How fads, trends, styles and fashions go from trendy to tasteless…and back again 

The problem with the word Cool (or sweet, awesome, sick, or whatever else you want to call it), is that as soon as you pronounce something Cool…it instantly becomes un-Cool.

 Popular as a counterculture expression during the Beatnik era of the late ‘40s and ‘50s right through to the hippie culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s, “Cool” has successfully entered the 21st century lexicon without losing its cool. But before this multi-generational catchword can be permanently retired, a suitable replacement must be found.

 So just what is “Cool”? Cool isn’t a state of being, but an aesthetic-in-motion that changes even as we speak. You can’t grasp Cool because it will flow between your fingers like water. It can only be sensed intuitively, inhaled like a summer breeze, felt in the fingertips like vibrations of a social divining rod.

 As with all elemental forces of nature, Cool is cyclical. Here are its stages.


Model Robyn Pasutti posing in a hot pose, as featured in zouch

Photographer: Josh Pool, Model: Robyn Pasutti

We begin at the pinnacle of Cool, which, paradoxically, is the point when a trend is at its hottest. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking fashion, or toys, or electronic gadgets, or slang or entertainment. The trend has grown beyond its earlier fringe popularity but hasn’t gone mainstream yet. There’s still an air of exclusivity about it, yet it’s too popular to dismiss as something that’s only adopted by fashion freaks such as Lady Gaga. This is when a lot of very clever people make a lot of money quickly. Sorry—we can’t give you any examples here. Remember our corollary about the ephemeral nature of cool. If we offered you an example, it might not be Cool anymore by the time you read it. It might have become Mainstream…


a blonde woman in a shop with a large smile

After the Cool trend has peaked, those who don’t know Cool until the media serves it to them on a virtual pop culture platter try to seize upon the new trend. More people make money, because this is where Cool has descended to its lowest common denominator, the great unwashed masses. However, those who really know Cool are already moving on to something else at this stage, especially so they won’t be sullied by an association with the Mainstream crowd. Ancient scribes recall a time when Hootie and the Blowfish was hot; that is, until the band’s move from college favorite into the Mainstream alienated it from Cool-ness and ultimately tore it apart. After a while, everything that’s Mainstream becomes Stale…


style-conscious military dancer making a fist in mid air

Here’s where a trend starts to turn sour and then congeal before our very eyes. The Cool crowd won’t even allow themselves to be in the same room as the trend, and the Mainstream crowd starts to realize that the party is over. However, a tragically unhip element of the population still doesn’t accept that the trend has flatlined. They continue to wear the same fashions, listen to the same music, talk the same talk. They flagellate the defunct equine until the once-hot trend becomes detritus. Remember the red-and-black vinyl Michael Jackson jackets from the ‘80s? Some misguided fashion wrecks kept wearing them even as the trend went from Stale to Passé…


Here we arrive at the penultimate hell of outdated trends: The Passé. Even those who still abide by a Passé trend will admit that, yes, it’s no longer in style to act that way, talk that way, dress that way (for example, the guys who wear their hair mullet-style). Those who follow styles that are Passé are almost like Untouchables in our Western society. They’re the ones that even the nerdiest types laugh at openly. Think “leg warmers.” Or “Right on!” and “Go for it!”, two once-Cool catchphrases. People who continue to embrace the Passé make the trend become not just un-Cool, but Abhorrent…


abhorrent looking musician

At the Abhorrent stage, that which once was Cool now becomes anathema. Accepting or flaunting an Abhorrent trend is almost grounds for public lynching. The very appearance of an Abhorrent trend is a red flag even to normally tolerant people. One word: Smoking. At this stage, that which was once Cool and even Mainstream is now literally offensive to society at large. You might get away with it in the context of a movie or a play, but stay off the streets, for God’s sake! Long hair on men became  abhorrent. Now aging Boomers look back on it as Nostalgic…


nostalgic woman smoking in the park and wearing large sunglasses

As soon as the cultural palate has been cleansed of the offending trend, society is once again safe to speak of it, reminisce about it, write about it and even refer to it with a kind of embarrassed affection, like the way you’d look at old photographs of yourself with a ridiculous hairstyle. It wasn’t long ago that those who looked back on the trends of the ‘70s joked about the dreadful platform shoes and wide leg pants. Now these ‘70s fashions have been revived with a vengeance (see below: Stage 10). Even moustaches and mullets (on men) are starting to be revived as quaint nostalgia (Think “Movember”). The nostalgia phase creates a cultural murmur, a restless, emerging interest in a dead trend that eventually surfaces in Irony…


an ironic looking tatooed hair-dyed bicycle rockabilly lady

Here the nostalgia catches on and creates a buzz. Think of the yellow smiley face from the ‘70s that became a ubiquitous symbol at raves in the ‘90s. At first, only comedians, performers, writers and haute couture designers use nostalgia for its whimsical effect. Then some of the more eccentric style-monkeys start to sport the trend as a statement of irony. At this level there is no real affection for the dead trend, but reviving it simply becomes a bizarre social or political statement. Visit some contemporary art galleries to preview examples of cultural irony before it broadens into Parody…


a sexy girl wearing a clown wig

Now we’ve actually come to the stage where it’s cool to parody that which was once Cool but has been all but eradicated from society. Lounge music and lounge culture, for example, peaked in the early ‘60s with the Rat Pack movies, and saw a revival in the ‘90s with Burt Bacharach and Lounge music compilation CDs. Mainstream artists, performers and Web sites milk the Parody for all it’s worth until society starts becoming more aware of it and hipsters start co-opting it as something Exotic…


Brichelle Brucker in a large hat and a flowered shirt

Photographer: Lyam Bellerby. Model: Brichelle Brucker

During the Exotic stage, the once-dead trend comes to life again in a visible and tangible way. Still not part of the mainstream, there is already a momentum building towards the potential Cool-ness of this trend. Only the hippest elite wear the clothes, listen to the music and talk the talk. The demi-Cool look on enviously and muster up the courage to bring the trend into mainstream society. Conservative forces rail against Exotic trends as a sign of social decadence until, alas, it permeates our collective consciousness and suddenly becomes Cool (again)…


the coolest guy in the world striking a cool pose

Once again, the trend is Cool. Mainstream society has compulsively satisfied their desire for coolness by buying into the (formerly) exotic trend, paradoxically turning it into something that rapidly decays into Mainstream and Banality. Before that happens, though, some cynical entrepreneurs will make millions of dollars exploiting it all over again.

 Are we cool with that?