I was lucky enough to get the afternoon off work today; we’re having a bit of a quiet spell and I have leave to use so they paroled me for an afternoon. I was driving home with no CD to listen to and no desire to listen to the radio so I was alone with my thoughts and, as usual, they ran riot. At least for a while they did and I got to thinking of a picture I saw of my ex-husband recently where he is wearing a flat cap. That is where they stopped running wild and settled to an orderly course.
My first thought when I saw the picture was how old it makes him look. He’s a couple of years older than me but the headgear makes him look about 15 to 20 years older. Now, he’s never been a dedicated follower of fashion and has had a quite utilitarian approach to clothing and I’m sure he would be very able to justify the purchase of such apparel were he to be challenged but it made me think about the Generation Gap.
When we were teenagers, we were different from our parents. They would never wear the same clothes as us and we would never wear the same clothes as them. We were young and they were old. Their tastes were different too. They referred to the music we liked as “that racket” and we thought their music was boring.
When our parents were young, the word “teenager” hadn’t been coined. What follows is a very simplistic view but it will do. Men of our fathers’ generation wore short pants until they were fourteen and then they left school, got a job and dressed just like their fathers. The women wore ribbons in their hair until they were maybe a little older, then left school, got jobs and dressed just like their mothers.
In the fifties, when the word “teenager” was coined, they started dressing differently from their parents; more flamboyantly and in brighter colours. They did their hair differently and they started socialising with people of their generation. This carried on through the sixties and seventies with the gap apparently widening although it had already widened to a huge gulf in the fifties.
In my generation, we had the most amazing teenage rebellion: Punk. I know I’m biassed; I was one, after all but the punk movement took rebellion to new heights – spiked hair, ripped clothes and safety pins and piercings where they hadn’t been in western culture for many, many years.
The boundaries were clear in a way that they had simply not been when my parents were that age.
Well, as the title of one my favourite books at that time says: That was then and this is now. I am 23, 25 and 27 years older than my three children. I have been known to borrow my girls’ clothes and they do accept hand-me-downs from me. My youngest straightens my hair for me and compliments me (very occasionally) on what I’m wearing. I know that I can buy them clothes and jewellery and they will wear them. Not out of politeness but because they like them. My poor Mum would never have got away with that.
As for music, there is a decent overlap. My older daughter loves the music her Dad and I listened to in the Eighties and there are some punk bands she will happily come and see with me. Conversely, I have been to see her favourite band with her and gave them rave reviews after the gig. I wasn’t just being nice. The reviews were sincere.
I work with young men and women of my children’s age, as well, and I do not notice any kind of generation gap between me and them. I treat them like my peers and they treat me the same. Well at least that’s the impression I get.
All this led to the conclusion that we are now in a parallel situation to that before the fifties and the arrival of youth culture. The boundaries have blurred again. The difference is my kids don’t dress like me; I think it’s the other way round. They did not reach the age of 14 and then suddenly grow up but I reached the age of 40 and definitely grew down. Parents with younger kids dress them in similar clothes to the ones they wear and you see plenty of people of my age wearing the same clothes teenagers and people in their early twenties wear. It seems like it’s the same as before, only different.