Nerd / Geek / Hacker
The year was 1984, and nerds were in. They were cool, rad and bad in their highwaters, top-buttoned plaid shirts, taped-together glasses, digital watches and pocket protectors—even if they were pimply faced, greasy-haired, and socially inept. Michael Jackson made white socks with black shoes cool, new wave provocateur Thomas Dolby donned Bermuda shorts and knee socks, and Pee-Wee Herman turned his high-pitched squeal and goofy laugh into a million-dollar industry.
Nerds didn’t care about clothes and fashion, couldn’t quite grasp style even if they could buy it. Their clothes were functional, not fashionable. Wash and wear was the fabric treatment of choice, saving precious ironing time for more important computer programming. Growth spurts didn’t stop these geeks from wearing last year’s style, even if they were ankle-length highwaters in a wild plaid. The only mirror the nerds were looking into was the reflective glare of their monitor.
The nerds took revenge when movies, TV and music artists proudly celebrated their geekdom, and the oft-mocked geniuses suddenly became highly sought after computer geeks with the answers to modern technology. 80’s movies like WarGames, Weird Science and Real Genius turned tech-savvy geeks into heroes, while other underdog movies like Revenge of the Nerds, Can’t Buy Me Love and Sixteen Candles turned geek into chic.
Nerds got a rebellious rep when they became hackers, like Mathew Broderick’s David in 1983’s WarGames or the hot young stars of 1995’s Hackers. No longer were they creating video games at three in the morning, but their covert spy action saw them hacking, or breaking their way into businesses, school grade records, or even defense supercomputers and complex corporate conspiracies. Hackers became the anti-wuss, using their smarts to battle it out against their oppressors.
Dressing poorly, being socially inept, but having a mastery of technology no longer gave you the title of nerd… now you were a geek, a title to be worn with pride. Bill Gates, the quintessential computer geek, turned his smarts into a reign as the richest man in the world. Imagine what might have happened if the popular crowd had invited young Billy to all the cool parties and football games, or if he had dated Buffy, the head cheerleader.
As the rise of the Internet turned geeks into well-paid gurus, their anti-fashion became common workwear. Today’s techno geeks have a style that laughs in the face of the power-suited yuppies of yesteryear: Eddie Bauer’s rugged workwear turns every day into casual Friday, as dot.comers live and work in t-shirts, jeans, and Clark’s retro wallabies or a sturdy mountaineer’s boot. Ties went the way of nooses, and backpacks replaced briefcases.
The young 'Gen Y' drivers along the information superhighway created their own selective counter culture club. Messy ‘bed head’ hair, horn-rimmed glasses, and geeky velour shirts suddenly symbolized über-cool. Twentysomething computer geeks started their own multi-million Internet companies, and became the coolest kings of the planet.
So from the taunted, tortured and wedgiefied days of early youth, nerds have grown up to rule the world. Just look at Urkel, from TV’s Family Matters: this modern-day Romeo turned glasses, armpit pants, plaid shirts and suspenders into the coolest fashion statement of the decade.