Obscure origins of a thirtysomething crush

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The Independent Culture
AS MIDDLE AGE approaches (I was 34 last week, at last, and promise this will never be mentioned again), I am in the grip of two different cultural obsessions. The first is the obvious one: that all of a sudden, however much I struggle to understand, I don't have a clue about teenage style, let alone the pre-teen variety that my five-year-old is so confident about.

We've already had skirmishes for the past couple of months over what clothes he'll put on in the morning. These usually centre around this nice green top that I bought him from Gap (yes, Gap, hoping it would be groovy enough for him). I get it out of the chest of drawers, and he looks at it in distaste, as if it were covered in slime or something.

"Mum, I'm not wearing that top to school," he says firmly. "No way, it's too big."

"But I thought you liked big tops," I say.

"I like baggy tops," he says. "Baggy tops with hoods on."

I can't believe this is happening to me. Six months ago, he didn't care what he wore, as long as it was comfortable. Now, he has a set of sartorial rules as precise and incomprehensible as a Regency dandy's. What's even worse is that I'm fighting with him about it - which I swore I'd never do, after my own quarrels with my mother. ("Mum, I'm not wearing those sandals to school. No way, they're too flat.")

Three days ago, I finally realised that I was completely out of my depth with kiddie culture, when we watched Top of the Pops together for the first time. A group called East 17 came on, and, frankly, they looked ridiculous. They were wearing ill-fitting denim dungarees that weren't done up, so that the top halves flapped around their knees; and silly white baseball caps, and fluffy white sweatshirts.

"Why don't they do their dungarees up?" I asked, peevishly.

"It's cool," said Jamie.

"Well, and what's so great about their tops?" I said. "They look big to me."

"They're baggy," he said, with infinite patience. "Baggy, with hoods on."

So I started wondering: if East 17 looked cool to him, what did I look like? Tragically unhip? Embarrassing to be seen with? And then I wondered some more, about what clothes I should be wearing these days: because I've been wearing the same sort of things for the past 10 years (jeans, T-shirts, the occasional short skirt). Could it be possible that a change was called for, to avoid looking like thirtysomething mutton dressed as twentysomething lamb?

Needing some advice on the subject, I bought Vogue, which said on the cover: "SHOULD WOMEN DRESS THEIR AGE?" Inside, there were some photographs of elegant older women: Catherine Deneuve; Lydia, Duchess of Bedford; and the extraordinary Carmen del Orifice, who, according to Vogue, "seems to have got the balance absolutely right, looking modern and relaxed but not like a teenager manque". Carmen, in the picture opposite, was wearing a long black skirt with a string of pearls wrapped tightly around her knees. Perhaps this was very modern, but it would not make me feel relaxed to be hobbled by jewellery. The Duchess of Bedford, on the other hand, wore her jewellery in more conventional places and recommended keeping things simple: admirable advice, though I don't think I'll ever achieve her aristocratic poise. And Catherine Deneuve - well, she looked fantastic, in floppy yet tailored dark trousers.

Inspired, I rushed upstairs and put on a pair of grey linen trousers that I'd bought a few years ago, after someone told me I'd never get anywhere at work if I didn't dress to impress. They looked OK; not as great as Catherine Deneuve's trousers (though that had more to do with what was inside them), but fine none the less. So I came back downstairs and said to Jamie, "how do I look?"

"Nice," he said.

"But not cool?" I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

"No, not cool," he said, with authority.

It was soon after this conversation that I was gripped by my second cultural obsession: Justine Frischmann, the 25-year-old lead singer of Elastica. I've been reading about her for a while - partly because we've got the same first name - so I already knew that she has a pop star boyfriend (Damon Albarn, from Blur), and a rich architect father, and a university degree. But this mild interest was rapidly intensifying, because she seemed to personify the way I wanted to look when I was her age (cropped hair, tight jeans, chunky work boots); and maybe still want to look now. All right, I admit it: linen trousers are all very well, but it would be better to be truly cool, like Justine.

I haven't wanted to be another girl for ages - not since I was 13, and read Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers (oh Darryl, your life was so exciting). In fact, maybe Darryl and Justine have something in common: carefree tom- boys, unencumbered by any responsibility, apart from the necessity to have adventures.

Anyway, I confessed my Justine crush to Kate, our very hip 24-year-old babysitter. Kate is a student who knows about bands so cool I have never heard of them; but, much to my surprise, she admitted that Justine Frisch- mann had invaded her subconscious too.

"I dreamt about her not long ago," said Kate. "We met in Primrose Hill, and I went back to her house, and she talked about her relationship with Damon. She said that he was sleeping with other women, and it was beginning to get to her. She had on these high-heeled pink strappy sandals, which was weird, because she'd never usually wear that kind of thing."

I found this strangely comforting: not only because it demonstrated that I was not alone with my thoughts of Justine, but also because Kate's dream seemed very perceptive. Even the coolest Justine in the world has secret worries. We are not alone in our confusion. !

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