A lot of recent fashion trends are no-brainers. Pink coats: awesome. Nipples: we’re going to wait that one out. But ‘normcore,’ christened by trend-forecasting collective (which is apparently a thing that exists) K-Hole, is the least-brainer of all the no-brainers. Dad jeans, Hanes tees and Birkenstocks? We want to go to there.
Here’s the elevator pitch: your family is on vacation in the late 90s. Your older brother’s in Tevas and basketball shorts, while Mom is sporting sandals with socks, khaki Bermudas and a Patagonia vest over a T-shirt. Dad’s rocking faded jeans, a baseball cap and running shoes. And you? You’re clinging to your precious Abercrombie sweatshirt because it still smells like Jeff, who totally hugged you good-bye at school on Friday, before you had to leave for this dumb vacation with your dumb family.
Such is the spirit of ‘normcore,’ the nostalgic anti-fashion that’s enjoying curious success among the establishment. And upon more than half-a-second’s thought, it’s easy to see why. Fashion, today, veers dangerously close being unique for the sake of being unique. When people will wear almost anything simply for the thrill of being noticed by street photographers, to don the uniform of flyover-state suburbans is revolutionary. Little boys and girls from Ohio who grew up to work at Marc Jacobs probably saw their parent’s style as the antithesis for everything associated with the fashion world—and no doubt there is a nostalgia element to ‘normcore’; if the trend were simply about looking like everyone else, it would likely involve far more au-courant elements rather than ones sourced straight from Friends or Malcolm in the Middle.
In a New York magazine story this week, ‘normcore’ is described by one of its torch-bearers at K-Hole as “not about being simple or forfeiting individuality to become a bland, uniform mass,” and “seeing that as an opportunity for connection, instead of as evidence that your identity has dissolved.” One freelance stylist calls it “one facet of a growing anti-fashion sentiment.” Both of these comments are interesting in that they are inherently paradoxical. The first implies that ‘normcore’ is some sort of populist movement based around human relationships, when it is coming out of the mouth of someone who works at a trend-forecasting collective who is paid to make sure fashion trends sound positive. The second disregards the fact that the fashion establishment has already embraced the style as its own. ‘Normcore’ isn’t anti-fashion or anti-establishment. If it were, the fashion world would have ignored it, instead of well, freaking out.
NYMag’s story went live on The Cut yesterday morning, and since then, we’ve already seen ‘normcore’ flare up and flame out. Like ‘seapunk’ or ‘hipster’ or other trends that have garnered so much rapid conversation that they’ve been embossed as buzzwords in the English language, simply identifying what ‘normcore’ is has spelled its death. Well, if not its death, then the end of its short life in subculture.
To put it succinctly, here’s Tavi Gevinson:
“Normcore” is now a thing; everybody just go naked
— Tavi Gevinson (@tavitulle) February 27, 2014
And in a pretty amazing stream of Tweets, VFILES weighs in:
normcore spot officially blown up how does it feel
— VFILES (@VFILES) February 27, 2014
Along with this alternative NYMag cover:
— VFILES (@VFILES) February 26, 2014
Gothamist even published their own guide to spotting authentic normcore style, and no doubt more will follow in the coming hours/milliseconds. But by far, the best explanation of what it means to co-opt regular people stuff and make it avant-garde comes from 30 Rock, which, let it be known, was all the way back in 2012:
Congratulations Jenna Maroney—you’ve finally succeeded in making yourself relevant!
Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa