Wait, am I middle aged?
Millennials are 40, and teenagers are wearing JNCOs. Is this a midlife crisis?
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You could say my midlife crisis began with a headline in the Wall Street Journal. It was in the fashion section — which is perhaps the least cool, most middle aged sentence ever uttered.
This story was announcing that low-rise jeans, the ones I spent the latter part of my teens and most of my 20s wearing with such commitment that I developed permanent welts on my hips, were back.
Gigi Hadid was wearing them. So was Haley Bieber. Christina Aguilera, now 40, had reprised hers — complete with visible thong.
I went into a spiral.
And like most millennial spirals, this one took me to a place I like to call Madewell.com.
Madewell — do you know it?
It’s the fashion bible for a certain breed of Geriatric Millennial, a term for the eldest of us millennials now turning 40, and a term I’d never identified with… until I logged onto Madewell.com and felt downright geriatric.
You see: For the past decade, Madewell has offered high rise jeans in glorious 10 and 12-inch inseams, the kind whose gentle hugging of my mid-section not only reintroduced me to the fact that I have a waist but reminded me that jeans aren’t meant to give you welts. Naturally, I was planning to stock up.
Except that when I searched for “high waist,” the search results were blank.
Panicked, I began scouring the site.
There were baggy jeans, there were boot cut jeans, flared jeans, “boyfriend” jeans, there were jeans that looked like JNCOs, another abominable export of my generation. There were also: Babydoll dresses. Chokers. Long sleeve thermals. Velvet. Flannel everything. Dr. Martens copycats.
I was not prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on clothes that looked exactly like ones I awkwardly wore to my friend’s bat mitzvah in 7th grade. Or… was I?
“Middle age” is a funny label for any generation that reaches it. As my pal and colleague Jessica Grose writes in an essay this week in The Times, it’s particularly weird if you are of a generation — yes, us geriatric millennials — for whom the alleged “stability” of midlife feels less recognizable than ever.
It’s also a hard pill to swallow for those of us who’ve spent our lives being told we were the definers of youth culture.
Maybe it was a product of our supposedly coddled upbringing, maybe it was the marketers who were breathlessly courting us, maybe we were just naive, but we spent the last three decades of our lives being told that we were — generationally speaking, anyway — “special.”
And being millennials, of course, we came to believe it.
We were the only generation to have lived both analog and digital; Blockbuster and Netflix; to have mastered the art of the playlist on cassette tapes, CDs, Napster and Spotify. We were old enough to remember what it was like to actually be unreachable by phone but young enough to use technology that allows us to see exactly where every one of our friends are at any given time.
So unique was our experience that, for the first few years of my adult life, I brought in extra cash by — in addition to my day job at a magazine and night job at a bar — taking multiple choice surveys for a firm that paid far more than either of these jobs simply to know my millennial opinion on things, from car interiors to T9 texting. (Yes, as a Geriatric Millennial, I speak T9 fluently. I also know the complex mathematical formula to yield 55378008 on a calculator — which, if you know anything about the 90s, you know spells boobless.)
I think you see what I’m getting at —
What happens when a generation that once embodied youth culture — or, at least, thought that they did — hits “middle age”? And what if we — or I — am not ready to accept the cliches that come along with that?
Look, millennials stopped caring a while ago that our Gen X and Boomer parents thought we were whiny and entitled; we knew we might never own homes, but our avocado toast would endure. But now an entirely new generation was dragging us — while wearing our pants!
The way we dance. Our hand gestures.
The way we make videos. (If you’re a millennial, and you’re reading this, did you know you’re probably guilty of the “millennial pause”?)
Our emoji. Our tech devices. And, of course, our hair parts.
How did this happen? And where had I been when this transition into uncool began? Was I at the chiropractor?
Or was it something far more sinister… the natural progression into the permanently uncool phase of… middle age? After decades of being told how relevant my generation was, was it time to accept that geriatric millennials like me were now officially….. irrelevant?
But here’s where it gets confusing.
According to the shows my generation watched on our big, clunky, 1990s television sets, middle aged people are supposed to have stuff like…
2: A retirement fund
3: A job that’s boring but they’ve accepted it because middle age is boring so it fits with their lifestyle
4: A body that they complain about looking nothing like the body they had in high school
Middle aged people say things like “This music is too loud” or “turn down that rap music.” They go bed before midnight and wake up before 7am.
I don’t have these things — except Botox, so you’d never know my age anyway.
So… Am I supposed to try to keep up? Or do I just tap out and “embrace middle age,” even though I don’t seem to display any of the telltale signs/symptoms of an official “middle aged person”?
Honestly, I don’t know the answer.
But I’d like to think that millennials, Gen Z, TikTok tweens and Hailey Biebers coming together to unite in a Glorious celebration of the pants I wore when I got my first period is exactly what intergenerational harmony is all about.
One of the great lines, Jessica!
"How did this happen? And where had I been when this transition into uncool began? Was I at the chiropractor?"
And one of the great essays.
Brought a lot of laughs this morning! Middle aged at 40something! Now you get to sit back and watch those yongins make asses of themselves while you can sit back in your comfortable clothes and shake your head. Getting older I find is pretty good! Hope you’re well. Love, Ann (aka Sara SM’s mom)