness, whether through movies, art, personality or language, words, such as, 'square' from the '50s, 'groovy' from the '60s, 'it's real' from the '70s and 'phat' today.

"In this set of criteria are judgments about how well you and others do these things, how well you and they fit into being right up there. And it's all relative within your age group by time, culture and society, among men and women.

"So any people can be hip, absolutely, at any age by doing things, for instance, that are up to date, like being a technical wizard," explained Berg.

However, he continued, it's difficult to achieve being hip outside your cohort. If someone older were to dress up in clothes worn by today's young people and go to a music club frequented by young people, the older person would be recognized as being out of place, he said.

"If I were to show up at one of the clubs dressed like that, people would look at me like I'd lost it. You can't fake being hip, except within your own cohort, because each cohort identifies and judges its own members, and may let you get away with your act, without pointing out that you are a b.s. artist, if it can keep from laughing.

"But when you see someone in a suit and tie that fit perfectly, an older person like Clint Eastwood, for example -- that person is judged to be hip by almost every group," asserted Berg.

The Wharton School's Jonah Berger, an assistant professor of marketing with a psychology background, said that being hip is about being able to imagine what's going on and what's cool and, in a temporal sense, being in the know.

"Hip does depend, at times, on the situation, because people aren't born hip. It's partly their experience in an area, and in a cultural area or within a subcultural group, such as computer geeks, and within a time period.

"If time and effort are spent," he continued, "it can be gained and truly learned, through interaction with people who know that area. It's what sociologists call having 'cultural capital.' "

Berger said that it's how people communicate their identity, whether it's the music they like, buying the right car, having a certain hairstyle and wearing shoes that are in. "But being hip has an organic quality to it and a sense of style, so faking it is hard because people can tell when someone is trying too hard."

Being hip is not a class thing; it's not an age thing either, added Berger.

About hipness, gender and age, Patty Isen of Bryn Mawr, a fashion-conscious board member of the Wellness Community of Philadelphia, said: "I don't think it's ever too late for people, including Jewish women and men, to consider themselves hip, and to have other people think of them in that way, as long as they have the right attitude about it."

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