Barth: The Original (Theology) Hipster?

Ben Myers posted a quote from Karl Barth on Fashion the other day, where Barth considers fashion one of the lordless powers of our times:

“Who or what really determines fashion – the fashion to which man thinks he must obediently subject clothes, headgear, and hairstyle, the alternation of assurance and then of exposure first to the rather sympathetic astonishment and then to the horror and amusement of those who think they must follow the new fashion? How is it that women’s fashions change so much more quickly and solemnly and intensively than men’s?…Who wants it this way? The particular industry that tirelessly makes money out of it and whose kings, we are told, reside especially in Paris? But who has made these people the kings? What is it that has always made this industry so lucrative? How has it come about that since the end of the eighteenth century men’s clothing has become so monotonous and uninteresting? Conversely, how has it come about that world history might be presented from the standpoint of the sequence in which men have thought that they should shave or not shave their faces or adorn them with the boldest or most hideous arrangements of hair? Who inspires and directs these processes, which are not a matter of indifference to the feeling for life and all that it implies? If it is a matter of rapidly changing taste, what released spirit of the earth pulls the strings so that this fancy passes, another which is anxiously watched by millions comes and prevails, and then after a while it too departs?”

It’s an interesting critique on how fashion is determined and the powers that control these industries. And Barth’s answer seemed to be to offer his own style that was different from these powers. Barth was the original hipster with his thick glasses and awesome sweater; just another reason to not diss the cardigan. In my opinion, Barth is one awesome looking dude. See a few more hipsters here, here and here.

10 responses to “Barth: The Original (Theology) Hipster?”

  1. I think I’m going to send this quote to my 14 year old … who just wants to “fit in” … I want her to find her own style because she’s beautiful but different. She’ll never fit in … ever. And she’ll break herself trying. It’s the great ones who have their own sense of style and stand out from the crowd; those who dare to be different.

  2. I mourn for the “monotonous and uninteresting” fashion of Barth’s day. I’ll take dark suits and a tie every day over the current state of popular men’s clothing. Nice quote, btw.

  3. @Daja – haha, i have a sweater from Ohio Emily got me a long time ago that I love and feel a strong sense of loyalty too! 😉

    @Sonja – that’s a really rough age for stuff like that! A recent movie I watched and really like is called “Charlie Bartlett” and the one line in the movie is the mom saying, “there’s more to school than being popular charlie.” To which Charlie responds, “Really? Like what?” The mom has no answer. I think it’s trying to answer why wouldn’t you want to fit in that’s so tough, why is it better to be different? Ultimately, I agree with you and I never fit in, even though I wanted to. I “dared to be different” partially because I couldn’t fit in, and partially because it seemed more interesting to go against the grain. Anyways, I don’t envy you at this juncture!

    @Chase – I’m with you there. I’d would like for that be part of my regular uniform too.

  4. Is hipster the right word for him here? I typically think of hipsters as nonchalant about fashion, but the nonchalance is actually rooted in a deep concern for looking cool. Correct me if I’m wrong, but hipsters are probably the type of people Barth is describing in this quote. People spend tons of money to look like hipsters at places like Urban Outfitters.

  5. @Holly – You’re talking about HDB’s (hipster douchebags). I accept a non-pejorative definition of hipster that I believe Wess is using here.

    I was going to say earlier that John Woolman was a true hipster in the best sense of the word — he proudly wore his undyed homespun to make a unique social/political statement. That, in my opinion, is what a good hipster does.