The Strange Case of the Hipster Headdress

In "tribal", fashion, headdress, hipsters by Adrienne K.16 Comments

(anyone know the source? I love this!) 
I think the graphic above (which I totally want on a shirt) sums it up well, but am I the only one who is baffled by the hipster headdress phenomenon? I’ve been trying to break it down, thinking back to the hippies of the past–connections to nature, to the mystical, against the mainstream, etc–but those stereotypes just don’t seem to fit with today’s hipster stereotypes. I’m guessing it’s just an iteration of the tribal fashion trends, with a little bit of the desire to be counter culture thrown in there. 

After the jump, several examples from around the internets, and examples of how indie music has hopped on the appropriation train–Juliette Lewis and the Licks and Bat for Lashes are both fans of the hipster headdress. 


(image via

Look at this F***ing Hipster (another entertaining blog) has a slideshow entitled “Someone call the Headdress Police” which is a great compilation of the many iterations of the trend, and does a nice job at pointing out the ridiculousness of it all:

I wish I could embed the slideshow, it’s kinda awesome. 

Hipsterrunoff declared Native American fashion as “big” back in 2008, though doesn’t include any headdress pics. But these pants are really nice:

Which brings us to the music scene. Two years ago Racialicious’s Jessica Yee did a great post examining Juliette Lewis and her band The Licks, and tying it back to Indigenous Feminism. It’s definitely worth a read if you have time. Juliette is fond of the “rock and roll warrior” look, which tends to include a headdress and facepaint:


(images via

 Jessica ties it back to her feminist point of view:

What I find most interesting though about all this imagery, and in particular Lewis’s choice of dress with her band, is actually coming from my raging feminist point of view. In an attempt to appear strong, raw, and unapologetic, people, and in this case, a woman, feels like she has to appropriate Native culture to a pretty extreme extent in order to do a good job of it.

So I guess that goes back to my question about the reasoning behind the hipster appropriations–are hipsters trying to be strong, raw, and unapologetic? I can see the raw and unapologetic, maybe. But are the skinny guys in skinny jeans really going for “strong”?

Juliette and the Licks aren’t the only band, the lead singer of a group (that I had admittedly never heard of) called Bat for Lashes is also big on the headdress:

(images via

Since many of these posts are from 2008, it’s interesting that the hipster headdress and the hipster-Native connection is one that has had a bit of staying power.

Semi-related: are there any self-identified Native hipsters out there? I’d love your thoughts.

UPDATE 4/27/2010: I’ve had a lot to think about since I wrote this post, so here’s a more up-to-date version of my thoughts: But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?

Related posts:

Racialicious Post on Juliette and the Licks:

Retroglo on Bat for Lashes:

  • Alia

    I listen to a ridiculous amount of Korean pop so I was very angered when the music video from Korean Rapper MC Mong came out called “Indian Boy”. You should look it up on Youtube. Seems as though negative appropriations are flourishing all over the world. What angers me more than the fact that South Korean music is stereotyping Native culture is that I have argued with people who tell me that I should “lighten up” about the music video and that they are sure that he did not mean to be racist…they tell me that in Korea, they don’t know any better and that I should stop being so “politically correct” Because they don’t see anything wrong with it, I shouldn’t.

  • Yes, that’s my drawing, and yes I’m so so so sick of the hipster headdress phenomenon! I have a different take on their reasoning for wearing them, though… Being “hip” now depends on denying context, thus the whole dependence on irony. People draw influence from places without caring to know what these places mean. They do it because it supposedly frees the garments, music, haircuts, etc from their previous context. This is similar to the Modernist movement in art, in which the artistic medium was freed from all previous meaning (abstract painters can now use paint without having to pay respects to academic painters or Renaissance painters). My problem with the whole hipster thing is that it doesn’t work! You can’t wear a Native headdress just for fun and have it mean nothing!
    Thanks for making this post and including my drawing. I’m glad to hear that someone else is just as confused as I am!

  • Synchronicity: I just read this post yesterday and today saw the photo at the top of this BBC article about Coachella:

    According to the photo info, the performer is Jonsi, who is Icelandic.

