Are you normcore — or merely just unfashionable?
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In a fashion world built around stereotypes — hipster, dandy, the urban woodsman — is it possible to transcend classification? Can’t a person just be “normal?”
Not anymore, it seems. Meet normcore.
Inspired by the schleppy jeans of sitcom-era Jerry Seinfeld and the mock turtlenecks of Steve Jobs, normcore is the art of looking like the average mom or dad on a 1990s vacation. Think New Balance running shoes, roomy stone-washed jeans and a t-shirt from the Florida Keys.
In essence, normcore is about trying to look like you’re not trying. Normal, but hardcore.
It may sound like a joke, but the creators of normcore say it’s more about rekindling human connection. By abandoning fashion for bland comfort, normcore followers can be social opportunists, primed to mingle with whomever and experience a wider range of life experiences. Sartorial tofu, tasteless on purpose.
The term was coined by K-Hole, a trend forecasting group in New York City, in a recent report on burgeoning trends.
Among K-Hole’s quasi-philosophical promises: “Normcore is the eyes of the Mona Lisa. This is the new world order of blankness.”
“Normcore wants the freedom to be with anyone.”
“To be truly Normcore, you need to understand that there’s no such thing as normal.”
It didn’t take long for fashion media to stake their viewpoints. GQ called it the new version of the “ugly selfie,” while New York magazine said normcore is “an open mind … a look designed to play well with others.”
While the laissez-faire look has already emerged amongst New York’s artsy Brooklyn crowd — the same place that gave the world hipsters — it seems to be seeping into the upper echelons of fashion. Urban Outfitters now sells New Balance running shoes alongside desert boots; Birkenstocks now come in designer patterns; and Louis Vuitton recently showed its own version of the fleece jacket.
But has normcore hit Toronto?
To find out, I visited the Eaton Centre’s food court on a busy Friday afternoon. It was there I learned an important distinction: to be normcore, one has to know about normcore.
I spotted Dom from across the room, sitting alone. Normally, you’d miss him. He was middle-aged with puffy white Asics sneakers, wide-legged jeans and a t-shirt with the word “Hawaii” popping through two palm trees.
As I explained the phenomenon to him, his smile twisted into a scowl.
“So you’re calling me ugly?” he barked.
No, I explained. Normcore is all about anti-fashion — being plain in a world of people striving for uniqueness. The hole deepened when I dropped the term “sartorial tofu.”
I don’t really know what happened next, because I tend to go blank when yelled at. Expletives were hurled, my face went red, and the angry fashionista stormed away before I could ask for his last name.
Intention, it seems, is key.
When I approached another normcore-looking fellow — New Balances and all — I simply got the cold shoulder.
The issue seems to be that Toronto has a strong faction of normcore-looking people — sometimes known as dads — who simply aren’t up on the trends.
In all seriousness, normcore is a theory more than a look. A normcore person is “post-aspirational,” K-Hole says, an individual who deliberately fights against the idea of “coolness” or “fitting in.” Their clothing is simply the manifestation of that belief.
“We wanted this to be a term that celebrates openness and an ability for people to engage. It’s quickly turned into a stereotype to label people that dress a certain way, and that was not our true hope,” said Greg Fong, 27, one of the K-Hole creators of normcore.
The problem with society, Fong says, is the proliferation of what he calls “mass indie” culture — the need for everyone to be different.
“You can still be different, you can be any way you want, but when being different becomes a barrier to engagement, that’s a problem,” Fong said.
While most media have focused on the Jerry Seinfeld look rather than the optimistic theory behind normcore, Fong says many of the fashion references are still accurate — they’re just not that important.
“The stylistic things are happening to some extent, but it’s not exactly the use of the term as we had envisioned it,” he said.