Chic and cool: What's the factor?

A request from an Anonymous commenter: "I would still like to explore the question....what is the chic, cool factor for those of us of a certain age?" She adds, "I know all the basics and practice them" and also says "This much I know is true...shades *sunglasses* are always cool." 

Queen of Rock
All I know today, in the midst of packing and fighting a flu, is that chic and cool are different. A woman in a Lanvin suit and Louboutins is likely chic but not cool.

Yesterday afternoon, I took a break to catch Oprah's "Rock Goddesses" show. Joan Jett: deeply cool, but not chic, unless you pronounce that "chick".

Salt N' Pepa: hootchie hot rather than cool, but I couldn't take my eyes off them. Pat Benetar looked like a high school principal, though, and Stevie Nicks eludes any category other than "the Stevie Nicks look".

Queen of England
You can be chic in one world, but other people think you're not: HRH Queen Elizabeth, for example. They should try to be this chic at 85.

Some women possess the intersection of both qualities: Patti Smith, Jane Birkin, Lauren Hutton.

So, back to Anon's question: What is the chic, cool factor for those of us of a certain age?

Besides shades.


Genuine Lustre said…
My Aunt Lucy is chic and cool. She's 86 and loves embellished bootcut jeans,cute shoes, and lots of turquoise and silver jewelry. She's also an outrageous gossip and very opinionated, and thus is ever-entertaining. And yet she has a sense of propriety, in a "that's not done" sense. By contrast, my mother has slid into sensible shoes and elastic waist pants to go with her very meek personality. Maybe it has something to do with breaking the rules and living loud, yet maintaining good taste.
Anonymous said…
I like what you have to say about that, Genuine Lustre ....

In the end, it really is a certain je ne sais quoi, but good taste must be there. That much je sais!
Susan B said…
Great question, and I think to a large degree it will depend on culture and geography.

For me, both are rooted in simplicity and a certain degree of sophistication. "Cool" requires some element of edginess, maybe even un petit peu masculin. I can picture a venn diagram with the intersecting area of Chic and Cool as what I'm striving for. But both also require a harmony between the person and the outfit; as Genuine Lustre described her Aunt Lucy.
Vildy said…
You're counting the intersection - through your examples - as falling at the point that certain women have what looks to me as a flyaway, somewhat flapping style. I think you're probably right but what else, if anything is there. I'll pay attention to the reader comments. :)

I have, btw, almost the exact top as the Queen plus I own a flat knit cardigan in the same shade blue. For me, would not have thought to wear them together. I am striving to leave off the panicky thoughts of what on earth I will wear when I am, God willing, in my 80's. :) I like exhuberance but shudder at the pix in the Advanced Style blog.
MJ said…
Cool? At my age? What I hope for instead is chic and fashion forward. Too much striving for cool after a certain age can make us look ridiculous. (Think back to the women in the video you recently used.)
Duchesse said…
Genuine Lustre: Your aunt sounds marvelous. I agree that spirit and life, especially in one's 80s, are essential to maintaining a presence.

LuxeBytes: I believe Anonymous is searching for the "quoi"! What is "good taste" depends on who's observing it- as Ines' book shows.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: I agree, and would add, age. What is cool on a teen is not cool on a 50+, and what was cool when one WAS a teen may no longer be so. When I see men of 60 in their little chihuahua-dick ponytails (sorry-that is what we call them), that's painfully clear.

I too see them as Venn circles but was too rushed to try to draw that!

Vildy: Flapping, Lauren Hutton? Cool does not look like it's trying hard, so is not the precise look you see in "high chic",but it's not sloppy either.

In my 80s think I will find some suits, I love suits on elder women, both skirted and pants. Avoids that mall-walker look.

MJ: I don't think the women in the video are cool at all. Creative, lively, eccentric... but not one bit cool.

Cool implies effortless (the look, there may be effort behind it) and those women show a lot of effort.

