Oh, to be cool.” I remember my father saying those words as he drove me to my first day of ninth grade. My father, who wore khaki pants, a button-down Oxford shirt, and a blue blazer every day of his adult life, was commenting on my outfit. Up to that point, and for several years to come, I thought of his clothing as ridiculous, yet here I was wearing red Converse high tops, red parachute pants, a Frankie-Says-Relax t-shirt, a red bandana tied at the neck, and, the icing on the cake, a mullet I had groomed to glorious new lengths over the summer. My dad was right: there were two people in the station wagon that morning, and one of them was not cool.
Now, some thirty years later, I often find myself sarcastically muttering “Oh, to be cool,” under my breath. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I practically chanted the phrase. L.A. is the most diverse city in the country, and that diversity breeds and fuses all types of trends. Take dining out for example. L.A. restaurants are a maze of paleo, gluten-free, ancient grains, coconut oil and kale, with offerings such as $7 artisanal toast leavened with ambient yeasts and served with locally-sourced, organic apple butter. As a chef friend once told me, “When the menu has more adjectives than nouns, you know you’re in trouble.” From the bartender “hand-chipping” ice while dressed like an extra from Oliver Twist to the bespectacled woman in a pilgrim hat crafting items for her Etsy store while drinking a “single-origin, fair-trade, low-acidic, mocha macchiato,” there is a palpable anxiety to be cool in L.A. And those are just the hipsters. L.A. is also full of new-age hippies, young punks, trust-fund fashionistas, and a dizzying number of old men in Ferraris. And they’re all writers, and they’d all rather be in New York.
It’s really not fair to pick on L.A., as Brooklyn, Portland, Austin, and Asheville are just as guilty of embracing, and glorifying, trends. Even Greenville is not immune. For proof just spend a morning at the TD Saturday Market. But for every new trend that is born, an old one dies. Oxygen bars become vaping stores, 10Ks become Tough Mudders, low-carb beer becomes high-gravity ale. The undercut fades, and selvedge jeans of today are the mullets and parachute pants of yesterday.
After working my way through new-wave, hair metal, and finally grunge, I gave up on fashion-trend-following in my early twenties and settled on a look my dad had perfected years earlier. A look that is as classic today as it was fifty years ago. Now, when I see a bearded twenty-something in suspenders or a young woman in high-waisted, cut-off denim shorts, I can’t help but wonder if one day they’ll look back and say the same thing I say when I see old photos of myself: “What the hell was I thinking?”