Know Your Trends

American rapper KreayshawnAmerican rapper Kreayshawn

Today’s Pretty Young Thing is caught in a sartorial double-bind. Oversubscribe to a non-label hipster aesthetic, and you’re accused of self-indulgence, ridiculous overdressing, and elitism. Meet the hipster bare minimum, though, and you might be called a Basic Bitch, ZOE KILBOURN reports.

A Basic Bitch is the antithesis of the Bad Bitch: she’s ordinary, and she dresses like it, too. UrbanDictionary’s first entry on the subject dates from 2009, and the term appeared more frequently across the internet by 2011, notably as the subject of Kreayshawn and The Game tracks, Man Repeller articles, and as a recurring tumblr joke. Like most pseudo-joke terms, it’s likely to have come from US clubs and African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Unlike most “gangsta” white-girl reappropriative slang, though, it’s actually applicable to the Uptown office – Louis Vuitton bags and straightened sidefringes are part of the same aesthetic spectrum as Cotton On sweaters and mocchaccinos.

It’s a phrase that probably wouldn’t have wheedled its way into Australian vernacular, were it not for College Humour’s How To Tell if You’re a Basic Bitch video, released a month ago. We’ve reached the point where even Cosmopolitan, the Basic Bitch sutra, is weighing in (“The whole internet is banging on about Basic Bitches. But WTF does that even mean???”). The baseline of Basic is well established as nauseatingly vapid, universally “feminine” products, smacking of corporate gear and ground-level networking: instagrammed sunsets, peplums, Sex and the City, Gucci, Gloria Jeans.

There’s a higher level of Basic behaviour, though, which isn’t touched on so widely. Most young women – and the marketers who cater to them – have moved onto safely quirky, appropriately Manic Pixie material. In a city where triple j is now the most popular radio station, it isn’t enough to not be mainstream – “indie” as hipster lite is normative, is chainstore, is basic. 2014’s Hottest 100 is generally less welcome on a party playlist than Taylor Swift, because you apparently can’t enjoy Riptide with any ironic detachment.

One of the issues of the terms, aside from drifting far away from its original hip hop context, is its obviously gendered nature. Basic things are nauseatingly neutral “girl things” – Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn prints, inspirational quotes about love, life, and laughter, Mean Girls. Being dull doesn’t make you a basic bitch, but being dully “girly” does. Wearing mid-00s Quiksilver boardshorts, posting about your quad bikes and watching the cricket doesn’t make you basic, but it might make you a pejorative Nice Guy, or a Typical Male. Whether or not you’re assumed to have depth, the dismissive titles we give these men are significantly more euphemistic.

Of course, normativity is subjective. One woman’s “down to earth” is another woman’s “dull”. We’re all consumerists, and unless you’re a fashion blogger or an overindulgent aesthete, most of our purchases feed out of and into the Basic. What constitutes “Basic” is bound up in authenticity, what Yeezy’s doctor might prescribe as “realness”. Ultimately, if you can rock a messy bun, a cardigan, tastefully subtle makeup and ballet flats, you’re not basic; you’re functional. If you can assimilate the boring parts of your life or wardrobe into who you are and what you’re doing, you’ve dodged the bullet. Buy into the marketer’s projection, though, and you’ve already lost. Better retweet that 11.11 post and make a wish.