Recently I told my 19-year-old niece that I saw her favorite band, The Strokes, in 2001 before their first album had even come out. She said, “That’s so cool!” It was a real lifetime highlight. If a hip and stylish college sophomore thinks that I’m cool, well, it’s official.
I was thinking about this recently after reading about the upcoming “vibe shift” in The Cut. The article centers around an idea from trend forecaster Sean Monahan. Monahan coined not only the term but also “normcore,” the 2010s trend that decreed dressing like a “Seinfeld” character was very cool. “In the culture, sometimes things change, and a once-dominant social wavelength starts to feel dated,” writes journalist Allison P. Davis, describing Monahan’s theory that a prevailing aesthetic can impact clothing, music, grooming, nightlife, food the same, whether that’s the bearded, tattooed indie music Brooklyn look of the early 2000s (RIP the “hipster”) or the woke, millennial pink, Supreme and sneaker-obsessed period that is (allegedly) just about to end.
If a hip and stylish college sophomore thinks that I’m cool, well, it’s official.
Davis frets about her own ability to keep up with this upcoming post-pandemmy reality. “It’s chilling to realize you may be one of the stuck, or if you aren’t, you may be soon.” This is why I was thinking about my concert with The Strokes, which I saw when working at the box office at 9:30 Club, D.C.’s legendary concert venue. Back in my early 20s, I made several vows to myself. Perhaps the biggest was that I would always keep up with the latest music; I would refuse to be one of those middle-aged people who only goes out to see their favorite band from college. I also pledged that I would never have “life hair” — the sort of cut a man settles into and stays loyal to until death or devastating hair loss, whichever happens first.
Following up on these vows now that I’m in my (oh God) middle 40s, I think both Monahan and Davis misunderstand some core truths about vibes — and shifts, for that matter. For one thing, while I have kept up with new music, mostly thanks to Spotify’s algorithm, at a certain point the music I loved from high school and college has come back in vogue. (As opposed to En Vogue, also big in the ‘90s.) The 21-year-old rocker beabadoobee sounds exactly like Belly, one of my old favorites from back in the day. My niece is in love with The Strokes, the standard bearers for the hipster scene.
Davis thinks of the “vibe” like a train. We get on and we get off, keeping up with the fashion as long as we can until one day we’re left at a station, stranded in whatever outfit we were wearing at the time and with only the music downloaded into our iPod Nano to keep us company. (This metaphor did not survive the vibe shift to cell phones.)
But really the “vibe” is like a bus route. When you eventually get off at a station, if you just wait long enough, the vibe will (probably) come back to you. It may take 20 years or so, but suddenly my music taste isn’t cringe to my niece! The Cut article also mentions Bemelmans Bar, a hotel bar from the 1940s that has become so popular with young people they had to install a bouncer. And I’m sure there are at least a couple of old-time regulars still sipping the same Manhattans, happy to be hip again.
On the other hand, I have embraced life hair. Louis, the dreamboat who cuts my hair at one of the coolest salons in East London, gives me the same style every time I hop into his chair. I hate to break it to 20s me, but I am fine with that.
When you eventually get off at a station, if you just wait long enough, the vibe will (probably) come back to you.
Davis’ piece also depicts the struggle of the crowded vibe train; at every stop you have to squeeze back on to get to the next station. But why not just … get off? There are so many stations, and finding one you’re happy to stay at is neither shameful nor, inherently, uncool.
In my middle 30s, I wrote something down and have it saved permanently in a Notes file on my computer desktop. It’s labeled mantra and says, “I no longer need to demonstrate to myself how fun my life is.” And even more importantly, I no longer need to demonstrate to others how fun my life is. So much of each vibe is just extra decorations that will one day solidify into cartoon stereotypes, like a pair of bell-bottoms and an ABBA soundtrack at a ‘70s-themed costume party.
After establishing my mantra, I started wearing a uniform: mostly suits because they never go out of style. (The uniform also includes a pair of gray Chuck Taylors, the same sneakers I was wearing at that D.C. Strokes concert.) I go to the same restaurants, the same bars and buy the same brand of toothpaste. But it’s not the spiritual and aesthetic death that Davis (or Monahan) seem to be alluding to. I can still educate myself about the vibe. I can try new things and see if they can be integrated into my life. (Just as long as you don’t become one of those, “In my day we really knew how to party,” people. The kids will always find a way to party, even if they’re doing it in different clubs, to different music and on different drugs. Let them have their fun.
Most importantly, I’m no longer doing things because they’re the vibe. At a certain point it’s best to just vibe-proof yourself. Find things that are wonderful, stylish and good all of the time. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. When all else fails, just stay put. Eventually the vibe bus (or train) will come back around again. Your niece will be on it, and she’ll finally realize you’ve been cool all along.