Cool (aesthetic)

Coolness is an aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance and style which is generally admired. Because of the varied and changing connotations of cool, as well as its subjective nature, the word has no single meaning. It has associations of composure and self-control (cf. the OED definition) and often is used as an expression of admiration or approval. Although commonly regarded as slang, it is widely used among disparate social groups and has endured in usage for generations.

Overview

A timeline of cool, adapted from Dick Pountain and David Robins, Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude

There is no single concept of cool. One consistent aspect however, is that cool is widely seen as desirable.[1][2][3] Although there is no single concept of cool, its definitions fall into a few broad categories.

As a behavioral characteristic

The sum and substance of cool is a self-conscious aplomb in overall behavior, which entails a set of specific behavioral characteristics that is firmly anchored in symbology, a set of discernible bodily movements, postures, facial expressions and voice modulations that are acquired and take on strategic social value within the peer context.[3]

Cool was once an attitude fostered by rebels and underdogs, such as slaves, prisoners, bikers and political dissidents, etc., for whom open rebellion invited punishment, so it hid defiance behind a wall of ironic detachment, distancing itself from the source of authority rather than directly confronting it.[4]

In general, coolness is a positive trait based on the inference that a cultural object (e.g., a person or brand) is autonomous in an appropriate way. That is the person or brand is not constrained by the norms, expectation of beliefs of others.[5]

As a state of being

Cool has been used to describe a general state of well-being, a transcendent, internal state of peace and serenity.[6] It can also refer to an absence of conflict, a state of harmony and balance as in, "The land is cool," or as in a "cool [spiritual] heart." Such meanings, according to Thompson, are African in origin. Cool is related in this sense to both social control and transcendental balance.[6]

Cool can similarly be used to describe composure and absence of excitement in a person—especially in times of stress—as expressed in the idiom to keep your cool.

In a related way, the word can be used to express agreement or assent, as in the phrase "I'm cool with that".

As aesthetic appeal

Cool is also an attitude widely adopted by artists and intellectuals, who thereby aided its infiltration into popular culture. Sought by product marketing firms, idealized by teenagers, a shield against racial oppression or political persecution and source of constant cultural innovation, cool has become a global phenomenon that has spread to every corner of the earth.[7] Concepts of cool have existed for centuries in several cultures.[8]

As fashion

In terms of fashion, the concept of "cool" has transformed from the 1960s to the 1990s by becoming integrated in the dominant fabric of culture. America’s mass-production of "ready-to-wear" fashion in the 1940s and ‘50s, established specific conventional outfits as markers of ones fixed social role in society. Subcultures such as the Hippies, felt repressed by the dominating conservative ideology of the 1940s and ‘50s towards conformity and rebelled. According to Dick Pountain’s definition of "cool," Hippie's fashionable dress can be seen as "cool" because of its prominent deviation away from the standard uniformity of dress and mass-production of dress, created by the totalitarian system of fashion was seen as "cool."[9] They had various different styles that features bold colors such as the "Trippy Hippie," the "Fantasy Hippie," the "Retro Hippie," the "Ethnic Hippie," and the "Craft Hippie."[10] Additionally, according to the strain theory, Hippie’s hand production of their clothing makes them "cool." By naturally hand-making their clothing they rebelled against consumerism in a passive manner because it allowed them to simply not participate in that lifestyle, which makes them "cool." As a result of their disengagement, the scope of self-critique was limited because their mask filtered negative thoughts of worthlessness, fostering the opportunity for self-worth.[11]

Starting in the 1990s and continuing into the 21st century, the concept of dressing cool went out of the minority and into the mainstream culture, making dressing "cool" a dominant ideology. Cool entered the mainstream because those Hippie "rebels" of the late 1960s were now senior executives of business sectors and of the fashion industry. Since they grew up with "cool" and maintained the same values, they knew its rules and thus knew how to accurately market and produce such clothing.[12] However, once "cool" became the dominant ideology in the 21st century its definition changed to not one of rebellion but of one attempting to hide their insecurities in a confident manner.

The "fashion-grunge" style of the 1990s and 21st century allowed people who felt financially insecure about their lifestyle to pretend to "fit in" by wearing a unique piece of clothing, but one that was polished beautiful. For example, unlike the Hippie style that clearly diverges from the norm, through Marc Jacobs' combined "fashion-grunge" style of "a little preppie, a little grunge and a little couture," he produces not a bold statement one that is mysterious and awkward creating an ambiguous perception of what the wearer’s internal feelings are.[13]

As an epithet

While slang terms are usually short-lived coinages and figures of speech, cool is an especially ubiquitous slang word, most notably among young people. As well as being understood throughout the English-speaking world, the word has even entered the vocabulary of several languages other than English.

In this sense, cool is used as a general positive epithet or interjection, which can have a range of related adjectival meanings.

Other Languages
dansk: Cool
Deutsch: Cool
Esperanto: Mojosa
français: Cool (attitude)
עברית: קול (סלנג)
Türkçe: Cool (imaj)
吴语:
中文: