Just about anyone can recognize a hipster counter-culture type from a mile away. All the signs are there: Lots of cool body ink, maybe a pair of combat boots, some torn black tights, a cool beanie or a retro flannel shirt. Don’t forget the occasional do-rag.
These people are trying hard to be different, to look different. But an obvious paradox soon presents itself. If all of these people are doing the same thing to be different – well, then, how come they are all acting alike?
Doing the same thing is the definition of conformity, just what cool people are trying to rebel against!
Well, now a French mathematician thinks he has an answer. Jonathan Touboul of the Collège de France says an understanding of nonlinear dynamics can explain why counter-culture types tend to adopt similar habits of appearance.
Touboul says that when people observe trends in society, there is a delay in how soon they make specific points of identification. Then large groups of people end up all attempting to oppose mainstream conventions – but they do so by all adopting the same specific differences to make their rebellious statements!
The problem is, according to Touboul, that people cannot be aware of what other people are deciding in real time. Rather, we all must wait to see what develops, then identify key points in those developments – and then adopt them.
The result is that whole groups of people all tend to look more or less the same in terms of a variety of appearance factors, from men sporting a ponytail or man bun, to girls who “go Goth” or put rings in their noses, eyebrows and tongues.
There is some complex mathematical modeling to back up Touboul’s theory.
So the next time you don a pair of skinny jeans, black horn-rimmed glasses and scraggly beard to make a trip to the coffee shop, don’t be surprised if you see a half-dozen other “trend setters’ already dressed just like you.