27 Feb Why Teens Don’t Wear Coats in the Cold

Today was Baltimore’s first truly springlike day of the season — right on time, because when we in the mid-Atlantic get to March, winter is done with us. It removes itself to the far north and our spring unfurls fairly quickly. That said, we know not to rush it. February in Baltimore can be bitter cold. And yet, just last week, during a day when the temperature did not rise above 32, I saw a young man walking across campus wearing a t-shirt, thin corduroys, and sneakers. Clearly he was making a statement. No, it wasn’t about wishful thinking; it was about his determination to look impervious to the cold.

This bad-weather bravado seems common among teenagers. I see more than a few kids wearing flip-flops on a winter day. Or wearing pajama bottonms in a blizzard. Sure, it gets my attention — which is why they do it. But, far from currying my admiration or awe, it simply makes me shake my head in wonder and dismay. It’s funny, really, that so many teens think it’s really cool to act as though the weather does not bother them when we know for a fact that the kid walking to class in a t-shirt and pajama bottoms during an ice storm is in for one, long misereable day. I’d have thought the truly cool kid would be the one who is dressed in high style for bad weather, either by going retro (wearing a Victorian slicker, say, with a broad-brimmed waxed felt hat, and an elegant umbrella) or by going high-tech (wearing a Goretex rain suit and waders).

There’s nothing cool about dressing down for a storm. Consider the cool cat who shows up at work without any rain gear on a day that’s sure to bring a deluge. What is he thinking? I myself carry a poncho and a Goretex rain hat in my satchel at all times. I recall how, when I was growing up, some men looked down upon those who wore “rubbers” or galoshes over their dress shoes, as if the men who would have dry feet were somehow less manly than those who would slosh around all day in soaked shoes. I guess it all boils down to the ideals of evolutionary biology: i.e., the man who could endure bad weather was the man most likely to succeed at the hunt. But wouldn’t the more successful hunter dress well for the weather so that he could endure it longer?

You see how the teen logic breaks down? And it doesn’t apply only to men. I see young women dressed ridiculously for cold weather: they may be wearing flats without socks and sleeveless mini-dresses on a below-freezing night. Of course, there comes a time when such people, after a few years of dressing down for the cold, finally say to themselves: “What the hell am I doing? I want a warm winter coat!” Chances are, they already have one. And gloves. And scarves. And hats. Actually, it’s fun dressing up for winter. That’s what they discover, if and when they come to their senses.

When I was a teenager, I’d do anything to avoid wearing a hat. Hats were not cool. But, man, the winter wind burned my cheeks and ears until, finally, I gave in and bought ear muffs. That was the beginning of the end of my cold-weather bravado. I realized that there are easier ways to make a statement about how cool or strong or impervious I think I am: if you’re going to pick a fight, don’t pick one with the weather. Not that you can tell this to the coatless teens who stride past you in winter as though it were spring. Their rebellion is cheap and easy, despite their discomfort. Let them have it because soon enough their idiotic, albeit innocuous, stand will come to an end when the blizzard of life buries them under other, more meaningful concerns.