Though I agree with you, cool is easier for me, as I "get" simplicity. The modishness required to be chic *at the level of Ines' Paris copines* is daunting.
Mardel said…
Agree that it depends on culture, geography, age but have trouble finding a definition. Can see that Lauren Hutton and Patti Smith definitely have it, but I can't define what it is.

I always thought of chic as being something very controlled and contained, whereas cool may be simple (or may not be) but also has a hint of something else, a passion or an edginess or something.

I'm not very coherent here, this is a language with which I tend to struggle.
Anonymous said…
When I think back on some of the older people who have impressed me with their cool one of the common denominators is an open and inquisitive mind. They never stop observing new technology, new culture, and new trends. They then absorb some of these aspects into their everyday lives, not for the sake of being cool but because they never stop learning and evolving. I think that is why it never looks forced. They aren't trying to be cool, they are cool because they never just settle into their own version of the status quo.
La Loca said…
I've always thought of "cool" as "chic's" younger relative. Both have an edgy, intellectual component and look effortless. But chic reflects the self-knowledge that comes with age.
coffeeaddict said…
Chihuahua-dick ponytails! This just made my day ;-)
As for the chic and the cool: I find they are both much more than the sum of our clothes and accessories. Much much more.
The chic and the cool are inevitably a reflection of our personalities. I find that a well educated smart witty woman can be both cool and chic even on a bad hair day.
Cool does conjure up rock chick in my mind.
Chic can be a more universal and timeless...

I'd like a more information...what are the basics for does a non chic gal embrace chic and is it an attitude or is it the clothes?

Genuine Lustre's aunt sounds like she could teach me a thing or two!

I hope you feel better soon...

Susan said…
Duchesse, I've been under the weather also and hope you are on the mend now.

I think chic in an older woman is definitely a combination of personality and her style. I agree with Deja Pseu that simple is most often chic. But simple is not the entire answer. It's more than that--and I don't think we can come up with a formula, because it's not a formula.
Marguerite said…
Is it an either or? I would choose chic, which to me embodies a high quality, classic, simple approach to outward appearance. Effortlessness would happen easily and that would be the cool factor!
Rubiatonta said…
To my mind, it's not what you're wearing, it's how you're wearing it. Chic is self-contained while cool winks at you a bit. Following the rules vs. breaking them. In general and for other women, I don't have a preference. For my own look, I prefer cool.

Michelle Obama, Anne Hathaway, and Princess Leticia of Spain are chic.

Tilda Swinton, Juliette Binoche, and Anika Noni Rose are cool.

See what I mean?
Duchesse said…
Mardel: If cool was easily pinned down, you'd see it more, at all ages. I think any woman can look chic even if it means putting ones'self in expert hands.

Anonymous @10:20: I think the Anonymous who asked the question was referring to personal style (unless you are that person. Anonymnity creates these problems so I appreciate it when anonymous posters sign even a nickname.) If one is open and curious it likely results in not defaulting to a boring uniform, but then, many people I've worked with over the years have had cool brains and boring clothes. And occasionally the opposite.

Jane W. Chic does not always look edgy to me (see HRH) but it certainly can!

coffeeaddict: Now you will never look at one quite the same way.
In my city, you can buy chic, and you'll look chic if you carry the clothes well, regardless of personality.

And I know a woman who is always extremely cool-looking. She also has deep, painful body issues. So the link between the inner and outer may be more tenuous than we at first think.

Marguerite: It's not either/or but as I read comments I am thinking it's hard to go out and shop "cool"- it's more attitude than anything else.

Rubi: I think Juliette Binoche is both! Might try to grab a few candid shots in Montreal to pursue the topic further.
Duchesse said…
Susan: Thanks, and get well, too. It's not a formula but I've learned so much from Jane Birkin that I like to ask myself "WWJD" (What Would Jane DO) when getting dressed :)

hostess: I know a number of nice looking but not chic women who have availed themselves of image consultants and stylists, some with better results than others. Some carry off their new look with aplomb, others hunch and look like they can't wait to get home and change. (Political candidates or wives of candidates often get this "fluffing".)

