What is hip?

When I was in the sixth grade, I was barely aware of the fact I had hair on top of my head. That’s probably in no small measure because my dad gave my brother and me military buzz cuts on a regular basis. Not until about halfway through the eighth grade did I begin to consider my hair. This was 1969 and I was most likely influenced by the way the girls in my class seemed to like the way David Cassidy and his head full of hair looked on The Partridge Family TV show. These days guys in the sixth grade and even younger, are tuned into what is hip. Hair and clothes are a big deal for girls and boys.

For instance, what we used to call stocking caps and wear to keep our ears from getting frostbite and falling off are now called “beanies” and are employed more for fashion than function. Fair enough. In the course of fashion evolution, those beanies have sprouted little brims; appendages that appear to serve no purpose beyond looks. They are too short to shade the wearer’s eye from the sun or face from the rain. Wearers, I must assume, are, in the words of the great Ray Davies, simply, “dedicated followers of fashion.” Few of us can escape that pressure.

When I was a junior in high school I actually bought a pair of platform clogs. No kidding. They were brown with really thick soles. I never wore them because soon after I got them, I took the ridiculous footwear to the machine shop where I worked part time as a janitor, and tried to shave off those thick cork soles with a band saw. They ended up in the machine shop trash along with the metal shavings and oil-soaked sawdust I used to sweep off the floor. (If there is a classic fashion statement that has traveled well through the decades, it is the Converse All Star Chuck Taylor tennis shoe. You see them everywhere. I bet I got my first pair in 1964 right there at Presto’s Sporting Goods store on Second Street in downtown Barberton. I still wear All Stars, and so does my son.)

This pressure to look hip goes beyond hair and clothes, of course. Cars are very much in the mix. For my money, the little brim on a beanie is as fashionable and functionless as the spoiler on a Kia Spectra 5 Hatchback ($194 unpainted, $324 painted). It just looks cool. Fancy free-spinning hubcaps are a big deal, too. My kid hates the vehicle I drive—a 1986 Mitsubishi pickup, with the Mighty Max package that offers fancy wheels (they don’t spin freely) and gray pinstripes down the sides. It’s in great shape, though it leaks and smells really moldy in the winter. And the speaker on the passenger side pops out when you close the door. And just this week the inside door latch on the driver’s side gave up the ghost, meaning I have to roll down the window to exit the vehicle. “Wait till the outside latch quits working,” I told my son, “and I have to crawl through the window to get out. Then you’ll have something to be embarrassed about. ‘Dude, isn’t that your dad climbing out of that MItsubishi pickup truck over there?’ your friends will say.”

All this means when our kids pursue some fashion trend whose appeal escapes our sensibilities, remember that pressure you felt as a kid. That’s a lot of stress and what looks funny to adults looks pretty darn cool to kids. It’s all relative. My son laughs at the Dickies work-pants I bought at Gates Resale. They were inexpensive, the motivating factor of my fashion goals as I’ve aged. It will be that way for my kid someday, but until then, I understand the pressure of being hip.