Reader Request: Normcore vs. Classic


Reader Brenda sent this question my way:

I think that normcore is relatively pejorative. It connotes boring and plain, when most of what I’ve seen labeled normcore leads me to think “classic.” I’d love to hear what you think about that. One thing I’m wondering is if this “trend” has any staying power or if this is a comma in the essay of fashion. It seems obvious that classic items should be here to stay, but sometimes fashion is far from obvious.

Quick refresher: Normcore is a term coined by writer Fiona Duncan (or really, by a friend of hers … but she wrote the NYT article). It describes the pervasive fashion attitude of the moment, one of comfort, plainness, sameness, even disinterest. Duncan says normcore encompasses ” … embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for ‘difference’ or ‘authenticity.’ In fashion, though, this manifests itself in 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.”

Like Brenda, my impression is that the term isn’t an entirely positive one. Which may sound odd since, clearly, the cool kids are embracing normcore with both arms. But after so many years of watching the fashionable elite fall all over themselves to do different, wild, even controversial things to set themselves apart, this seems like a reaction rooted in exhaustion or millennial-generation indifference.

But we can thank normcore for the resurgence of Birkenstocks* and New Balance sneakers, for making sweatshirts sexy, and for making the dirty-hair-baseball-cap combo chic. Although the style is rooted in existing basics like loose-fit jeans and slouchy hoodies, I’d also credit normcore with creating and popularizing the fancy sweatpant, for which I, personally, will be forever grateful. This is a dressing practice rooted in comfort. And after decades of body-con dresses and sky-high stilettos, many people are surprised and delighted to find that what they’ve been wearing all along is suddenly stylish.

Brenda points out that many normcore items are simply classics – Chuck Taylors, plain t-shirts, turtlenecks, clogs. But I’d also venture that normcore skews a bit sporty. Fleece, Adidas slides, caps, and track suits fold into this genre, too. Also, as Duncan points out in her article, many items have a 90s bent to them in terms of fit and styling, so certain items may be classic (jeans) but in their normcore incarnations they’re more specific (high-waisted tapered jeans).

As to whether or not this is a passing fad or the new normal (no pun intended), I’m reluctant to weigh in. I mean, the nature of fashion is to force change. The industry won’t make any money if we all just settle into normcore forever and aren’t prodded into buying the next new thing every season. Also this style is somewhat anti-fashion, and most anti-fashion movements have limited staying power. But who knows? This could be the one that sticks for a decade. We’ll all be a lot comfier if it does.

What are your thoughts on normcore? Love it? Not for you? Think it’s here to stay?

*I completely love that the AARP covered the Birk trend. Rock on, AARP.

Images courtesy ASOS (left) and Gap (right)

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Originally posted 2015-05-18 06:55:32.

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7 Responses to “Reader Request: Normcore vs. Classic”

  1. Monica H

    Well, while the fashion trend known as “normcore” is probably not here to stay, I’m pretty sure that a lot of college students will continue to dress this way, as they always have, lol.

    There are many things that are classic which are too fussy for “normcore” such as pencil skirts. Okay, so maybe a fancy sweatpants pencil skirt exists, but not the classic one we would normally envision.

    To me, this whole trend just smacks of trying too hard to “reject” something. It’s like kids who rebel against their parents by doing only the opposite of what their parents want, not realizing they are still giving their parents total control over their lives, instead of doing what THEY wanted for themselves.

    Also, I’m not a fan of the fancy sweatpants trend specifically – mostly because it usually seems to call for heels. What’s the use of comfy pants if you’re supposed to wear them with uncomfortable shoes? The overall comfort of the outfit has not been improved. 🙂

  2. Bridgette Raes

    To me, normcore is a perfect example of irony. Not having style is its style, sort of like in the movie “Singles” when Linda says to Steve: “I think that, a) you have an act, and that, b) not having an act is your act.”

  3. Brenda

    Thanks for putting my question out there, Sally! I’m looking forward to reading what others have to say.

  4. ballewal

    I work at a University. I guess Normcore is the name for the Han Solo style I see a lot of young women wearing? That and the athleisure trend.

  5. Kaila Heard

    I appreciate the message of normcore “fashionable clothes are comfortable clothes” But I am underwhelmed by most of the typical normcore choices. So normcore translated to my current wardrobe choices means “Yes, I without guilt choose to skip buying 4″ heels!. Instead, I am looking for a statement heel that is 2” to 2 3/4 tops. 😉

  6. Di McCullough

    The other thing about normcore (and differentiating it from classics/basics) is that whether it’s deemed cool or sloppy depends on who wears it. If I, as a 38-yo SAHM wear sweatpants and sneakers and dirty hair, no one’s talking about how chic I am. It’s not a fun aspect of normcore.