You see it also on well-done TV makeovers: an attractive woman suddenly looks ravishing, but still herself. That always looks chic, despite age or body type.
LPC said…
A leather jacket.

And then there's the looooooong answer:).
Vildy said…
I recently read the idea that chic
depends a lot on displaying what is current in fashion. This makes some sense to me. Those women who are singled out as chic though always wearing their timeless staples, well, they are being recognized.
Cool seems to involve a bit of
contrariness. What they seem to have in common is that I imagine both the chic and the cool as being looked at but not being the ones observing everyone else.

By "flapping" what I mean is that I think of those women as wearing more fabric than they "need."

I don't think of Lauren Hutton as cool anymore. Everything she became famous for is what everybody else has adopted by now.
Where is there left for her to go? :) Whereas Jane Birkin is going to put stickers on her bag and still give people a little thrill.
Duchesse said…
Vildy: Just because a woman is widely imitated for they way she has dressed for decades does not means she loses her individual cachet is she maintains that look. Hutton is now modeling for J. Crew, who keep a sharp eye on the cool factor. The Queen isn't much for updating either :)

Birkin's photos show a consistent style and I don't see much loose fabric on her long frame. Most recently photographed at Paris Fashion Week in a fitted black pantsuit.
The women I know who are cool all seem to rock that jolie-laide vibe - or like Deja Pseu put it, a hint of masculinity. I'm trying to think of a very feminine cool woman - can't at the moment.

The Jane Birkins and Patti Smiths and Lauren Huttons are all cool, but they're all quite noticably very thin. I think this helps with the masculine quality, but it's not a requirement for cool. Like Janeane Garofalo. Not chic, but definitely cool.
Duchesse said…
Vildy: That first sentence was garbled: "Just because a woman is widely imitated for the way she has dressed for decades does not mean she loses her individual cachet as she maintains that look."

Cool people don't fall for trends.
Duchesse said…
ONEWEIRDWORLD: Thanks so much for mentioning Janeane, definitely. She's 47, so I'm searching for an average to fuller-figured woman past 50 (whose photo we can see). Any ideas?

Cool seems to carry a subtext of pared down-ness, so being average to thin helps the visual expression, and is not essential.
Anonymous said…
For me, both "cool" and "chic" depend upon projected attitudes: to be cool, one can't care (or appear to care) about pleasing; to be chic, one must convey the certainty that one's look is absolutely RIGHT.

I don't know how to achieve these states, really. Maybe it's like musical talent: a few are born with perfect pitch, the rest of us find it occasionally through hard work, or stumble on it by accident.

Unknown said…
It also seems to me to possibly be a question of linguistics and different understanding and interpretation of the two words. There is also a time element. What might have been considered chic or cool 20 or 30 years ago may not be today. If you live in the present moment aware of what is going on around you and the response of others and who you are on the inside is congruent with how you project on the outside i belive you will achieve "it" whatever that might be called.
Unknown said…
PS. I think The Queen has it when she smiles and engages with people and she is always appropriately dressed.
Duchesse said…
Chicatanyage: Very interesting point. I seem to notice that people who were cool when young essentially stick with their look, while updating subtly.

Probably the same with women who have been chic for decades; Audrey Hepburn did not alter her look much.

So many people loved the Queen Mother's style too!

