This is Vogue’s idea of normcore, which I think is pretty nice. Photo by Jason Lloyd Evans
It’s very nearly May, and summer is creeping up on us in a clumpy, unstealthy way. The days are getting longer and my memory is getting shorter. Hopefully, someday soon, I’ll blink and it’ll be July. I’ll have somehow fixed the wonky nose bit on my Ray Bans and all my friends will be in the park, drinking cans of cider and laughing merrily because everyone will have forgotten that normcore ever existed.
If one so-called trend could be a conformation of the grey, sludgy in-between times of not-quite-winter, not-quite-spring, it’s normcore. Nondescript, boring, the sandbank on which the ship of creativity has run adrift.
If you don’t know what normcore is, then bless you. You most likely have a real life, probably full of incidental things like responsibilities and dependents.
Fiona Duncan, the New York-based journalist who brought normcore to the masses (her article is a great introduction to the trend), categorises it thusly:
…not to describe a particular look but a general attitude: embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for “difference” or “authenticity.” In fashion, though, this manifests itself in ardently ordinary clothes. Mall clothes. Blank clothes. The kind of dad-brand non-style you might have once associated with Jerry Seinfeld, but transposed on a Cooper Union student with William Gibson glasses.*
The idea of normcore ballooned from there. It crossed continents. Suddenly, entirely black, grey and soft faded denim outfits with classic kicks underwent some sort of profound cultural transformation. Wearing American Apparel mom jeans and New Balance trainers were no longer the epitome of the easy, clean-lined uniform that many young women aspired to own. These outfits were now some sort of postmodern statement about the mutability of identity and the chameleonic nature of the social media age woman. What was once a logical addition to a wardrobe (those Nike Free Runs feel like I’m wearing socks!) is now proof that hipsters have overstretched themselves. They’re trying to be so hip, they’re square. Huey Lewis would be spinning in his grave if we wasn’t still alive and, presumably, too busy counting his royalty money from Sesame Street.**
Anyway, it’s bullshit. Normcore is nothing but fertiliser. It somehow got so big that even I couldn’t escape it. I pitched and wrote an article all about it for the Irish Times (that I 100% stand behind, by the way), because much as I hate the theory behind it, I love the clothes.
What we think of as ‘normcore’ isn’t actually normcore.
According to the trend forecasting agency that coined the term, K-Hole, what has just been described is not actually normcore. Rather, it is ‘Acting Basic’, another term ingeniously devised by the company to describe dressing in as nondescript a way as humanly possible without just staying at home forever and ever, where no-one will ever look at what you’re wearing. Apparently, normcore is really about a person’s ability to adapt to any situation, much in the way a KISS devotee will slap on a few layers of face paint before heading to see Gene Simmons lick his bass.
It’s an unfortunate irony that the terms were coined by a company possibly named after the dissociative, out-of-body effects of large amounts of the anaesthetic (and recreational drug) ketamine. Normcore (or, indeed, Acting Basic) is fashion on too much K; emotionally narcotised, involuntarily motionless and, ultimately, not really worth it. It’s fashion that’s too sluggish to get a hard-on. That being said, too much normcore won’t result in having a tube put through your bladder.
What we understand as normcore is redefining something that never needed a definition in the first place
While there is a generally accepted theory that clothing is a language of its own, with many, many, many interesting books on the subject, trying to tack a whole underlying theory on what is essentially dressing in the most boring way possible seems a little bit revisionist. It’s like being in a poetry class where the lecturer is convinced that an image in a poem (a deer, for example) is some deeply convoluted metaphor for the fluidity of female sexuality in a post-post-postmodern, patriarchal society. However, the poem was written in 1693 and the poet himself would only have understood about two in five words coming out of the lecturers mouth.
It’s just a deer. That’s the beauty of poetry – and dressing up. It is however you read it. This goes for jumpers as well as metaphors. It’s just a black jumper. Many people wear simple clothing for all sorts of reasons. They did it before the theory of normcore ever existed. They don’t need to be defined as normcore now, or for the brief few minutes we have left on this hemisphere where the term has any sort of real relevance.
Normcore is generally bullshit whatever way you look at it
Constantly dressing to fit in, whether its a catch-all look that fits all situations or dressing specifically for every specific occasion, is the surrender of personal identity to banal, boring groupspeak. Uniformity is not always a good thing.
A confession. I dress in an accidentally normcore way about 90% of the time.
I do it because it’s easy. I don’t feel as if I have to make some kind of ironic statement on the pressure to be a sartorial stand out. I’m ok being me. Most of the time, Me is me in a big black jumper and a white shirt. It’s not about adaptability, it’s not about being ‘on-trend’ (that phrase should be burned at the stake, by the way) and although it implies uniformity, it’s definitely, DEFINITELY not about dressing just to fit in with all your normcore pals. Dressing the way I do and squeezing it into this little box called ‘normcore’ is a betrayal to the other 10% of me who enjoys wearing green and blue sequinned skirts during the day and being sniffed at by a totally uncool little old lady in the chemist.***
Be you. But be sure of this; whatever you are, it’s definitely not normcore.
Meet Norma Normcore (Vogue). Even Kate Phelan isn’t really a fan.
A brief history of normcore and other things that weren’t things before they became things (Quartz). Normcore is a blip and I probably shouldn’t have written so much about it.
Courtney Love Interview (The Quietus). Courtney Love learns about normcore and is totally into it.
*For ‘Cooper Union’, replace with ‘Central Saint Martins’ (London) or NCAD (Dublin)
**Though, as Sesame Street is a PBS show, we’d hope there wouldn’t be too much in royalties to count. Also, I threw the Sesame Street thing in there because I like the video.
***This happened last week and I did not particularly enjoy that bit, to be perfectly honest.