Words Matter: 3 Key Distinctions Between Indie vs Hipster

image of group of people dressed differently

*This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Indie vs Hipster: The two terms have survived generations, and yet, to this day, many people don’t understand the difference between them. There are plenty of terms for particular subsets of culture and, unless you are surrounded by it daily, knowing what’s what can often be challenging. It can be difficult, for example, to tell a punk from a goth, a Harajuku from a Lolita, a yuppie from a business professional.

Unfortunately, it’s often more difficult to discern between the indie and the hipster than it is between most other subculture dichotomies. The two will sometimes share the same characteristics and even espouse the same ideas. So, can indie be hipster? Can hipster be indie? Are they the same thing or are there true differences between them? Are you wondering if you yourself are one or the other? Read on to find out.

hipster icon

Indie and Hipster?

The terms “Indie” and “Hipster” have been around a very long time, originating some time in the 1940s. They are a product of the Jazz movement of the 1940s and describe both a sensibility and a style employed by people in music, art, and business. Both terms can be used as a noun or an adjective, such as calling a person a hipster (noun) or describing something as having a hipster style (adjective). “Indie” is short for “independent,” and is most often used regarding anything without a corporate or big business origin. Hipster is most often associated with anything that is of a burgeoning trend that has yet to be accepted by the mainstream.

To the average person, the indie vs hipster distinction is very minor. In fact, they are often used interchangeably to express anti-conformity and innovativeness. This makes sense because both arose from subcultures that were very distant from the mainstream.

Looking at the typical indie or hipster person, it’s often apparent that they reject everything popular. They have a distinct style that sets them apart from everyone else, and their tastes tend toward the eclectic. Both have influenced art, music, and fashion.

It doesn’t take much investigating, though, to see that there are distinct differences between the indie and the hipster. To some, confusing one term with the other is tantamount to calling an Australian a Kiwi! In other words, it’s best not to label until you have your facts straight.

man with hipster fashion

image via Pexels

hipster icon

Why Learn the Difference Between the Indie and the Hipster?

Knowing the difference between the two cultures will help you navigate how to deal or interact with the two subcultures. While both are nonconforming to the mainstream culture, the indie vibe is distinctly unique and individual, while the hipster vibe is more group-like, with its own traits and conventions. Remember, though, that these terms can be applied not just to people, but also to many aspects of day-to-day life.

Indie vs Hipster Businesses

Perhaps the most obvious location that people associate with both subcultures is the coffeehouse. Once upon a time, if you wanted a cup of coffee, you went to a diner or donut shop. When you ordered coffee, your could drink it black or with cream and sugar.

Though it might be hard to believe, Starbucks started out as an indie business that attracted the hipster crowd. As it grew in popularity and became more mainstream, the hipsters who had made it successful suddenly disappeared. It had become too mainstream for their taste. They abandoned their longtime hangout and sought other, smaller coffeehouses.

Around the same time, many other independent coffeehouses started springing up. Starbucks had lost its indie status, having fully transitioned into a corporation with its own strict guidelines for every addition to its rapidly expanding coffeehouse empire. The same can be said for a good deal of indie coffee houses that franchised. Still, if you look around any town or city,  there’s a very good chance that you’ll find an indie coffeehouse competing with the local Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee.

What separates these small, independently owned coffee shops from ones considered hipster? It might be in the way the coffee is served or brewed. A hipster shop might use the latest machinery that hasn’t het become ubiquitous across the market. They might not only sell coffee, but have a retro arcade inside. The decor might follow the hottest trends, changing every few months to keep up with the prevailing styles. It might even be entirely determined by the clientele, who will invariably move onto another coffeehouse when theirs becomes too well known.

lady drinking starbucks coffee

image via Pexels

Indie vs Hipster Music

Once again, the two cultures very often start at the same point. An indie label is self-financed and doesn’t answer to one of the major labels. They sign a band and put out a record or two, and the band gains a following. This following might consider themselves hipsters, as they are likely to be trendsetters—but never trendy.

When the band attracts the attention of a major label, it can no longer be considered “indie.” The hipsters, however, will still claim to be fans. It’s only when an album goes platinum, with songs getting huge radio airplay and concerts quickly selling out larger venues, that the average hipster will finally desert and follow someone else. This happens even when the music the band has been making is exactly the same as when they got signed to the indie label.

As for the labels themselves, it’s possible for an indie label to get purchased outright by a larger one that will still sign indie bands. In that case, the band will stay indie, despite the label becoming something else. Hipsters might gravitate towards a major label band too, but never at the peak of popularity. Instead, they might start supporting a once popular band as a way of saying, “We like them even though the masses have abandoned them.”

Until, of course, the masses come back and the band regains its popularity.

person guitarist playing guitar

image via Pixabay

Indie vs Hipster Fashion

With fashion, there is a more noticeable difference between the hipster and the indie. The indie vibe is more retro; often a thrift store approach. Clothes are second hand, worn in unique combinations that have a crafted feel. The indie person does not care what the trend is, was, or going to be. They wear what they like and aren’t looking for acceptance.

The fashion of a hipster is very much about standing out and being unique, even if that means conforming to the conventions of other hipsters. While they might also wear vintage clothes, it’s with a modern twist and not thrown together haphazardly. It’s how a businessman might wear a bow tie when everyone else in the office doesn’t or slim leg trousers and with a fitted shirt instead of the traditional look.

Once others adopt this look, the hipster will quickly find something else to set their look apart while still riding the edges of conformity. One reason the well-groomed and sculpted beard or mustache has become a lasting trend for hipsters is that most men don’t have the patience, ability, or comfort to keep with it. If it were suddenly to become the norm, the hipster would probably be the first to shave it all off.

lady fashion photography

image via Pixabay

hipster icon

More Differences Between the Indie and the Hipster

When looked at more closely, the indie vs hipster differences are fairly easy to spot. Here is a handy guide to the more obvious differences.

  • Indie is unique almost to a fault, fiercely following only its own rules
  • Hipster is unique compared only to the mainstream, as it has its own norms and conventions
  • Indie is often associated with retro, nature, and harmony within
  • Hipsters set the trends, which can be as high tech as the newest phone and as retro as vinyl records
  • The indie spirit is timeless and very much up to the individual
  • The Hipster vibe is ahead of the curve and needs a group to validate the trends that are being set
  • The indie music lover is happy to share their tastes and isn’t critical so long as the music speaks to them
  • The hipster will scold you for your taste in music
  • Indie is anti-corporate
  • Hipster is anti-mainstream, no matter the source

hipster icon


The Indie vibe, lifestyle, and ethos is one that refuses to be bought and turned into a cookie-cutter, mass-produced entity. The simplest way to identify something as indie is to recognize it for its uniqueness. Most things indie will proudly identify themselves as such.  The hipster vibe is to conform to a look, style, and attitude that sets itself apart from the mainstream while still being part of a larger group. Identifying something as hipster requires not just that it be recognized as something unique, but also that it can be noticed popping up more than expected without dominating the scene. A hipster would never identify with something that becomes too popular. Once a trend is identifiable and easily purchased, it is no longer hip.

So the next time you walk into a Starbucks and ask, “Indie vs hipster: Which one is my barista?” look for the subtle details. Would an indie person work for such a large corporation? Possibly, and if they are bopping along to the tunes playing over the speaker, the possibility is strong. Did they bristle at your pedestrian coffee order and then suggest something out of the ordinary? In that case, probably a hipster.

So, are you yourself indie? Hipster? If you’re a regular at the local Starbucks, the answer is neither!

Icons via Flaticon

Recent Posts