The Yuppie is dead - long live the Yettie

They're young. They're smart. They're rich. They think they rule the world - and probably do. Sounds familiar? Yuppie-chronicler Peter York wonders if the Y2k version is any different from the original
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The Independent Online

I like a tribe. We all do - so it's not surprising that the world wants an acronym, a tribal name, for the New Rich, the young technology people. The rest of the world wants to get a grip, after all, hoping some of the lucky-dust will rub off. So, in the nick of time, in steps Tina Brown's Talk magazine, which recently designated the new generation "Yetties": young, entrepreneurial, tech-based, twentysomething.

I like a tribe. We all do - so it's not surprising that the world wants an acronym, a tribal name, for the New Rich, the young technology people. The rest of the world wants to get a grip, after all, hoping some of the lucky-dust will rub off. So, in the nick of time, in steps Tina Brown's Talk magazine, which recently designated the new generation "Yetties": young, entrepreneurial, tech-based, twentysomething.

Yetties are the boys and girls of the new economy, of e-commerce; the people who have made the new millions - or are in line for - them because they own bits of businesses that Wall Street and the City have valued incredibly highly.

An old golden rule of sociology says that we admire and imitate the styles of people with clear political, military or economic leadership (hence all the fuss about Japanese design and sushi in the Eighties). Thus impressionable souls will want to fix up their lives Yettie-style now. But there isn't that much to copy. We know it's a dressed-down look, and the home is a clean-sweep flat because that's sentient twentysomethings everywhere. There'll be no Bunny Rogers' kits or David Hicks' tablescapes for them. The precise dress-code, however, depends where you belong within the Yettie taxonomy (and be sure there is one).

Talk identified three types - the nerds, the neo-Yuppies and the mouse-jockeys. The nerds were there at the beginning. They hacked for fun, not profit, at university. They had a Goth phase and they absolutely weren't cool at school. But now they've come good, they've got everything they wanted - technology, sports equipment - and if there's been an IPO (Initial Public Offering, what they used to call a float) they'll be millionaires.

Then there's the neo-Yuppie prepster Yettie. These are the socially skilled, networked types, who 10 years ago would've been investment bankers, or advertising suits. They're the people who bring the new sensibility to the mainstream in big BAM (Bricks and Mortar/Old World) companies. He (he can, of course, be a woman) is the e-commerce director, or something similar. He packages and explains his nerdy, mousy friends to the straight suits in the boardroom. Or he runs off with them to create a start-up, with prospects of making more - much more - than even the big-bank bonus his brother's just received. His home will be filled with classic and designer versions of the casual hipster, home-boy stuff that's the base-material of Yettiedom.

Mouse-jockeys are what used to be the old alternative margins, the Art and Technology kids of 1994 who went to Brian Eno talks at London's ICA gallery. They do content - designing websites, or creating stuff for Internet magazines. Ten years ago they'd all have been in bands or making funny little under-funded films. There'll be a fair few tattoos and piercings here, and some early-Shoreditch clothes - some of the girls have only just eased out of their Doc Martens. Mouse-jockeys, most of them, haven't worked out how to make the big money. But when they do, they collect Early Modern Mass - music, movies, posters, mid-century furniture, that kind of thing.

The Yettie wardrobe is, I have to say, boring. Deeply boring. It's made up of standard utilitarian items (genuinely useful but seriously hard to fetishise), up-graded in cost and brand terms. There's lots of black nylon - carry-ons and sling-overs and the rest, picked up at important conferences - a lot of combats, and even chinos (with a few strategically used bits of Prada and Gucci for the more social types). Plus, of course - and I can hardly bear to say this - sports footwear, which has its own history and hierarchy now, so there's a premium on the old Adidas and Puma varieties.

Then there's the gear itself. A mobile with Wireless Application Protocol (Internet access to you and I), a PalmPilot, a superior lap-top, modem, DVD and the rest. A music player with MP3-downloaded music, a Tag-Heuer watch (a chosen Yettie brand for its functional look).

