Time Out

Notes from a flaming moderate

How to Be Uncool

There's a secret to getting out from under the tyranny of cool.

One of the secret benefits of aging is release from the tyranny of cool.

Old folks have been mocked, scorned for their lack of cool. Their clothes are outdated, their home décor passé. Old folks buy comfortable shoes, not ankle-busting stilettos. In the 5 o’clock rush hour metro crowd, aging uncools are distinguished by being out of office uniform. The suit and tie crowd hurries forward, and the uncool stand aside to let them pass, enjoying a benevolent smile at the herd. They’ve been there, and graduated.

Viewed from afar, from the land of the young-and-(would be)hip, aging uncools may be mistaken for has-beens. They may appear to be people who just gave up on keeping up. Poor them, a young observer might think, with their too large lapels, their wrong width ties, and their blouse a hopeless shade of pink that was “in” some time ago. But for the happily uncool, a dated look expresses a freedom that younger cohorts fail to grasp: it’s not that old people can’t be cool, it’s that they no longer need to. They are free from the need to conform. They no longer need a uniform or badge to give them identity, definition or approval. They are free. And just like other freedoms, freedom from the tyranny of cool is a gift for which to be genuinely grateful.

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Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D., is affiliated with the Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at the George Washington University.

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