If Normcore Is Cool, Are People Who Always Dressed Normally Cool Too?
When the term “normcore” arrived earlier this year, the hipster media fell upon it in the same over-thought way that it does with most trends. The New York Times, New York, Vice and Vogue offered their inconsistent definitions. Fashion brands like A.P.C. told us they were already over it, and clothing brands like Hanes told us they were totally down with it from the start. Instagram celebrities hashtagged up the wazoo.
Normcore is sort of the fashion equivalent to communism. The goal is to not stand out, to not be different, to cut down the tall trees (or at least to not be one yourself). Followers of normcore are hipster art kids who dress like their suburban dads on a Saturday morning trip to Starbucks. As Fiona Duncan, author of the primordial article on normcore, put it, "Sometime last summer I realized that, from behind, I could no longer tell if my fellow Soho pedestrians were art kids or middle-aged, middle-American tourists."
Normcore is still mostly a New York trend that's just starting to peek its bland head out in L.A. beds of hipsterdom. You'll notice a few more Birkenstocks on the roof deck of the Ace, a pleated khaki or two on a Saturday night at Covell.
What’s missing amongst the click-hungry chaos is, as usual, the voice of the people the trend is imitating. In the case of normcore, that’s "normal people" — normal people like me.
I’ve been wearing so-called normal clothes for my whole life (with the exception of a hip-hop inspired phase in junior high). I spend very little time thinking about what I wear. I actively try not to think about it. It’s like what Lena Dunham says about her weight — I’ve decided to focus my attention on more important things.
The result is that I dress a lot like the heroes of normcore: Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Jobs and Larry David. They are normcore icons, as is your bro-iest cousin, the one who's in ??? at Florida State. The ratty old polo, the college football sweater, the bubbly New Balances, the TEVAS — these are the staples of normcore. And on a Saturday you’ll find me in jeans and a wrinkly polo, with bubbly Nike runners and perhaps a non-fitted baseball cap. These items are usually lying on my bedroom floor when I wake up. More than anything, they’re comfortable and nondescript — devoid of any cues about my identity.
See also: Meet Traci Hines, the Real-Life Hipster Little Mermaid
Hipster (that is to say contemporary) fashion is based on a sort of noble savage myth — that those unaware of the eye of mainstream society are the most beautiful of all. In a normcore photo spread last spring, for example, U.K. high fashion mag Hot & Cool used images of small town Americans found on Google Street View. It declared the fanny-pack wearing citizens as definitively more fashionable than anything on the runway.
For a normal dresser like me, normcore is confusing. In some ways it feels like vindication. Bros were left out in the cold a little bit when nerds found their confidence and became hipsters, but now those nerds are taking their cues from bros once more. Hipster became so mainstream that those of us in the old mainstream became fashionable.
In other ways, however, normcore makes me the butt of an ironic joke. Nothing is more painful for a bro than when he thinks a hipster is warming to him but it turns out the hipster was making fun of him the whole time.
Hipsters are the smart people, the rich white kids, the ruling class, and as such they have a historical tendency to appropriate the cultures of their dumber (yet more “authentic”) subordinates. Think luxury car commercials feature surfing and skateboarding, rap music and punk rock. On a given afternoon at a top advertising agency you'll find "Regulators" on the sound system, the herd of white copywriters aggressively nodding their bearded heads.
In other words, fashion’s ironic adoption of my non-style could be an indicator that I’m the least stylish thing of all — a member of the underclass. Normcore might be a big fat hipster laugh in my face: “We even do normal better than you.”
Yet what the hipster has in brains, we bros make up for with lack of brains. Even the most referential Brooklyn magazine editor, most pretentious in her ironic non-pretentiousness, knows that not thinking is much sexier than over-thinking. Remember the scene in Greenberg where hipster Greta Gerwig tells Ben Stiller the story about her and her friend going to a bar and pretending, ironically, to be dumb chicks looking to get picked up, but then they actually get picked up by some dumb bros and go home with them? That's the bro-vantage. Smart may be sexy, but not as sexy as dumb.
Normcore, whether the elitists who practice it like it or not, is an acknowledgement that the authenticity they’ve searched for so desperately has been hiding in the apathetic mainstream the whole time. The key to cool was never wearing the thick-rimmed glasses with pride. It was genuinely not giving a fuck.
So what should normals make of normcore? Are we getting made fun of, or should be embrace our new status as fashionistas? The answer is: Don't care. We aren't fashion revolutionaries and we never will be. The trends will embrace us and eschew us the next day. In fact, if you've read this article you've already thought about it too much. Close this window immediately; you've got non-thinking to do.
Get the Theater
Your weekly guide to local culture with calendar listings and theater, dance, and comedy reviews.