Saturday, January 31, 2015

9 questions you’re too embarrassed to ask about normcore

Duane Hanson's sculpture of two people. Getty

1. What is normcore?

Normcore is a fashion trend (though some, including Vice, insist it's more of a joke). The trend has many different looks, but it hinges on one premise: the wearer opts for clothes meant to be average. Wearers leave Chanel sneakers in the closet in favor of off-brand Keds; colorful shorts are traded for khaki cargo pants, and designer purses for backpacks. Normcore is the antithesis of the highly stylized, dark-denim, vintage-tee hipster look.

The term normcore was coined on October 19, 2013 when the trend-casting group K-hole published "Youth mode: a Report on Freedom." For K-hole the goal of normcore was to blend into the crowd, to be unrecognizable from any other person, or as they wrote, "the new world order of blankness." To be normcore, according to K-hole, was "to understand that there is no such thing as normal." It is important to note that K-hole's initial definition of normcore has since been expanded and changed by popular culture.

The fashion industry, however, is not built on blending into the crowd. As Erica Ceurlo for Vanity Fair points out, normcore is not about disappearing into a crowd, it's about standing out from a community of people dressed to the nines in designer wear.

2. Can you give me some pop cultural references to help me understand?

Of course! Normcore is about looking non-descript, but there are a few notable celebrities known for their normcore style:

Jerry Seinfeld is notable for his monochrome tops and light washed jeans.


Courtesy of NBC

Steve Jobs's black turtle neck qualifies as normcore, even though the origin of the shirt is anything but normal. His biography reports fashion designer Issey Miyake made hundreds of them as a gift for the Apple founder. Normcore isn't limited by the uniqueness of the average clothes — only by the look.


Steve Jobs. Image courtesy of Getty.

And Prince William has been nominated as the latest adherent to normcore fashion:


Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge. Image by Getty.

And, finally, women can look to Tina Fey's 30 Rock character Liz Lemon for inspiration.


Screencap from Tina Fey's 30 Rock.

3. When did normcore become popular?


Image courtesy of Gap.

Though the K-hole coining of the term normcore did not appear until October 2013, normcore as a fashion trend has existed for far longer. Normcore, at its most basic level, is fashionable people choosing to dress unfashionably, which is hardly a new idea.

A case could be made that normcore has existed since the popularization of ready-to-wear clothing in the early 1920s. Any clothing that is not made by hand or commissioned specifically for a person is ready-to-wear. Almost immediately after the creation of ready-to-wear fashion, it became a trend to wear what everyone else was wearing, especially if you were a wealthy person not used to sharing clothes with the commoners.

This trope of rich people dressing below their income has appeared in popular culture for decades in dozens of movies including Ever After: A Cinderella Story and Disney's Aladdin. In the 1990s the rise of grunge fashion can be categorized as a normcore precursor, typified by people choosing to wear men's work boots and oversized cheap flannels. In 1990, high-fashion model Kate Moss was photographed wearing Birkenstocks, a very normcore shoe.

Though the word normcore surged in popularity since New York Magazine brought the word into the spotlight in February 2014, the trend has been alive for far longer. Citizens in cities like Portland and Austin have been sporting cargo shorts for years. As early as the summer of 2013, trendy people in New York were sporting nondescript pullovers and fanny packs.

4. What makes normcore a fashion trend?


Barack Obama in normcore. Ghanbari/AP Exchange

Normcore, like every fashion trend, is defined by publicity. Fashion magazines seize on to a new trend and it skyrockets in popularity. Everything from cork wedge shoes to black nail polish is marketed in this way.

In late 2013, normcore began to receive national attention. The New York Times' fashion insert T Magazine recommended fleece pullovers. Vogue Paris styled their models in men's work clothes. HuffPost Live held a discussion on the trend.

Since its coining, over 5,000 news stories have been written about normcore. Lucky magazine printed a field guide to dressing normcore. The New York Times questioned whether or not normcore was a style, or a massive joke. The Guardian named normcore the next big fashion movement. And GQ published 10 essential buys for men.


Blue line represents the rise of 'Normcore', red line the rise of 'Hipster' in google search trends.

The biggest publicity for normcore in the fashion world, though, came at the ParisFashion Week when Karl Lagerfield brought grocery carts and distressed tennis shoes to the Chanel catwalk .

5. Have companies tried to take advantage of this budding fashion trend yet?

Of course. Brands across the board have been flouting their normcore collections.

Gap, for example, boasted of being normcore since its 1969 beginnings:


Hanes, too, claimed to be ahead of the trend:


6. So is the normcore only a fashion trend?


A classic caesar salad is a normcore food. Courtesy of Bon Appetit

Originally, normcore was supposed to be a fashion trend. But because the whole thing was based off of an ideology of conformity, other companies have hopped on board as well.

Try out normcore vehicles, normcore music, and even joking lists like normcore food. Like normcore fashion, these lists are based off selling something that is generally considered average as something innovative. Sedans are the khaki pants of vehicles; U2 is the acoustic version of a tucked-in off-brand polo.

7. How do I tell if someone's normcore or just likes fleece a lot?


Mitt Romney at his New Hampshire rally. Emmanuel Dunand/Getty

One of the biggest problems of normcore is that, if done correctly, it's almost impossible to tell if someone is wearing normcore as a fashion statement versus someone wearing the clothing in their closet. A dad wearing khakis that sit too high above his waist, wire-framed glasses, and a white t-shirt is just as normcore as someone who intentionally bought New Balance sneakers from a shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in order to be on trend. As Simon Doonan recounted for Slate, it's very easy to mistake your friend's boyfriend for a normcore believer, only to offend him.

Initially, normcore was a shift away from body-policing, where people expect others to conform to the fashion industry's definition of how people should appear, but as the movement has gained steam, magazines like Elle have gone right back to that practice, arguing that some people may not be able to "pull off" normcore.

8. How do I tell if I'm dressed normcore?

Look down. What are you wearing? Is everything neutral colored with very little identifying factors? You might be normcore.

Here's a quiz that might help you see if you're normcore, and here are plenty of images classified as normcore.

It's important to remember, however, that even the least normcore people—take Gwyneth Paltrow, for example—can dress normcore.

9. I hate Normcore. What should I do?


Screencap of anti-normcore chrome extension

Keep wearing what you're wearing. Fashion trends come and go, and even though this one is on the rise right now, you may be able to dodge it entirely.

And download this chrome extension to redact the word from your internet experience.

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