Losing My Cool
It started with the mom jeans. I was snowshoeing with a lover – let’s call her Genius, because she’s smarter than I’ll ever be – to capture and cut down a Christmas tree during the week before the big holiday. In preparation for the trip, I’d worn long johns and a heavy, high-waisted pair of jeans I’d received from my father the previous Christmas. These pants are the second-stringers, the ones that get pulled out in the days before a trip to the laundromat when the first-stringers – a pair of low-rise, straight-leg Levis that cost a week’s worth of groceries – are dirty.
I hadn’t even really considered my choice of pants that day. The second-stringer jeans seemed logical: why get the good ones wet? And anyway, the Levis, riding as they do scant inches from my ass crack, often leave my lower back drafty. And truth be told, I sometimes liked that high waist, because it covered my stretch marks and I could easily tuck my muffin-top love handles into it. They’re practical, those pants.
Practicality, it turns out, is a warning sign.
After the tree was cut and we’d hauled it back to the house, we changed out of our snow-dampened clothes and I made a joke about how my waist was nice and dry under that high fabric. That’s when Genius said she’d noticed the cut of the jeans, and made a kind of a joke about it. We both laughed.
But the seed was planted. Noticed? I hung the jeans on the back of the chair and smiled and made gingerbread houses while the word pricked at my fashion conscience. Noticed? When I wore these jeans, I would completely forgot about them, but if Genius had noticed during the least fashion-conscious event of the season, who else had noticed, and when? I remembered, with pain, all the times I had worn the pants in public, and imagined skinny-jeaned hipsters flicking their eyes at my tucked-in love handles and dismissing me as an old fart. I thought of the pants again, with shame. Could they be mom jeans? Could they really?
I’m not old, I reminded myself. Thirty is the prime of your life – women’s sexual peak. Career time. Family time. But not necessarily, I have to admit, the trendiest time. Elderly women are no longer scandalized by my daring haircuts or flamboyant outfits. I tend toward comfortable clothes in earth tones that don’t look too weird when I am not careful with the laundry.
Comfortable is also a warning sign.
The next blow came as I walked Daughter home from the bus one afternoon. She was telling me about her day, which had involved auditions for a school-sponsored rock band.
“Congratulations!” I told her. “That’s so rad!”
“Mom…” She looked at the sidewalk in dismay. “Don’t say that, OK. Nobody says that.”
“Says what?” I asked. (A sign of age is also no longer being able to interpret the body language of pre-adolescents.)
“Rad,’ she said. She still couldn’t look at me.
I was bemused. “Well, what do people say, then?”
“Cool. You know, nasty. Sick.”
“Nasty?” I was shocked. “You and your friends say nasty? That’s awful!” Ten-year-old girls using words I’d heard in the most graphic rap music. I was outraged.
Outrage is the final warning sign.
Now mortified beyond speech, Daughter sped up and traveled the rest of the way home by herself. When my outrage flickered out, I pondered the situation. Practical, comfortable clothing. Outrage at the behavior of the young. What had happened to me?
The tattoos still sit on my arm. I still wear vintage clothes and chunky boots. I have a couple of sweet t-shirts and I own a couple of hoodies with hand-screened patches stitched on. I do cool work. I still feel cool.
The problem is, my definition of cool is a definition for 30-year-olds. The world, without my having noticed, has moved on while I’ve been churning about in a pool of my peers. Doc Martens were the height of hip when I was 15; the fact that I still wear them isn’t, really. I’m no longer on the cutting edge of fashion. New music doesn’t make any sense to me. I can’t be a hipster. The new generation has to come in and do things I don’t approve of and make choices I don’t understand. That’s how it goes.
I want to be clear: some 30-year-olds are the hippest people I know. Heck, I’m sure there are kick-ass elders I haven’t yet met. Who knows, I could get a haircut and a new wardrobe tomorrow. I could learn to break dance or juggle fire or write a bestseller in a hot new genre, and then maybe people would be following my lead. But that stuff – that image stuff, that keeping-up stuff – is just not what I’m interested in any more.
And honestly, I think it happened without me noticing because it feels good to be more comfortable with my body. When I moved to Portland in my early 20s, I was intensely conscious of my personal style, always watching the other young women to see what they were wearing and adjusting my own clothing and hair to match. These days, I think nothing of walking Daughter to the bus stop while still in my jammies, or going out for drinks in the same clothes I wore all day long. I’m not in competition with anyone for the trendiest haircut or the most original clothing combinations. And I’m pretty OK with that.
I did get rid of the mom jeans, though. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere.
Jen Hodsdon’s column appears monthly.