Here is a thing for you to learn today: The latest craze to hit the beautiful elites of Manhattan isn't plucked from the runways of Fashion Week, it's ripped from the sale section of the Lands End catalog. The trend—dubbed "normcore" because it involves dressing up like a "normal" (and/or a guy named Norm)—consists of bland, blank, or cornily name-branded '90s "mall clothes." Half-zip mock-turtlenecks. Chunky athletic socks with Tevas. The kind of ill-proportioned hoodies you buy at the drug store for $4.99. Uncle chic.
Here's Fiona Duncan, exposing "normcore" in New York Magazine:
Sometime last summer I realized that, from behind, I could no longer tell if my fellow Soho pedestrians were art kids or middle-aged, middle-American tourists. Clad in stonewash jeans, fleece, and comfortable sneakers, both types looked like they might've just stepped off an R-train after shopping in Times Square.
By late 2013, it wasn't uncommon to spot the Downtown chicks you'd expect to have closets full of Acne and Isabel Marant wearing nondescript half-zip pullovers and anonymous denim. Magazines, too, had picked up the look. T noted the "enduring appeal of the Patagonia fleece" as displayed on Patrik Ervell and Marc Jacobs's runways. Edie Campbell slid into Birkenstocks (or the Céline version thereof) in Vogue Paris. Adidas trackies layered under Louis Vuitton cashmere in Self Service. A bucket hat and Nike slippers framed an Alexander McQueen coveralls in Twin. Smaller, younger magazines like London's Hot and Cool and New York's Sex and Garmento, were interested in even more genuinely average ensembles, skipping high-low blends for the purity of head-to-toe normcore.
Now, the practitioners of "normcore" have oodles of high-minded theory about the art behind their Adidas shower shoes. (More on that in a minute!) But I have to say, hot young people wearing ugly clothes is as old as the hills, and is quite obviously a form of BRAGGIN'. It says, "Look how hot I am. I am so hot that even these pleated jeans cannot mask my hotness. I am hot even in this maxidress covered in cherries. I'm hot in my sleeveless flannel David Silver hoodie, and I'm hot in this mother-of-the-bride 2-piece tunic and blazer set from 1992. I am hot even in these shoes or these fucking abominations and I am wearing these JNCOs with a vest made out of a tapestry on purpose and I still look amazing. All shall love me and DESPAIR!"
COME ON, MODELS. YOU KNOW YOU DO THAT.
And it's totally fine that you do that! But come on. You totally do that.
I mean, I understand that fashion trends pull, invisibly, on our desires—something you thought was hideous a few seasons ago (I remember crying my goddamn pants over the gladiator sandals in International Male) suddenly finds its way into the "YES" part of your brain ("Put that strappy flappy shit on my foot posthaste!" - Lindy, summer of 2012). So I'm sure the trend toward plain, boxy sweatshirts and Brian Krakow cosplay is at least partially sincere—that these just feel like the right clothes to wear right now.
But there's something inherently distasteful and tone-deaf in rhapsodizing about how wearing ordinary, cheap clothes—the kind of clothes worn by people who are often financially excluded from wearing anything else—is some grand, noble statement about "about absolving oneself from fashion, 'lest it mark you as a mindless sheep.'" I find it hard to imagine that these Manhattan art-scene "normcore" kids weren't scoffing at corny Teva-clad tourists the day before yesterday (hell, they're still doing it in the article). Oh, the clothes of the simple people—they're so refreshingly uncontrived. As long as we're wearing them. Guuuuuhhhh. That is some borderline satirical Derelicte shit right there. (Also, on behalf of frumpy Americans everywhere, I have to say: MY CULTURE IS NOT A COSTUME.)
Fashion is powered, at least partially, by exclusivity, and fashion is cruel to the people who lack the funds, time, energy, and carefully incubated tastes to participate in it. On the flipside, fashion also grows out of the ingenuity and brilliance of those excluded communities—ingenuity that is then mined and appropriated and marked up exponentially by the establishment. And then black people can't even shop at Barney's.
So, eschewing fashion might be the new fashion—but only if you're one of the "right" people who's doing it for the "right" reasons, with the correct, tiny signifiers (a below-the-knuckle ring, an ironic French manicure) to prove that you're not one of those actual R-train yahoos. It pivots on the difference between being broke and being poor. Or the line between being an actual dorky dad and a guy in dork's clothing whose coolness is so innate that no one would ever mistake him for one.
(Also, "normcore" kids, if you're looking for plain, frumpy, shapeless, outdated clothes—because, in fashion, "Everyone's so unique that it's not unique anymore"—I'm sure plus-size customers everywhere would be happy to trade industries with you! Do you know how much I'd kill to be able to buy high-quality, on-trend investment pieces in my size? Feel free to GO NUTS AT THE DRESS BARN and I'll be over here at Saks or whatever.*)
But anyway, here's what "normcore" means to its stewards:
...embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for "difference" or "authenticity."
"It's not about being simple or forfeiting individuality to become a bland, uniform mass," she explains. Rather, it's about welcoming the possibility of being recognizable, of looking like other people—and "seeing that as an opportunity for connection, instead of as evidence that your identity has dissolved."
Also, this lady put together a fashion editorial that consisted entirely of people found on Google Street View:
Goddard had stumbled upon "this tiny town in America" on Mapsand thought the plainly-dressed people there looked amazing. The editorial she designed was a parody of contemporary street style photography—"the main point of difference," she says, "being that people who are photographed by street style photographers are generally people who have made a huge effort with their clothing, and the resulting images often feel a bit over fussed and over precious—the subject is completely aware of the outcome; whereas the people we were finding on Google Maps obviously had no idea they were being photographed, and yet their outfits were, to me, more interesting."
Okay, so if people who aren't "doing fashion" are somehow more interesting fashion-wise and more good at fashion than the fashion people who know about fashion and spend a bunch of time doing fashion, then what the fuck is fashion? I'm not even saying that I don't buy it—the idea that the purpose of art is to capture life and not to amplify it is a totally legit philosophy, and if you want to take a found photo of a woman who happened to be wearing a baggy Garfield nightshirt outside her house on the day the Google truck drove by and call it "fashion," more power to you. But the line between tribute and mockery is thin. So just be careful with it, okay?
Image via Getty.
*LOL, JK, I'M NOT A SULTAN.