A funny story about what's cool: I saw a man in California in the early '80s wearing shorts with those tight cycling shorts underneath. (The underneath shorts hung down lower than the shorts on top). I thought he was a homeless person who piled everything on in order to keep his possessions secure. Within 2 years all the wannabe cool young bucks in my city were rocking that look. I simply did not have the eyes and frame of reference to see it as they did, as cool.
lyrebirdgully said…
There are two people who come to mind when I think of "cool". One was a 40-something one-time co-worker who was born with spina bifida. He was about 1/3 the height of an average adult. He never mentioned his disability or asked for special consideration. He was attentive, authoritative, capable and an excellent manager. His body placed him way off the fashion radar and his clothes were unremarkable: but he is the only person my son has ever described as "cool".
The other person was born with dwarfism. She was about 30 and worked in our local library. She wore her long mane of curls dyed the brightest possible ginger colour, and at all times offset her pale skin with pillarbox red lipstick and nailpolish. And she ruled the library checkout with unblinking direct eye contact that dared you to feel sorry for her. The borrowers adored her despite being very much in awe of her. She died unexpectedly, but is still missed.
What these two had in common was a refusal to be defined by others' expectations. In their very quiet ways, they demanded absolute respect. Both were proud; and the librarian believed in her own beauty, so that we all believed in it too.
Perhaps what we admire and call "cool" is that quality of courage: courage to live one's life -including one's style of dress - resolutely, as one has defined it for oneself, calmly, without self-promotion or self-justification. We can sense that courage in someone's bearing, though we may put no word to it, but nevertheless we offer it our respect - and the badge of "cool".
Duchesse said…
lyrebirdgully: Your comment addresses a broader sense of "cool" than Anon's question, solely concerned with "looking cool,chic".

The *cool person* may have any physical attribute or style. The inner qualities shine forth, and to signify our our respect and admiration, we apply the label "cool".

Some people are *cool personages* and also *look cool*, Barack Obama is often cited. Other people are deeply *cool personages* but don't look it (your co-worker). Some people who *look cool* have no other qualities other than superficial attractiveness.

The label "cool" tells a great deal about what the labeler admires. We sometimes project qualities on the object of the label. Should they disappoint us, we decide, not cool anymore.

A subset apply the label "cool" to individuals to show admiration for qualities that disturb me. Charlie Sheen, for example.

I look beyond the label to investigate what qualities the person displays to earn the lofty praise of "cool". I'd be in agreement with your examples.
Anonymous said…
I'm the original Anon wanting to look at the cool factor. Thank you all for your POV. It's been very interesting. Always it comes back to something we respect. The courage to stand out a little? At 59 I'm not aspiring to the trendy, yet I still don't want to say that I'm too old to try new things whether it's fashion,culture, travel,cusine. Maybe "cool" sounds a bit juvenile? How about "current", "in the know". Being fresh and updated and,cool, if you will, should make me feel more engaged and less marginalized and invisible as many women our age report feeling. Thoughtful answers and, Duchesse, your black leather tee shirt is one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time!!
Strict Anon
Duchesse said…
Strict Anon: Thank you for starting such a stimulating discussion. Keeping engaged, whether in dress, arts, technology etc. contributes to a stronger community and therefore better world.

Black leather tee proved to be one of my all time best purchases, glad you like it.

I'll be blogging soon on the biggest detriment to feeling cool at 50+, poverty among women.
Susan Tiner said…
In the Silicon Valley culture of the Bay Area, Steve Jobs is considered cool. I would dare to say that chic is not valued in that culture. If you try to be too chic, you're dismissed as uncool. This gives me some trouble, in trying to find my way toward looking well if not chic.
Duchesse said…
Susan Tiner: Steve's considered cool in many places; however his preferred garb (running shoes, jeans and turtleneck) doesn't do for me what a well-cut suit does... but as an innovator, supercool.
Suburbohemian said…
Aunt Lucy is my heroine! Attitude makes all the difference. Some women just decide to roll over and play dead. Love the idea of an intersection between chic and cool, but it is a moving target and not a formula.
Duchesse said…
Suburbohemian: I'd like to point out (not to you, but your comment brought forth what I've wanted to say) that "rolling over and playing dead" may have many causes:

1. Geriatric depression
2. Lack of money or fear of running out (rational or not)
3. Frustration with fit- ever try to find clothes cut to flatter aged bodies?
4. Decreased mobility
5. No time or energy, especially if caring for infirm partner

So when we see women who look that way, it's not always that they simply don't care.

It gets harder as you go. As my stylish 75 year old aunt said, "I am desperate for clothes."

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