The stripped-down aesthetic is, of course, as fraudulent as anything going - more actually, in its suggestion of a flat, egalitarian, networked world - and its potential for self-expression potential practically zero. But it feels so nice, so get real, so stripped-down, so global citizen, so baggage-free, so legacy-light.

So I'm sure we'll all go with it.

Oh how those that knew laughed at the creatures - cardboard-suited yobs and chancers - that the Eighties media used to call Yuppies. The less than satisfactory British version of the Yuppie Handbook, published in 1984, seemed to believe that anyone with a pulse and a Porsche was a Yuppie. Its Yuppies were a sad parade of estate agents and below-stairs City types, because - and this was the burden of the book - you were what you bought. It all seems dreary and middle-aged now, the stuff of provincial court cases where deluded litigants - insurance brokers and car dealers, looking like something straight off The Fast Show - talk enviously about each others' glamorous Yuppie lifestyles.

Of course we knew that Yuppies were more than a bunch of haberdashery brands and designer kitchen implements. Real Yuppies - genuinely Young Urban Professionals - did exactly what it said on the tin. They were clever, hyper-educated townies with transferable skills who lived to improve the shining hour. To do things well.

They wanted to learn and - to use the American - stretch their brains (far more important than their pecs or calves). They were Personal Business Units even when employed by someone else, because they always thought about their "personal trajectory" and the next job. The essence of Yuppiedom was manic planning and the belief that things could be thought through and managed down by seriously clever people.

Wherever they worked - in the real professions, the City, in consultancy, investment banks or even the public sector - they aimed to make their organisations clever and modern. They networked fiercely with their own kind, because they related more to their contemporaries from their time at Cambridge - or LSE or Manchester - than to their class, community or whatever. They were natural internationalists, too, because their stints at Insead or Wharton or Harvard Business School meant they became part of an ever-bigger community of the clever. They lived with and married their own kind - educated, clever, achieved - but they didn't necessarily aim to be just a commercial-wolf pair. A real Eighties Yuppie at, say, the management consultants McKinseys, could very well have been married to a senior registrar in oncology or neurosurgery who wanted to stay in the public sector.

Real Yuppies didn't usually much like Thatcher either. Though they benefited from her, they were New Labour before their time. And they considered most of the people whom the newspapers labelled Yuppies as absolutely naff, overdressed, over-decorated, over-branded and over the top in every way.

In its mass-market incarnation, Yuppie was eminently accessible. You didn't need background, and the foreground bit sounded pretty painless - a Filofax, a working knowledge of designer brands and a can-do proto-American world view. This was the mind-set that made lads vulnerable to flash recruiters with dodgy schemes and brochures showing the extravagant kit you got with your bonus - mobiles (expensive then), Ferrari Testarossas, Docklands conversions. Everything you'd seen in the papers. So those lads went back to Mum in Luton, and dreamed the Golden Dream - and went into negative equity in '89.

The point about that particular version of Yuppiedom is that it's been utterly absorbed. An interest in IT, designer brands, fancy coffee, Thai food and other former exotica, modern interior design, offices clad with liver-coloured granite panelling, long-haul holidays - all are now part of the national experience, as unremarkable as liposuction and face-lifts.

These days, the alleged Yuppie kit looks deeply middle-aged and suburban. Chain-storey, officey, suity, superior wage-slavey. Their hair's all wrong, they've got a Harrods carrier bag (Selfridges is the store now). Everything has changed.

Which is precisely why those early days are so poignant. There we all are with our first taste of money, of taste - and of the future. For now, in the midst of a dizzying boom, with house prices roaring away, millionaire status commonplace, and a new-technology rhetoric creating the biggest and most unpredictable group of New Rich the world has ever seen, I'd only ask one thing: whatever happened to New Age and Generation X?