How millennials became the least cool generation

Millennials have been knocked off the cool perch by Gen Z (Getty)
Millennials have been knocked off the cool perch by Gen Z (Getty)

Remember when the word “millennial” was shorthand for “cool”?

My generation – those born roughly between 1981 and 1996 – were talked and written about endlessly by the media, our every characteristic salivated over, scrutinised, scorned. For more than a decade, we were creatures of fascination, our cohort a byword for all things trendy. We were flat white-drinking hipsters; avocado-on-toast-eating snowflakes; fans of rose-gold finishings and the inspiration behind an era-defining eponymous shade of muted baby pink.

Though we hadn’t grown up online, we’d got our first mobiles in our teens, smartphones in our twenties, and were the right-aged demographic for the launches of the first mainstream social media platforms of MySpace and Facebook, making us more tech-savvy than our predecessors. While we were often blamed for the entire world’s problems – the banking crash and global recession weren’t the reason we couldn’t afford houses, it was our own profligate purchasing of pumpkin-spiced lattes – we were also, undeniably, the hip young things. Boomers were past it, mocked for their lack of internet literacy; Gen X had no real defining traits, or at least none that could be summed up in a snappy headline.

For my twenties and much of my thirties, I experienced an en masse version of “main character syndrome” – millennials were the stars, outshining our out-of-touch forebears. Anything and everything we did was, by default, interesting and cutting edge.

Of course it was inevitable that the new would become tired, the young, old. That’s the thing about the unstoppable passage of time, right? But nothing quite prepared us for the slow, inexorable slide from relevant tastemakers to figures of fun.

I first noticed the turning of the tide a few years ago, when articles started to appear detailing the emojis that marked you out as a millennial. Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2012 – wouldn’t be caught dead using the crying-laughing face, nor the thumbs up (branded “hostile”), nor the grimacing face. Green ticks were out, as were clapping hands and monkeys covering their eyes: all staunch millennial favourites.

From there, the derision worsened. The term “cheugy” was born, encapsulating all that was deemed basic, try-hard, outdated – a list essentially comprising stereotypical millennial attributes. Gen Z mocked us mercilessly on TikTok; all that had once made us trendsetters now flagged us as irredeemable losers. Being an adult who liked Harry Potter, Disney or Friends made you cheugy. Wearing skinny jeans made you cheugy. Wearing your hair in a side parting made you cheugy. Heck, even drinking a Starbucks made you cheugy. Oh, how the mighty had fallen!

Loving Harry Potter marks you out as a cheugy millennial (PA)
Loving Harry Potter marks you out as a cheugy millennial (PA)

Then there was the revival of Nineties fashion, beloved by Gen Z but reviled by millennials because we were there the first time round. We couldn’t in good conscience wear the stupid butterfly clips and bucket hats, wide-legged cargo trousers, oversized sportswear and unflattering crop tops of our youth all over again – it was too raw, triggering the remembered trauma of a puberty marked by Babyliss-straightened hair that still frizzed, non-existent eyebrows and brown (ew) lipstick that washed us out. I finally understood my mother’s consternation in 1999 when I came home from Tammy Girl with a Seventies-style psychedelic-print kaftan: “Why on earth would you want to wear that?”

We’ve been laughed at for using the words “doggo”, “yolo”, “vibe” and “adulting”. Mocked for our nostalgia and perceived earnestness. We’ve even been pilloried for our humour – considered too cringe or overly “quirky” – and something called the “millennial pause”, referring to the tendency to take a moment before starting to speak at the beginning of selfie videos on social media (evidence that we didn’t grow up with the same advanced tech as Gen Z).

Now, they’ve come for our socks.

The latest sign that you are a past-your-best millennial is a propensity to flash your ankles rather than wearing a long, white crew sock pulled halfway up your calf. Numerous Tiktok videos have chided the millennial habit of donning ankle or trainer socks. As my Gen Z colleague put it when writing about the phenomenon, “I find wearing ankle socks in public an embarrassing ordeal.”

Gen Z mocked us mercilessly on Tiktok; all that had once made us trend-setters now flagged us as irredeemable losers

We’ve reached a stage where the popular “OK boomer” meme may well be overtaken by “OK millennial”. Is there anything from our era that isn’t considered hopelessly uncool? Weirdly, the answer might just lie in our more analogue technology. I hear flip-phone sales are on the up; cassette tapes are making a comeback. And romcoms, the summer staple of the Nineties and Noughties, are finally enjoying a much-needed revival courtesy of hits such as Anyone But You and the To All the Boys franchise.

The temptation, amid all this mockery, is to retaliate. To take aim at Gen Z’s penchant for laminated brows and 17-step makeup routines; ridicule their proclivity to listen to music without headphones on public transport and call themselves “damp” or “sober curious”; roll eyes at their obsession with boundaries and therapy speak and calling out all things “problematic” (a term that applies to pretty much everything).

But I’ll take my medicine. Snigger upon seeing my unironic use of the rofl emoji, please. Mutter “OK millennial” under your breath when I dare to wear a trainer sock in public. And call me cheugy, by all means – you’ll still never shame me out of ordering an avocado toast.