Why Do All Hipsters Look Alike?

Blame math for the striped shirts and the disheveled hair. (Photo: Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock).

If hipsters are nonconformists, why do they all seem to be flannel-wearing, fixie-riding PBR drinkers?

It turns out there's actually a mathematical explanation behind this often-bearded phenomenon.

"The hipster effect is a non-concerted emergent collective phenomenon of looking alike trying to look different," writes Jonathan Touboul, a mathematical neuroscientist at the Collège de France in Paris.

According to Toubol's research, when individuals attempt to defy the majority, they often end up doing the same thing because there's not enough time to forecast what everyone else is going to do to be unique.

In other words, by trying to be different, hipsters end up being remarkably the same.

In his paper, "The hipster effect: When anti-conformists all look the same," Touboul says that statistical physics explains why hipsters unintentionally become the very thing they were trying to avoid.

"When hipsters are too slow in detecting the trends, they will keep making the same choices and therefore remain correlated as time goes by, while their trend evolves in time as a periodic function," he writes.

Touboul's research also reveals that in groups with an equal number of hipsters and mainstream individuals, the entire group tends to switch trends randomly.

Also, one's ability to recognize trends in other people is proportional to one's distance from those people.

For example, close friends are predictable in their trends because we interact with them frequently. However, it's more difficult to make predictions about strangers, so you don't know whether they're as likely to wear ironic glasses as you are.

Although his work was inspired by French hipsters, Touboul says his findings have practical applications. For example, the "hipster effect" could reveal correlations in other statistical models, such as trading stocks and other financial decisions.