Columns on fashion, culture and ideas

Art & Culture / In Pictures

How To Be Cool

In Pictures is a still and moving image gallery for significant works, events and places

Marlon Brando on the set of One-Eyed Jacks, 1961
Marlon Brando on the set of One-Eyed Jacks, 1961

How to be cool – surely a question that, once posed, renders the person definitively the opposite. Because ‘cool’, by its very nature, is a quality that eludes definition...

How to be cool – surely a question that, once posed, renders the person definitively the opposite. Because "cool", by its very nature, is a quality that eludes definition; a visceral frisson so obvious to those who witness it, yet that is worn so effortlessly by the possessor that they are unaware of its presence. It has no hierarchy, defying the trappings of wealth and beauty, age and designer fashion that society uses to structure and segregate its ranks. Etymologically speaking, it is believed that cool gained its modern implication in a muddled process of translation and retranslation, when the French word "nonchaloir" (meaning non-heat) became the English "nonchalant", taking the sense of ‘coolness’ in its literal form with it. But to try to be cool is certainly not nonchalant; rather it is entirely the opposite. Indeed, if one is truly cool, isn’t it a bit uncool to believe that cool even exists at all?

"If one is truly cool, isn’t it a bit uncool to believe that cool even exists at all?"

What is clear is that the elusory and indefinable nature of cool only serves to make it all the more desirable, and the internet abounds with resources for the dedicated researcher. Writer Mark Greif equates the idea of cool directly to being part of a visible counter-culture, Wiki pages promise that cool is in direct correlation with self-confidence, and the NME gives 20 Commandments of Cool, listing the prized qualities of their favourite artists – “everything they say seems to be enigmatic, and their silences are even more enigmatic". Yet all the time, this advice is as insubstantial as the concept itself. But now London’s School of Life, founded by philosopher Alain de Botton, has decided to take on this supposedly unteachable subject, and offers a three-hour lesson, literally, in “How To Be Cool". Here, tutor Nick Southgate put his tips together for AnOther...

1) Be timely – cool people seem to be in the right place, at the right time, doing the right things with the right people. It is all about timing. Learning to respond to the moment in the moment is at the heart of being cool. That's about confidence, poise and knowing what's right.

2) Be effortless – cool people never look like they're trying. They not only do the right thing, they do it naturally, effortlessly and without fuss. Of course, the paradox is that nothing takes more effort than looking effortless. You can spend a lifetime getting ready for a cool moment.

3) Find your cool, not someone else's – what's cool for one person isn't cool for someone else. It's about what's right in your life. If you copy someone else, you'll probably come up short. Cool people lead not follow. You need to take the lead in your own life and find the way to be timely and effortless at the things that are important to you.

Text by Tish Wrigley

The next How to Be Cool class takes place on February 22, at The School of Life.

Tish Wrigley is the AnOther assistant editor.

Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates