At what point do you accept that you’re no longer part of the youth? Is it that smug sense of satisfaction you get when you wake up before 9am on a Sunday? Is it when you find yourself becoming weirdly particular over what pans you use? What about when you start noticing the emergence of a new generation that you don’t quite understand?
At 28, I first started getting an inkling that I’m maybe not so down with the kids anymore this summer. I went to a music festival where an influx of Gen-Zers flocked to the fields, perhaps for the first time, clad in bralettes, bondage-style fishnet skirts and makeup that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a catwalk.
I even saw a few lads wearing designer lifejackets. No, the music festival did not take place on a dinghy boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – it was in a field, with not a trickle of water in sight.
I watched in despair as said young people walked around in their carefully curated outfits with their iPhones in hand, snapchatting every band, every drink, every balloon.
That’s it, I thought. Rome has fallen. Social media has ruined everything. These people are far too self-conscious, far too consumed with image. Freedom and self-expression are over, no one is cool anymore.
But this week, noticing students in Manchester returning to campus, my faith has been restored.
In the shadows of the Love Island-hooked masses, there’s a subculture of young people who are rejecting the contouring, the neon mesh and see-through pencil skirts in favour of random concoctions featuring shapeless, faded garments dug out of charity shops. It’s like a mixture of 1990s grunge and 2019 wokeness, most likely driven by an ethical decision not to contribute to the global crisis of fast fashion, but also indicative of a few individuals who are simply comfortable in their own skin.
I’ll give you some examples. Last week I saw a girl stepping off a bus near Manchester University looking like a big pink bowl of jelly. She was wearing bright pink baggy cargo trousers, a big fluffy pink jumper, pink trainers, and she’d topped the look off with a pink rucksack. She obviously just loves pink, and good for her. She looked ace. I was in awe. Who was this confident fuschia queen gliding through south Manchester without a care in the world?
Elsewhere in the world of thrifty fashion, second-hand shirts are paired with old tracksuit bottoms, and well-worn but functional Doc Martens are purchased for £30 and polished up, ready for another life with their new owner.
Looking around, I just think: you cool young people. I wish I’d had been as cool as you when I was 18. I would have saved myself a fortune in cheaply made Topshop clothes that never looked great and played a part in Sir Philip Green’s empire of doom.
How liberating it is to turn your back on the never-ending cycle of consumerism that tells you no matter what you wear, no matter how much you love the new outfit you just paid £100 for, you always need more. I’m happy to see the next generation leading the way.