Young people are dressing like their parents. It’s cosiness commodified | Harriet Walker

Our parents’ generation earned their solid, suburban lives. We want the comfy slippers and Crimplene without the hard work

Turning into your parents used to be a bad thing, a soul-freezing moment of recognition that hit while plucking your first nasal hair or paying a bill on time. Lately, though, it has become a badge of honour. Retail analysts are calling 2013 the year the generational divide disappeared (for the middle classes, at least), with a bullish pearls and bow-tie market proof of how the habits and tastes of old and young have converged.

We’ve had Cath Kidston and cupcakes, baking and beards. Now, according to John Lewis, waistcoats and silk scarves are a hit with younger shoppers. The sort of cardigan that was once the last refuge of a dad hell-bent on turning down the thermostat is now at home on The X Factor live shows.

It’s as if the 60s and subsequent eras of angry young men with political hairdos were a blip. We’re back to father and son in matching sports jacket, mother and daughter in aprons and Elnett, Buddy Holly frozen in time at 22 with the wardrobe of an octogenarian.

What we’re seeing is the commodification of cosiness. Previously, in the face of recession and hopelessness, youthquake has come in the form of curled lips and jeans so tight they shocked old ladies. This time, as young people are presented with the fact that their quality of life will be less than that enjoyed by their parents, deliberately making things harder or less pleasant for yourself seems perverse. It isn’t just hip to be square, it’s safer and simpler.

Yuppies struggle to pay their rents and can’t afford a mortgage. Current students and graduates spend their days counting the cost of their education and the sum they will one day have to repay for it. That, and the attendant existential crise that comes from a stagnant job market and relentless increases in the cost of living, leave little room for youthful rebellion, let alone time for soaping one’s hair into a 4ft mohican.

And so it is that east London and pockets of gentrification across the country are full of charming little wendy houses, packed with vintage crockery and homegrown vegetables, their inhabitants dolled up in 50s fashions. Young people are playing at the lives they want to have but won’t, millennials with their prospects forever stunted because the boomers stole their future.

But they left us their fashion, at least. And with the rise of the “mumjean” (stonewash, high waist, oddly baggy in the crotch), the “dad-jean” (stonewash, high waist, oddly baggy in the crotch), and the Phil Collins sports jacket, has also come a disdain for the mass produced. There’s no mistrust of capitalism attached to that, however. The penchant for local, artisanal produce is a definite consumer choice. The modern hipster is forced to be capitalist through and through: the better-off ones probably have some money invested in a philanthropic tech startup; they aren’t accessorising their dad-jeans with rose-tinted spectacles.

It’s a mark of society in stasis that the best informed, most plugged-in generation of young people should be so world-weary, jaded, and out of onwards oomph that they feel going backwards is the only option. And that the way they choose to effect this is so empty of any alternative ideology.

As we sit in parks wearing sprig-print tea dresses, drinking craft beer and naming our children after old men and Victorian urchins, we’d do well to remember that our parents earned their cosiness. They endured jerry-built postwar housing, hot and itchy Crimplene trousers, even a three-day week.

How typically “youth of today” for us to swan in and lay claim to a smugness we haven’t even worked for. Our fighting spirit might be crushed, our gastro pub potatoes too – but our sense of entitlement isn’t. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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