When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be able to grow facial hair. The stubble-hued chins of the Grunge-era slack rockers had captured the fancy of most of the young women I knew and, well, I figured my mug would be vastly more desirable were it rough to the touch. Be careful what you wish for; Now I have to shave, like, twice a day.
It seems entirely natural for young people to yearn to be a little bit older. A teen may even heroize the high-school dropout that lives in a van down by the river (as Farley would put it) simply because the vagrant represents that most anticipated attribute of adulthood: the pervasive freedom to choose. Seeking control of one’s destiny is a central theme of life, but it is in the young that it is most exaggerated. Rock and punk music, promiscuous sex, flash mobs, driving fast, throwing big rocks into the river — they all exaggerate one’s presence in the world in order to demonstrate mastery over that world. We reject our parent’s generation so that we can feel like we are able to direct our own. All of this acting out serves as practice — so that we may take our parent’s place one day as the keepers of ourselves and our own families.
What do we do, though, when our parents are the generation of rejection, of revolution? What happens when we know full well that our parents smoked pot, rode glittering motorcycles, threw rocks at ‘the man’, had ratty long hair, and wandered barefoot through a field while Zeppelin echoed through the trees? How do young people rebel against rebellion?
Apparently, the answer is: by becoming our grandparents.
Yes, many young people are expressing themselves by appropriating the traditional European symbols of power and wisdom that their hippie/grunge parents fought long and hard to abolish. For men, this means donning earnestly dandy getups such as flannel suits, patterned ties, daintily kempt mustaches, parted hair, and vintage tattoos. We’ve also developed a real love of gadgets, and are proud to admit we work in real estate or *cough*advertising*cough*. Popular street fashion sites like The Sartorialist champion a return to the rolled sleeves, bespoke tailoring, and tailored suits your grandfather wore. Visit bastions of hip such as Brooklyn, Silver Lake, or Seattle and you’ll see these kids everywhere.
For women, the phenomenon is more specific. It’s all about the hair. Power is rarely defined within the fairer gender by appearing older than you are, but the photo collection above shows that even women are not immune from the mystical allure of the elderly. For young women, going gray is now sort of a cool ‘fuck you‘ to the status quo. Pixie Geldof (upper left) is a British fashionista, and Tavi Gevinson (lower left) is only 14, looks 65, and she writes one of the most read style blogs around. Doing the unexpected will always be a great way to get noticed, and it certainly helps to have good timing with these things. So, if you’re looking for a bold hair move — and bleach blonde looks too trashy and jet black looks too goth — maybe you should go granny.
So, what is behind all this preemptive old? Why now? The expression of power story seems key for the guys. Especially in this recession, the old adage ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got‘ seems to have struck a nerve in the population. Alternately, from the rebellious youth perspective, young people haven’t been left many avenues of taboo to explore. The internet has flattened time, in a way, to make the last 60 years seem like one big Best Of record. Old may be the last remaining realm that young people can claim as a new territory for differentiated self expression. I mean, you’ve got babies in skull T-Shirts, little kids with mohawks, preteens dressing slutty, and your parents are smoking grass in the den. Drastic measures must be taken! So everyone act now before your local drug store is sold out of mustache wax and gray hair dye.
EDIT: The New York Times, as usual, is right on top of this phenomenon. As I prepare to publish this article, I see they have a report on girls gone gray. Great minds think alike, it seems. :)