Saturday, September 20, 2014

The New Normal: The Rapid-Growing Cult of Normcore

The term "normcore" began popping up in the fashion lexicon shortly after the Fall '14 shows back in February. New York trend agency K-Hole coined it, explaining, "Normcore doesn't want the freedom to become someone. Normcore moves away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity that opt into sameness." That's a lot of words for something that looks so simple. Defined as "bland anti-style," it represents a charged rejection of "notice me, look at me" trends, flamboyant silhouettes, high-powered accessories (or pretty much any accessories, for that matter), and vivid-bright colors, for a conscious return to basics in the most literal and deliberate sense of the word basic. Over six months later, it's only gaining traction.

Everything allegedly ordinary, nondescript, and plain is worth coveting. This includes mom jeans, traditional New Balance and all-white Nike sneakers, white button-down shirts, monochrome tees and ribbed tanks (preferably Hanes or Fruit of the Loom), lace-free slip dresses, generic track pants, Birkenstocks and other sensible sandals, socks (because they're comfortable), peacoats, army jackets, fleece sweatshirts, plaid flannel, and plenty of cotton. The acceptable color palette consists almost strictly of navy, black, white, khaki, brown, heather gray, forest and military green, and classic denim blue. Unfussy, unadorned, borderline androgynous, sometimes vaguely preppy: consider it a palate cleanser for your wardrobe. Just don't think the look is worn without irony or intention.

It's related to the "Cool vs. Effortless" effects, as discussed by Leandra Medine on Man Repeller, but what makes normcore "cool" is its lack of coolness. It entails applying effort to look effortless, an age-old theme for many when it comes to getting dressed. It is deliberate in its anti-distinctiveness. If there's any doubt that this embracing of all things simplistic, uniform really, is a bona fide and permeating shift in the way people are dressing now, you need only look to the Gap's latest ad campaigns and slogan.

"Dress normal" they command, followed by taglines like, "Dress like no one's watching" (whatever the hell that means), "Get caught wearing the same thing," and "Let your actions speak louder than your clothes" (which at least makes sense in the context of the concept). It's almost as if the Gap had the thought: "Hey, wait a minute, we've been making the clothes that are now apparently 'trendy' all along. Let's not only hop on the bandwagon but reclaim it for ourselves."

From top left: Jil Sander 1996 campaign and Fall 1997 and Spring 1999 runway looks

Far left and far right: Calvin Klein Spring 1999 runway looks; middle: Fall 1994 runway look

One could argue this is simply nineties minimalism experiencing a renaissance (which it most certainly is; has been for awhile now). The clean, pared-down aesthetics of Jil Sander, Calvin Klein, and Helmut Lang come to mind when considering the much talked-about normcore movement, though theirs can feel almost high-brow in comparison to this purposefully pedestrian mode of dressing. Essentially, the people who were children and teens in the nineties are going back to the clothes they wore as kids.

 From top left: Helmut Lang Fall 1997 runway looks and Spring 1991 runway look

Maybe we're yet again sick of all the visual noise and clunk and junk. Maybe we've just remembered that it feels good to look clean. Maybe we're getting a little socialist in spirit, realizing that the more similarly we all dress, the more our individual personalities can shine through, which seems counter-intuitive though the notion is not without merit. But here's the thing: the rejection of trends can be a trend in itself, and when a mode of dressing becomes a "thing," even if that's the intention, it's only a matter of time before the pendulum swings in the other direction. The fact remains: by rejecting the selection of a persona defined by your clothes, you are, in fact, electing a persona, even if that persona claims, "Hey, non-fashion person, I'm just like you! Only a little better because I am dressing like this on purpose. And you're not."

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