What’s Hip

I had a longish layover in Heathrow flying home for Christmas. For once, I wasn’t bothered. Two years of being cooped up by Covid was enough to allow me to see the positive side of being in an airport with 20,000 strangers while wearing a mask. I went to WH Bookshop, Whiskey World, and Duty Free. I paced for 2 hours and just took in the chaos with some joy. Then I sat down and watched people.

I ate my cashews and watched men and women dragging along kids, old couples marching slowly along in matching travel leisure suits, college kids moseyed on autopilot while staring into their phones. There were families, kids walking into tables, and toddlers licking the side of escalators. It was a nice way to spend an hour. And then I saw it.

A boy about the age of 18 came through the crowd dressed in a matching baby blue sweatsuit. His sweatpants were tucked into his striped socks. He wore a red baseball cap into which he had tucked his ears. Though my entire body wanted to roll its eyes, I refrained. While this getup might look ridiculous to me, I understand that every getup has looked ridiculous to me since I was eleven years old. For the last time I was cool or hip to fashion was in, I hope, a previous life. I can only imagine that I did something heinous in that life to garner the inability to understand what clothing a person should wear. I have never understood what is cool. In 2003, one of our bar customers became the punchline of all the waitresses when he arrived in whitewashed jeans pegged tightly in a cuff above his shoes. It was on that day, in 2003, when I learned that from sometime in the early 90s to sometime in the mid-1990s pegging cuffs was what cool people did to their jeans. I also learned that this was cool in the 1950s, but I wasn’t around then so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

Other things I saw in the airport that appear to now be hip: matching denim outfits, wearing hats with the price tag still on, short sweaters, pants that go up to one’s nipple area, shorts tucked into very short sweat shorts, a pink tie-dyed sweatsuit with red Chuck Taylors, leggings for men. It all sort of looks dumb to me, but then the last trends did too, and the ones before those, and the ones that will come after these, and the ones that will come after those.

I work in a university, so I am at times confronted with young people who are dressed in what I consider odd clothing. I keep these things to myself, because 1. I do not know what’s hip, 2. I am a person whose sole fashion concern revolves around the elasticity of a waistband, and 3. For reasons 1 and 2, nobody is worried about my assessment of what they are wearing.

So, while I live gleefully in the dark on fashion, for people concerned with fashion, this is surely an issue with a long history. No doubt the wearers of the pencil skirt in the 1910s mocked hobble skirt wearers relentlessly as they scooted away with their tiny steps. Ancient Egyptians put away their perfumed wax cones with shame and crinolines wearers probably tired of being gawked at as much as they tired of being parachuted off of cliffs by their skits. Powdered wig wearers ruefully found other ways to cover the smell of their syphilitic rot when their wigs went out of fashion and chopines wearers teetered in frustration after they’d learned to walk on them after months of effort, just to watch them go out with the morning milk. Ridicule and embarrassment have been cast upon those in Crakowes, codpieces, macaronis, and bliants. There is no end to it. Unless you have never been hip, in which case you don’t have to worry about any of this. No matter what century you live(d) in, when others are being mocked for wearing last season’s woven sack muumuu or the wrong bear’s skins, you wear your elastic waistband chinos and a sweater with tomato sauce stains on it. And you are happy.

I board the plane with some joy. The man in front of me is wearing a sweater that is made up of only sleeves. I do not judge. I don’t know if it’s in, on the way in, or on the way out, but someday he’ll hate it.

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