On the eve of Mashrou’ Leila’s concert in Baalbek two summers ago, a pair of Lebanese friends scoffed at the kind of people they expected to go see alternative Arabic music. “They’re all hipsters,” they said.
Hipster: the word for contemporary urban youth enslaved to trends – ones like mustaches, thick-rimmed glasses and pretentious diets that include vegan ice cream and craft beer. It’s an insult. And my friends surely meant it as such.
Likely, those same friends would have been compelled to call many of the 2,300 people who gathered for Saturday’s Redbull Soundclash by the same slur. The event pitted Mashrou’ Leila against Lebanese rock band Who Killed Bruce Lee in very friendly musical contest (which wound up in a tie).
Wading through the packed standing audience at Forum de Beyrouth, I squeezed passed girls with shaved heads and brightly colored lipstick, tall guys in fedoras and thigh-baring shorts. While hipster fashion might be commercialized and inescapable nearly everywhere else in the world, here it is actually alternative when compared to the ultrafeminine beauty trends that pervade most of society. Think hair extensions, plastic surgery and teetering platform heels.
Dare I say, hipster style in Beirut might even be a genuine subculture.
In terms of fashion, hipsters here are breaking down gender norms that have never been challenged before. The number of women bold and yet comfortable enough to shave their heads in Beirut has grown exponentially in the past two years.
Pixie cuts were a mainstay Saturday night. There were feminized versions with lots of volume and styling. There were minimalist adaptations and punky ones with gelled faux-hawks formed in the center (think Haley Berry.)
They had dressed up their short dos with bright lipstick, dangling earrings grazing their shoulders, skirts, belly tops and girlish printed rompers. There were also women who opted out of feminizing the cut altogether, forgoing makeup and throwing on a pair of sneakers.
The best sign that short hair is making serious dents in the local beauty canon was a woman who had braided her otherwise long hair into a mohawk to keep up appearances.
The first generation of women to chop their hair off is often associated with a wave of women’s liberation. Of course, one concert worth of short-coiffed ladies is not enough to make any sort of social critique. But certainly in terms of personal style, a beauty climate that now accepts girls with all shapes of funky, short hair is something new and something liberating.
One short-haired woman at concert told me it freed her from having to think about what to wear Saturday night. Shockingly short hair and red lipstick are about all she needs to make a fashion statement. She paired it with a white T-shirt and jeans.
Stylish ladies weren’t only standing in the audience. Franco-Moroccan singer Hindi Zahra brought her sultry Jazz-era alto voice and an unorthodox look for most women singing on stage in Lebanon. She was wearing barely any makeup, save her berry-colored lips, flats and an oversized striped tunic. Her hair was long, but it was undone.
Breaking down gender norms wasn’t all in ladies fashion. One round into the musical battle, openly gay lead singer of Mashou’ Leila, Hamed Sinno, shouted some comical flirtations at WKBL’s bandleader Wassim Bou Malham.
Sinno was a picture of a hipster dandy style himself, with a tank top under a pair of coattails. Bou Malham had on the signature knit beanie.
So should we castigate the influence – or invasion – of hipster-ism in Beirut like we do everywhere else? Definitely not. Not if it means widening the country’s freedom of self-expression and breaking down rigid beauty standards.
By Beckie Strum
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