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The Beyond Retro Guide to Normcore Fashion

Posted on August 03 2018

What is Normcore Fashion?

Four years after the word Normcore was a runner-up for the Oxford English Dictionary's Word of The Year (losing out to 'vape'), it's time to untangle the surprisingly complicated meaning of the word 'normcore' along with its viral evolution and bizarre variations - menocore anyone?


The Origin of Normcore

The story begins way back in the dark ages of 2009 before Instagram even existed. A cartoonist named Ryan Estrada was invited to draw a guest strip for the comic Templar, AZ. He came up with a conversation about increasingly ridiculous subcultures, the punchline being 'Normcore. Dangerously regular dresses only in t-shirts and jeans, uses slang appropriated from other subcultures, but only three years after its first use, and only three years after it's been used in a sitcom'. Estrada promptly forgot the satirical poke at youthful tribes and got on with his life.


What Happened Next?

In 2013, unbearably cool trend forecasting agency K-Hole coined the term in their yearly report to describe a generation of youth that was over individualisation and into belonging. One NY Mag article later and the term was turned from a pensive description of a state of mind to a fashion trend that encompassed 'stonewash jeans, fleece, and comfortable sneakers' or off-brand New York ball caps... paired with turtlenecks, sweatpants, and boxy jeans'. The article cited Jerry Seinfeld as the unlikely icon of this new trend, and just like that the term went viral.

The Backlash of Normcore

By the beginning of 2014, normcore was already being decried as hipster nonsense, a cynical appropriation of pure intentions, a spoof, a massive in-joke. A fake trend that spun out of control. GQ spelt it out in bullet points with an article entitled '20 Reasons You, Normcore Guy, are an Idiot'.


Is Normcore Over?

By 2015, GQ, Highsnobiety and a host of other fashion publications had pronounced normcore dead. The trouble is, no-one paid attention. The runways have remained awash with normcore elements and the trend keeps resurrecting in new forms. 'Gorpcore' added puffer jackets, velcro and all sorts of sensible outdoor wear to the mix in 2017.

2018 saw a wave of windbreakers, bumbags and slides promptly christened 'tourist chic'. 'Dad style' celebrated tucked in t-shirts, pleated pants and pulled up socks. Most recently, this spring, Man Repeller announced 'menocore', a cross between menopause and normcore. The trick is to dress like 'a mom in a Nancy Meyers movie or an eccentric ceramicist exiting her beach house studio,' or in other words, linen trousers and loose tops finished off with a scrunchie or bucket hat.


So... What Does Normcore Mean Again?

Ok, so. It's basically a response to the conspicuous consumption, fast fashion and logomania of the early 2010s, and just like the anti-fashion statements of minimalism and punk before it, it's become a trend of its own. The aesthetic - as well as the spirit - is a very nineties one, closely linked to slacker style, grunge and even heroin chic. Here are some loose rules.

  1. Functionality above all else. Trainers, skate shoes, washed denim, low key sportswear, workwear, turtlenecks, baseball caps and if possible some sort of reusable water container.

  1. Approved brands include Carhartt, Patagonia, Northface and Birkenstocks. Basically, all those things your Mum wears that you swore you never would. Vintage, obviously. This look should appear lived-in.

  1. No overt logos, no glitz, nothing expensive (looking). Normcore is about fitting in rather than standing out.

  1. Nostalgia plays a key role, try and remember what you were wearing on a school trip in the mid to late nineties and buy grown-up versions of all of it.

  1. If it's unisex, even better.


Three Normcore Inspirations

Phoebe Philo

The former Céline designer embodies the chicest version of normcore, the anti-fashion fashion uniform of loose trousers, turtleneck, trainers and a ponytail.


Shia LaBeouf

The unlikely fashion icon is so celebrated for his functional looks that there's an entire Instagram account - @shiasoutfits - dedicated to them. Scroll for daily normcore inspo.



Your Dad

Seriously. Embodied here by America's Daddy Barack Obama, note the oversized polo shirt, the high-waisted jeans and the uncool trainers.



A Normcore Watchlist

Early seasons of Friends

Before the group got financially savvy and started working their dream jobs, the Friends gang all embodied their own unique takes on normcore. The styling of the show emphasised the approachable-ness of the characters - their struggles were realistic and so were their wardrobe budgets. Note especially Rachel's sweater and pyjama bottom combo in The One Where No-one's Ready, and the whole group's Thanksgiving football look.

Funny Ha Ha

Normcore's filmic counterpart is mumblecore, a genre of oddly charming, low budget, independent cinema in which everyone has very long, improvised conversations and little actually happens. The very first mumblecore film, Funny Ha Ha from 2002 follows the post-college life of Marnie as she journeys through a series of life challenges and dorky t-shirts that symbolise her struggle to become a grown-up. Pure normcore. Nineties precursors Reality Bites and Clerks can also provide some retro sartorial slacker inspiration.

Scream

Final Girls provide fertile ground for normcore inspo since practicality is everything in the struggle to avoid the masked murderer and survive 'til the end of the film. Watch Scream, the ultimate nineties slasher, for Sidney Prescott's simple sweater, jeans and sneakers combos, as well as her boring-chic selection of suede, leather and denim jackets, a new one in each part of the trilogy due to those tricky-to-get-out blood stains.



How to Dress Normcore

A lot has happened since the initial trend went viral, here's how to do normcore for 2018 in four simple steps.

 

Style it up for Summer

Ditch the puffer and the waterproofs and style this trend for summer with the help of some light wash denim, an over-sized sorbet coloured polo shirt and slides over socks if you want to go full on Dad chic.


Gone Fishin'

While the trend started with sweatpants and baseball caps, this season's nod to sportswear takes the form of the fishing vest. If there's one normcore item to invest in, this is the one... but a bucket hat couldn't hurt either.


Mom bags

Forget jeans, the latest Mom accessory is the bag. Look for leather brands like Coach and Dooney & Bourke in sensible medium sizes for your A-Z and wet-wipes.


Make it Girly

Normcore is deviating from its unisex routes to encompass nineties grungy dresses and denim skirts. Pair the former with a checked shirt and the latter with a plain Champion sweatshirt for the perfect no-frills ensemble.


You can get more 90s Summer Pop Culture Inspiration in our blog, talking about our top 5 tv shows that keep the 90s alive.

 

Words Sarah Cleaver