Normcore is likely a word you’ve heard a lot lately. It’s an English neologism for ‘normal’ and ‘hardcore’ tinctured into one hip phrase and coined by fashion savvy NYC based K-Hole. The style of Normcore is that of the plain clothes consumer, it’s blue jeans, gray hoodies and white running shoes. Normcore is plain-frame glasses, nothing too cool like the black frame buddy holly’s or ironic tortoiseshell frames in the style of another era, Normcore is not nostalgic in any sense, but is deeply invested in the here and now. Or, is it?
Above image: Football Fans? One of these people is less a fan than a Normcore pro – can you tell which, no? Good! That’s the point!
On Saturday January 31 the members of the now famous K-Hole, a five-year-old New York-based trend forecasting agency, took up the stage at the LA Art Book Fair. Their mission was to discuss the next major trends, as they saw them or, better yet, were hoping to define them. However, the night defaulted not on what’s next, but what they had already brought to the table: Normcore.
Normcore has been an abused and misunderstood term since it first emerged in 2014. The term was so well liked and so recognizable, instantly, in American culture that it almost became the new word of the year, losing out, eventually to the word ‘vape’ as selected by the good, language defining people, at the Oxford English Dictionary.
In 2014 K-Hole trotted out the word with the intention of it meaning nothing more than dressing to the scene rather than to one’s own individual impulse (i.e. dressing for the football game in football garb, dressing for the ball in tuxedo or ball gown, dressing to the bike cult in tight spandex and funny peddle clipping shoes).
The kernel of this idea was that we’re currently born into a society where people, from the start, identify as individuals and dress and speak and collect (art, rocks, silverware – whatever) as individuals, but that this is alienating and leaves people at odds with the notion of community which, as a concept, seeks to find a state of normalcy among the shared experience of a larger group of people. Being a member of a community is not about the individual, but rather the dissemination of individuality in favor of a larger culture – a cohesive and inclusive culture.
This idea is radically different than the one offered by New York Magazine’s fashion writer, Fiona Duncan, who hijacked the term, misunderstood its context and ran in her own, ironically, individual direction with it. Duncan defined Normcore as, “…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.”
This definition, which found itself quoted all over the internet, was a radical simplification of the term which had initially meant something more like a laxity of the individual in favor of the group or a sense that ‘fitting in’ wasn’t, after all, that bad of a thing. That community was about ‘fitting in’ and a community isn’t limited, sorry Duncan, to dads in their dad clothes, but it includes ballers, corporate executives, sports fans and on into infinity. The idea was more about standing alongside people, of all backgrounds and tastes, and being comfortable and making the scene comfortable rather than awkward through the forced mien of artsy individualistic taste as sported by hipsters, artsy academics, and others. More ‘Jerry Seinfeld’ perhaps than Lady Gaga, but to say that Normcore is generally indicative of a simple and non-flashy style is to miss the mark by a wide margin.
However, Duncan’s assertion was just the tipping point for K-Hole’s loss of control over Normcore and what it means. Previous to Duncan’s article the buzz was already trending toward the favored view that Normcore was blandness, was an attempt to look unrehearsed and too cool to care about fashion.
So K-Hole, corralled by the audience’s interests, was drawn into a discussion of Normcore, their intentions for the trend and, ultimately, how the trend slipped through their curatorial hands and into a public opinion that defied their own intentions.
But, how could the popular term become so altered from the original intention? After all, fashion historically is about standing out and being noticed and it arises from the same sense that compels the Barbary Bird to construct his wonderful art installations and do his little dances – fashion is about wealth and class, on one small level, but it is more often about ‘making a scene,’ ‘standing out,’ or ‘getting noticed,’ all of which are attempts at pushing one’s personal worth forward and being more successful in sex, networking, business and other social constructions.
Normcore, as the popular idea, seeks to defy this utility of fashion. Its threads are unisex and rely on dull, four pocket khakis, obliquely athletic clothing like sweatshirts, t-shirts, hoodies and white shoes and brands so common that nobody asks anything about them (though maybe they, the Normcorers, ought to. Gap and stores like it, utilizes cheap labor in poverty ridden countries and have large overheads that do not trickle down to employees or any level of the chain, but remain in the hands of their corporate top tier – this fact, an unwanted underpinning of the movement is perhaps the most ‘Normcore’ thing of all about a fashion that seeks to utilize the blasé and commonplace and therefore, however unintentionally, the worst that society has to offer in corruption and inequality within a business model).
But, this is the exterior, what clothes define the movement, but Normcore isn’t isolated to the subject of clothing. Something, ‘So Normcore’ would be choosing drip coffee over a latte, reading the New Yorker rather than more esoteric journals like A Public Space or n+1; basically anything that isn’t lavish, indosyncratic or quirky. Normcore, as understood in its most popular incarnation, is about being an extra in a film, not the film’s star.
So, why would anyone – let alone an American anyone (by which is meant someone who teethed on ‘be yourself’ advertising, someone who comes from a nation driven by the cult of the individual where character is championed above all else) choose to dive into this fashion. Is it simply because of some ironic, hipsteresque impulse to be clever? Well, in 80% of cases, probably, but what’s more interesting to think about is that in a culture of font hunting for resumes to ‘stick-out,’ of dressing to make ‘the scene’ etc. it has become impossible to tell who is truly talented and who is a truly innovative thinker.
Culturally Normcore is curious in the sense that it seems to turn its back on the flashy, self-promoting attitude that has come to define the American landscape. Normcore reminds me of a rock that is rich in zinc; it sits there unassuming, but when tested it conducts electricity which is, in the reporter’s opinion, pretty cool even when compared to rocks that have high iron content and, so, are red and flashier or rocks that contain crystals that are, after all, so common.
However, K-Hole representatives say that everyone is getting Normcore wrong. They say it’s about adaptability or suiting to the scene, but they also admit that sometimes a notion is put forth to the public and it takes on a life of its own, one far from the intended use of the creator or creators.
It would seem that for Normcore to exist at all in its popular usage that there are those among us who would throw up our hands at the vim and vigor of the rigorously self-promotional in favor of the unassuming, the person who is not defined by their exterior or refinement or sense of graphic design, but instead by their ability to be and be reliable and hardworking and creative without false pretenses.
K-Hole asserts that they intend their trends to be set for artists, hence their presentation to, largely, a group of artist and designers at the LA Art book Fair. Why appeal to this seemingly niche group? Because history has shown time and time again that artists are the trend setters. If you want to change the world inspire an artist and the world, whether or not they know why, will follow.
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