The latest style buzzword is normcore, and talk about it seems to be everywhere. It’s trending on social media, blog coverage, and with media outlets, being deemed the anti-fashion movement of the times. New York Magazine is “delighted [they] alerted you to normcore,” and are patting themselves on the back for sparking such a hotbed of conversation surrounding this new term. The reported idea behind normcore style is “about letting go of the need to look distinctive.” But interestingly enough, we don’t see Millennials necessarily biting into the normcore concept, or being motivated by the mindset of blending back into the crowd. In an interview, a representative from K-HOLE, the group responsible for coining the term, named Seinfeld and Steve Jobs as normcore inspiration. But Steve Jobs as Millennials knew him was not exactly representative of acceptance, normalness, and approachability, and those sporting normcore styles are not wearing them to just “be one in 7 billion.”
So who are the “anti-fashion forward” few who have gained the attention of the masses? 9 in 10 of those featured in The Cut’s original normcore street style slideshow are urban-based Millennials identified by their involvement in the arts, and more specifically, photography and fashion. 26-year-old fashion designer Kristine Guico is based in Manhattan, Chris Wegman is a 24-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer, and Jake Moore is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and photographer. Then there’s 23-year-old Sarah Brown from a Brooklyn jewelry store, Nick Anderson, 22-year-old visual merchandiser for American Apparel, artist Ross Schaner, employee at Beacon’s Closet Sean Monaghan, and 18-year-old design student Christian Farquis. Normcore isn’t “the new normal,” or a “way to blend in,” but instead how a crop of young Millennials who are choosing to stand out. Looking put-together and perfectly styled has been the ultimate marker of the fashion elite since the blogger explosion of years past. But now, since the streets have turned into virtual runways thanks to the arbiters of street style, these Millennials are dressing down in order to look different. Loud fashion isn’t making as powerful a statement as it once did, and these young influencers are turning to the opposite side of the fashion spectrum to get noticed—and it certainly worked.
There is also more history behind Millennials and the normcore look than is being widely acknowledged. Many normcore references have been ignoring all signs that point to the ongoing trends of minimalism and nostalgia that have been captivating young consumers, and influencers, for years. Style innovations have been nostalgia-driven, and often ‘90s-inspired, for some time now. Mom jeans were called the “it” silhouette last spring and summer, only to be hailed as a trend again earlier this year. High fashion designer Céline attributed her Spring 2013 line to the theme of “friendship” (which is just as obscure as the theories behind normcore) but could have been a trigger for a trickle down of simple, comfort-focused fashion—specifically the furry, Birkenstock sandals that took over high fashion wardrobes and are now resurfacing with street style stalwarts. The idea of normcore as a fashion statement seems to be a rebranding of styles that have already been developing and popular with fashion-forward Millennials in various forms. On top of the nostalgia trend, comfort and basics have always been major motivators for Millennial wardrobes, so the idea of plain, comfortable clothing is nothing new to the generation.
So why is the idea of normcore spreading like wildfire? Part of the allure may just be in the name, and we’ve certainly seen catchy names launch trends in social media in the past. But taking a closer look at how popular the idea actually is amongst Millennials seems to be a missed step. A hashtag search for the term on Instagram last week showed less than 150 public images with #normcore fashion, many referencing what the media says is normcore. Today there are 1,406 public images hashtagged with #normcore on the network, but a even a brief perusal shows that the tag is not being used consistently to document normcore style. Visual posts tagged with the term range from users’ throwback images to screenshots of ‘90s TV stars, with a spattering of food, pet, and product shots as well. Vice even took directly to the London streets for style advice from those who embody the look of normcore, but many had never heard the term. Some referenced “laid-back” clothing, like Converse sneakers and hoodies, “the kind of hipster stuff,” vintage shopping, and casual wear—nothing that harks to normcore’s principles of breaking down barriers through simple attire. Normcore’s sudden “popularity” looks like it may be more about media coverage than actual Millennial-adoption.
When Millennials themselves are talking about the “trend,” it’s often to take the opportunity to make fun of it. Parody social media accounts are this generation’s way of commenting on trends, and providing honest reactions to what they are seeing proliferated in the media. The Tumblr “Is This Normcore?” posts pictures of salad, construction work, plumbers, and ponchos. Buzzfeed identified “frumpterable” as “the new black,” showing the fashion world’s obsession with comfort via harem pants and fluffy coats in typical parody fashion. Each new parody that arises surrounding the normcore trend only serves to underline their amusement with media hype. Normcore may be a buzzword, but as a state of mind and style motivator, it isn’t capturing the reality of Millennials’ experiences.