Style

6 Different Stores Dressed Me “Cool” And I'm Still Kind Of Confused

"Cool" is kind of like porn: You know it when you see it. But how do you actually define it?

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Hi, I’m Chelsea. And I want to know: What in the world is a “cool” person, and can I ever become one?

Instagram: @theseamar

Well, I'm out of the running for two-thirds for sure: I am emotional and I always run cold. Not cool, but cold — and that is SO not cool (apparently). I also find people who are friendly and open with their feelings "cool," so maybe I don't actually have a good gauge for a broad definition.

The only time that I've actively pursued cool did not go so well.

Kathy Marshall

Exhibit A, circa 2000. I am 12 and I, uh…didn't succeed. Yes, that's a bucket hat and bungee cord pants.

While I've stopped putting a ton of stock in coolness since my bucket hat days, "cool" is an undeniably powerful, if illusive, currency.

Coolness means you embody confidence, and people (I assume) are nicer to you, and take you more seriously. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be flattered if someone thought of me that way.

That's probably why "cool" is so prevalent in marketing, even if not explicitly stated: Saying a product is "cool" negates the promise, so we use terms like "fashionable," "hip," or "stylish." Basically, cool is kind of like porn (you know it when you see it). So how can you really define it?

In pursuit of the truth, I braved new frontiers for the first time in 15 years: I tried to be cool. To do this, I set out one morning to to see if I would feel differently if I dressed according to what different stores prescribed as "cool." Here's what happened.

* I would go into each store and ask them to help me look "cool."

* I would go into stores with varying price points and intended customer bases.

* I could not give them any indication of what I thought was "cool" and would keep my winter coat on, so as not to tip them off.

* I would not include shoes in the outfit, since only some places had them.

* If I loved anything (and could afford it), I would buy it at my own expense, so that I didn't waste anyone's time.

For reference, this is what I was wearing under my coat — a pretty typical outfit for me:

Taylor Miller for BuzzFeed

In the spring and summer, I dress more colorfully, but in winter I pretty much stick to a uniform. Hey, I'm from California, and cold months are still confusing AF to me.

Something I didn't consider when I asked the sales associate to make me look "cool": There are endless options and looks at a department store. Nevertheless, I expected Bloomingdale's to have some generic "cool" options. I talked to three different sales associates who were all equally confused and a little flustered by my question. Eventually, one suggested I take the looks off the mannequins themselves. So I did, and I have to say, I looked pretty cool in the outfit on the right.

The black and gray, complete with leather jacket, fit with my perceptions of "cool." I also really liked the ripped jeans, but kind of feel like a fraud for not ripping them myself. I had to leave all those items behind, because I have a mental block on paying $100 for ripped jeans, and an even bigger one against buying a leather jacket more expensive than my rent. Which ain't so cool in my book.

How cool I felt on a scale of 1–10: 7

I felt a little more awkward going into Chico's than I thought I would. Mostly because I stood out like a young, sore thumb. But that immediately dissipated when the sales associate took the size 5 I had in my hand and told me, "At Chico's, you're a 0." AND LIKE, OMG THANK YOU, that's so kind. I should be shopping at Chico's forever.

After that initial shock, I asked her to make me look cool and she laughed at me. I got laughed at, at a Chico's. But I pushed on — I wasn't Chico's cool yet. But I was going to be.

When the sales associate realized I meant business, she picked out this cool number that she said would "go with my eyes" and "be very good for summer." It is cold AF in NYC right now, and I appreciated that forward thinking.

When I put on the outfit, I immediately felt wiser, way more powerful, but still a little relaxed. I realized I felt and looked like Hillary Clinton on vacation. The sales associate agreed, giving me a thumbs up and a "so cool." And you know what? I did feel cool.

How cool I felt on a scale of 1–10: 6*

*The only reason I docked it points is that, while I felt cool in my Chico's bubble, I think if I stepped outside, I would feel weird wearing clothing made for someone a bit older. That being said, I could totally rock the white outfit at some fancy Hampton's party.

Taylor Miller for BuzzFeed

Topshop was at a distinct advantage over the other stores: They had personal shoppers on hand to tell me what was up. Without batting an eye, Ashley, my shopper, pulled three "cool" looks from the different types of women that Topshop sorts its stores by.

The one on the top left made me feel like a flight attendant, the one on the top right made me feel like a combo of Chanel No. 3 and British Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap. The overalls made me feel comfortable and like myself. Weirdly, I feel the coolest in the overalls (which I bought bc a good-fitting pair of overalls is hard to come by, in my experience). I think I look the coolest because of how I felt in them. I know there are people out there who could pull off the other looks, but I am not one of them.

How cool I felt on a scale of 1–10 in top left outfit: 3

How cool I felt on a scale of 1–10 in top right outfit: 2

How cool I felt on a scale of 1–10 in bottom outfit: 8

This outfit is something I would never wear. For not a lot of fabric, there is so much going on. The "UNAVAILABLE" across it seems like something that suggests I'm super available. But that's just me: I don't like things with big words on them, and I don't particularly think this style of dress is flattering on me. When I'm uncomfortable, I pose weirdly, so I readily admit that I made the dress uncool. The dress did not make me uncool. This seems to be a theme.

How cool I felt on a scale of 1–10: 1

Taylor Miller for BuzzFeed

Urban Outfitters is all about that Coachella vibe, and it honestly makes me very self-conscious. There's nothing that tells me I've gotten old like going in a store that I think hasn't changed much and not wanting to wear any of it. But here I was, trying on a floral dress with a tasseled jacket. I wanted to fly out of there as quickly as possible.

How cool I felt on a scale of 1–10: 3

Chelsea Marshall for BuzzFeed

OK. This store is kind of the epitome of what I don't like about "cool": aloof, unnecessarily moody, and kind of a DGAF attitude that says GET OUT OF THIS STORE. I saved it for last because I was the most nervous about going in. (I know, SO uncool.) I asked the sales associate for a cool outfit and, after a very pregnant pause and a VERY skeptical look up and down, she brought me a dress that would "sell itself" and a black leather jacket.

But then I got timid: I couldn't bring myself to have my photographer, Taylor, take the picture out in the open, for fear of being judged (or, worse, asked to leave). I was a big, uncool chicken and instead took the photo myself in the dressing room.

As for the outfit, I can see why the concept of this outfit is cool, but I didn't feel cool in it, TBH. Maybe it's because I was doing noncool thing numero uno and caring what people thought. Either way, I felt a little Black Swan-y and it just didn't look right on me. I'm sure this looks rockin' on someone else, but I had to put it away. (At $300 for the dress alone, I would've had to put it back regardless.)

How cool I felt on a scale of 1–10: 6

1. Most definitions of "cool" include a leather jacket, no matter the store. I guess it's the Fonz effect holding strong decades later. BUT EVEN THEN, there are so many variations on those jackets.

2. If you're uncomfortable, even the "coolest" outfit will look terribly uncool.

3. Asking someone to find you something cool can be the most uncool, awkward thing you'll do all day.

4. No one was able to put into words what a "cool" outfit is because NO ONE CAN DEFINITIVELY SAY. It changes too much from person to person, brand to brand. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS COOL.

5. Except being nice: Nice is always cool and if you think otherwise, you need to check yourself.

6. Since no one can agree one what "cool" means, you're free to define it yourself! And isn't that what fashion should be about anyways?