The concept of cool has long eluded elucidation, with various explanations never quite satisfying. We can all recognize cool when we see it – whether it is James Dean or Kate Moss you can just tell when someone has ‘it’. Now a new paper entitled ‘What Makes Things Cool’ by Caleb Warren and Margaret C. Campbell (one a business, one a psychology professor) published in the Journal of Consumer Research has attempted to scientifically analyse and articulate the essence of coolness.
Icons of Cool Left: James Dean, Right: Kate Moss
The paper suggests that coolness can be defined thus: "A subjective, positive trait perceived in people, brands, products, and trends that are autonomous in an appropriate way."
It follows then that cool is predicated not on one specific look (although clearly ripped jeans and biker jackets symbolize the vibe) but on having the balls to defy convention and go your own way – although only to a certain extent. Punt too far away from the norm (or 'appropriate') and you lose the cool and come off slightly unhinged (think mis-matched shoes, nipple tassels, anything purple). If you instead play it safe in chinos and polo shirts, you’re never going to nail autonomy or ‘cool’.
Cool Girls: L-R French Model Caroline de Maigret, Patti Smith & French Singer Francoise Hardy
So how do you make a departure from the mainstream – particularly the perceived repressive or unnecessary aspects of conformity – without coming off too eccentric?
The first step is to find a personal style that is both original but not ‘too’ out there. Examine the women that have been cool throughout the ages – their defiant look is often very similar. From Patti Smith to Francoise Hardy to Caroline de Maigret to Alexa Chung, there’s a shifting scale of disheveled-ness, a twist on wardrobe staples from the rock tee to a Breton top, great jeans and a signature hairdo.
Leather, Plaid & Denim, a Rebellious Wardrobe which is Still Socially Acceptable - Alexa Chung Nails Cool
Simplicity is always key to achieving coolness. Never, ever go over the top, and keep in mind Coco Chanel’s aphorism: ‘Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.' Et Voila, you too can go to the Ball of Cool.
For more examples of coolness, click through Alexa Chung's look book below...