Hipsters need nametags

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
15 March, 2019

Wellington is a small place. Everybody complains they’re always running into people they know, that it’s hard for young people to date people who haven’t been dated by their friends already, and that it’s impossible to have an impromptu coffee at Astoria without being recognised by some journalist.

Maybe that’s what’s behind the hipster drive for anonymity through identical non-conformity.

Two weeks ago, MIT Technology Review wrote a piece explaining an older research article claiming to show why non-conformists, hipsters included, all wind up looking like each other. The article was accompanied by a stock photo of the typical young bearded man wearing a beanie.

I’ve never been great with names. But two broad classes of men aged up to about 50 are certainly not helping. The younger cohort combines short-cropped hair with beards and well-tended moustaches; the older cohort hides hair loss by shaving their heads while sporting a closer-cropped beard and moustache.

When a good quarter of men in public service have identical beards and hipster attire, you lose a lot of the visual cues people otherwise use to tell faces apart. And when so many have also gone in for the waxed-skull look – there’s just no hope.

I’m not the only one too often flummoxed. They can’t even tell each other apart. 

Technology Review’s Gideon Lichfield reported last week of receiving a “furious email” in response to their article on how hipsters all look alike. The man was upset that the article had used his picture without permission. Technology Review followed up with Getty Images, only to discover that the model in the picture was not the man complaining.

Lichfield concluded, “In other words, the guy who’d threatened to sue us for misusing his image wasn’t the one in the photo. He’d misidentified himself. All of which just proves the story we ran: Hipsters look so much alike that they can’t even tell themselves apart from each other.”

So now I feel a little less bad about sometimes getting confused about just which bearded man I’ve met on Lambton Quay.

But there is a solution: name tags. Bespoke retro name tags – the old white cloth oval type with an embroidered name in cursive script sewn onto the shirt or jacket. Small enough to maintain at-a-glance anonymity at Astoria, big enough to help the person you’re talking with if you’re hiding behind a beard.

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