Slacks & Slackers: A guide to understanding GenX

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I’m a member of GenX. Nobody talks about us much, because we’re a small group sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and Millennials. That’s ok. We don’t tend to seek the spotlight. However, there is a stereotype that has persisted for far too long, and I’d like to address it now:

Despite what society has claimed, we are neither cynical, nor slackers.

If you disagree, I have one word for you: Slacks. Not ‘slackers’. Slacks.

GenX grew up during “The Age of Dockers,” and believe me, it is nearly impossible to be either cynical or a slacker when you’re cocooned within a layer of wrinkle-resistant khaki. In fact, it’s hard to be anything but compliant and…careful.

The impact of Dockers on GenX was huge. It resonated throughout culture and our lives. As evidence, consider this anecdote from my own life:

It was the fall of 1991. I was a senior in college, and all was right in my world. I had great friends, a wonderful boyfriend, and I was going to graduate in the spring.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

I returned from Thanksgiving break to find that my boyfriend’s wardrobe had grown exponentially. It now included ten pairs of Docker’s pants. He had, he informed me, gone shopping over the break with his father, who insisted that a lack of Dockers indicated an inability to cross the threshold to manhood. Thus, one week later, I was surrounded by pleats.

This was a real loss of innocence for me. Until that day, I had not realized there were so many shades of beige. And all of them were represented, along with hues of gray, olive, black and blue, in my boyfriend’s new attire. In fact, the Dockers were so plentiful, they seemed to demand their own descriptor. Were they an oevre of pants? A flight of Dockers? I wasn’t sure, but one thing was clear: The dress code for our relationship had become business casual.

We broke up soon after.

Along with the impact of Dockers, there’s something else that influenced the development of GenX:

Everything around us blew up. EVERYHING. Literally and figuratively. All the time.

The Challenger Space Shuttle? Blew up.

The Cold War? Constantly threatened to blow up. (Remember bomb drills under our desks?)

AIDS? Blew up sex.

MTV? Blew up how music was consumed (but in a good way).

The divorce of everyone’s parents? Blew up their lives. And ours. Repeatedly.

The re-marriage of everyone’s parents? Blew up our lives again.

The economy? It has blown up constantly, starting when we were in junior high (and our parents lost their jobs), and continuing today.

As a result, GenX-ers learned very quickly to watch our step, because our world has been a minefield, and we’ve experienced some pretty big explosions. Fortunately, our Dockers helped instill civility and self-sufficiency in our demeanor. We are, generally speaking, polite, focused problem-solvers.

Another way of saying this:

We’re not slackers.

We’re not cynical.

We’re demolition recovery experts, and we’re just trying to stay out of the hot zone.