  • Ned

    With hipsters its always 1 part irony, appropriating from kitschy Native imagery like “Indian” cigar statues and basically any appropriated Native knick knacks you could buy at a gas station.
    But also I kind of think its meant to represent a kind of innocence. Maybe I’m totally off the mark here but things such as MGMT “Time to Pretend” video ( ) and Where the Wild things are. Like comparing the “savage” nature of children to Natives.

  • Anonymous

    Its clear you have an adverse reaction to ‘hipsters’ in general, but really why would you take offense to a group of people that choose to express themselves in what ever fashion they please, even if they are wearing feather headdresses? Generations of youth and decades of fashion have been inspired by time, cultures, experience and beauty. I agree with Ned, in our modern culture the age of innocence is lost, and the pressures of life heavy. The need to escape and reconnect with the inner child of feeling free, has undoubtedly become synonymous with fashion. It’s not always about what you wear, but how you wear it! Assuming that the ‘hipsters’ wearing the headdresses are not bigoted imbeciles mocking a culture, surely you would take positive connotations, that respectively they are simply nodding to the beautiful crafted arts of Native Americans, rather than the dark side of their history.

  • al oof

    sorry, anonymous, but native folks don’t get to be ‘innocent’ to their oppression, why should you?

  • Hi guys, thanks for all the comments, I’ve updated my thoughts on the hipster headdress here if you’re interested:

  • Anonymous, well, where can I start. Young ‘hipsters’ (and I even balk at the way that OLD term has been abused) are not amusing in their appropriation of anything and everything. It doesn’t free you, it cages you in a new label, like any other. Frankly… Enough already.

    (I just discovered your blog via LJ Debunking white and am so overwhelmed – it’s amazing. I’m not Native American, just an Antipodean Slav, but I totally appreciate where you’re coming from and support what you’re doing. Will keep reading with pleasure.)

  • I think you all (besides) anonymous. The whole scheme of “hipster” fashion is based on an “I will wear whatever the hell I want to wear, as long as I think it’s cool” attitude. This racist thing is oversensitive and ridiculous. Time could be better spent thinking of a better issue to get behind.
    As far as I’m concerned, this is like saying “No, I don’t think I will wear these high-tops because I am being sensitive to the African-American culture.”

  • i didn’t realize high-tops had a deep, spiritual significance to african american people.

  • Well in my opinion, as much as I think the whole hipster trend is a bit moronic, I don’t think they are doing it to offend really.
    Its sort of like, the picture of Miley Cyrus and her friends all slanting their eyes, and her Asian friend is opening his.

    To alot of people (mostly Caucasian), this offended them, but to actual Asians they saw they were having fun and it meant no harm. Thats what I saw when I saw the picture, I’m 100% Vietnamese and I didn’t feel offended at all.

    So before making a big deal of it, maybe try to see what a real native American thinks about it.
    Honestly its a trend, if anything they may be doing it to stand for the rights of Native American people. To make others aware they are still in our society, and are treated poorly. Or they just want to look cool.

    Part of the whole hipster thing is to appear “multicultural, intellectual, and trendy” they are usually into the different cultures/religions/philosophy etc.
    but they really don’t know what they are talking about most of them.

    Simply, they just like something that “separates” them from others. And why not? We all do it in one way or another. We all try so hard to be “unique” and “individual” when we really are all the same in how we feel there is this need to impress and mold ourselves to an image we perceive as “cool”.

  • Ray

    Uh-oh…new headdress sighting: .

    Kind of from and unexpected source: Kelis. Anyways, I wasn’t sure who to tell or where to go to share this…maybe someone could pass it on?


  • Ray

    Ahh, totally posted the wrong link, sorry!

  • It seems white males are very prepared to argue that Native American appropriation is okay.

  • Well he deleted his comments and apologized privately so that link doesn’t make sense anymore.

  • milkpink: “To alot of people (mostly Caucasian), this offended them, but to actual Asians they saw they were having fun and it meant no harm.”

    Uhhh, who are these self-loathing Asians who are clearly in denial? Are you Asian yourself? If not, then don’t pretend to speak for us because your one Asian friend wants to say they’re not offended by it because they’re trying to fit in with white people.

    I’m Asian and all my Asian friends were HIGHLY offended.