Hipster detox: Full assessment

We asked our resident cool guy to ditch the Union Pool--and-Proust lifestyle for two weeks, to find out where the image ends and the man begins.



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I resent being labeled a hipster. Just because I don't dress like a preppy douche bag or listen to the pop garbage that pervades the airwaves? C'mon. Anyone with even an ounce of good taste can appreciate those choices. And so what if I'm a bit of a Francophile, have seen Quadrophenia a billion times and prefer PBRs at Union Pool to Grey Goose martinis at some obnoxious uptown bar? Common sense. And while it's true that most of my friends look like androgynous, malnourished waifs in ill-fitting denim, I don't think that necessarily means that I too fall under that sardonic idiom...does it?

Apparently, being a hipster also involves having a talent for self-deception, because the powers that be at TONY thought me hipster enough to take up the challenge of a two-week detox, in an attempt to make me step back from my ironically stylish self to see what I'd find. And I started with...


Aren't "regular people" supposed to wear, like, khakis or something? I eschewed my regular slim Levi's, thrift-store T-shirts and all-black Converse in favor of dress pants, button-down shirts and Ferragamos. The comments at work quickly grew tedious. I started entertaining myself by making up outlandish explanations for the new look: job interview at JPMorgan; became a Jehovah's Witness; went to rehab. However, as time passed, I noted an unexpectedly consistent reaction. No matter how retardedly out of character I dressed, people still insisted that I looked stylish. One day, I wore Kmart boating shoes with no socks, pleated shorts and a white polo shirt with a popped-out collar—a sort of deranged-yachtsman look—and people still said that I wore it well. Probably they were just trying to be polite, but I also like to think that hipsterdom necessitates a certain devil-may-care swagger that helps you wear anything with confidence. Is there any other way to explain how guys cruising down Bedford Avenue shoehorned into jeans that would look tight on a ten-year-old girl still manage to (sometimes) pull it off? I looked forward to returning to my slacker gear—though I am definitely keeping the boat shoes.


Normally, I'm something of a book snob. I prefer reading—translated, of course—authors like Jean Genet or Hermann Broch to Dan Brown and David Baldacci. So it was with some trepidation that I entered Borders and purchased a Star Wars novel and a copy of Maxim. Reading these gems on the L train was humiliating. I wear my cultural trappings as a badge of pride, and apparently, I also like to impress people whose opinions I claim not to care about. Truth be told, I found myself enjoying tales from a galaxy far, far away. Despite the fact that they were written on a third-grade level, the lack of existential conflict and postmodern window dressing was refreshing. And the lightsabers were cool too. Maxim, it should be noted, was less revelatory, although I did learn six important tips on how to make a successful sex tape. I will be going back to The New Yorker and Harper's, but I'm also going to make time for nerding out in sci-fi land.


I long ago lost any discernible criteria for judging what is actually good. For this experiment, I threw aside the creative noise of Lightning Bolt and An Albatross for the ballads of Springsteen. A funny thing happened: I realized that I really, really love Springsteen. Yes, even "Secret Garden"--style Bruce.


In the course of trying to figure out how much of Drew Toal is genuine handsome rake and how much is just hipster ephemera, I started to consider how many of my friends I had lost touch with merely because we don't share the same interests. I looked up an old high-school pal who lives in Soho, works at Merrill Lynch and frequents places that likely wouldn't let me within ten feet of the front door. We caught up, fell into our old routine, and not once did our many superficial differences become an issue. We enjoyed some Patrn margaritas and shit-talked girls who wouldn't look at us in high school. Naturally, he paid for the booze, since I am dead broke. It was one of the better times I have had in quite a while. Will my friend and I hang out again? I hope so. Maybe he can hire me as his valet or something.

I've been given a lot to think about, especially since I'm not getting any younger and I don't know that I want to be living the life of a broke, pretentious clown when I'm 40. Fortunately New York is a neverland for people like me, and there's no real rush to embrace adulthood. For now, I will continue to be a beacon of fantastic/abysmal cultural wherewithal and empty pockets—a hipster, and proud.

Photos: Cinzia Reale-Castello

Before Hipster Drew sticks it to the Man by trading witty bons mots with the literati, smelling like a spicy old sailor and showing off his junk in ball-strangling denim.

After Post-hipster Drew tries his hardest to become a "reg" (his hipster slang for regular person).

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