What is Normcore?

Normcore At The Gap

Normcore is a fashion trend. So above all, we want to see normcore. And when we see this “sudden, very recent, new look,” what are we seeing?

What we are seeing is not really a “new” look at all, many industry people point out.

“Normcore” is, at its “core,” the look of “normal” clothing. Norm + core = normcore.

But there are some acknowledged icons, people who already wear normcore, or who have always worn normcore.

Jerry Seinfeld, during years of weekly shows, was always styled in “ordinary” clothes, solid color shirt, no pattern or design, no designer emblem, and light washed jeans.

But when you saw Jerry Seinfeld, you did see something. You saw that wonderful face, heard that familiar voice, enjoyed a favorite personality.

And his clothing was the clothing an ordinary person would wear. That, of course, left us completely in touch with the actor himself. No distraction from his duds. Never were the clothes the message. Jerry Seinfeld, the fashion experts say, is a wonderful, living example of “normcore.”

You also see normcore when you look at Tina Fey’s 30 Rock character, Liz Lemon. Simple, ordinary clothing. But again, it’s not the clothing you notice, and so you concentrate on the character. The face, the eyes, the smile — Liz Lemon.

And you see normcore when you look at U.S. President Barack Obama. When he’s outdoors. White sneakers, dark jeans, a solid color sweater, a plain waterproof jacket. No presidential seal. No fashion labels. Ordinary clothes.

Like Jerry Seinfeld and Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, it is the person wearing the clothes that our attention is on. The American President has found acceptance appearing in absolutely plain garments when walking, running, or engaged in a task outdoors. A normcore icon.

The origin of the word “normcore”

“Seeing” fashion, of course, is paramount — but we do talk about fashion, so let us ask how the term “normcore” came to be.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s “OxfordWords blog” says the earliest use of “normcore” was in the webcomic Templar, Arizona. This particular webcomic first appeared in May 2005, though the year that “normcore” first appeared in that particular webcomic is not clear.

At any rate, if the people at the OED don’t know of an earlier use of the word, there is no earlier use. (It’s an article of faith.) This earliest use is reported and defined in the Urban Dictionary, in an entry dated March 27, 2009:

From the Urban Dictionary — “Normcore: A subculture based on conscious, artificial adoption of things that are in widespread use, proven to be acceptable, or otherwise inoffensive. Ultra-conformists. First featured as a fictional population in the webcomic Templar, Arizona, but normcores are totally real. Example from the webcomic —

“Oh, shee-it! You just got gang signed by the worst of ‘em! Y’see the slight forward tilt of the chin, and the causal “hey” with the silent H? That means he’s NORMCORE. Dangerously regular. Dresses only in T-shirts and jeans, uses slang appropriated from other subcultures, but only 3 years after its first use, an’ only after it’s been used in a sitcom.”

“Normcore,” the trend, traces only to Oct. 2013

The British Vogue blog, “Vogue News,” March 21, 2014,describes the coining of the term “normcore” this way:

“It’s actually more than a decade since science-fiction writer William Gibson first painted a picture of the look which has come to symbolize the normcore aesthetic.

“In his [2003] novel, Pattern Recognition, Gibson describes his logo-phobic protagonist Cayce Pollard as wearing [in the year 2002]: ‘A small boy’s black Fruit of the Loom T-shirt, a thin gray V-neck pullover purchased by the half-dozen from a supplier to the New England prep schools, and a new and oversized pair of black 501’s, every trademark carefully removed.’”

It was “this picture, of a fastidiously functional dresser,” the Vogue blog continues, that the New York City trend agency K-Hole had before it when it coined the term “normcore” on October 19, 2013, in its report, Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom.

K-Hole co-founder Emily Segal is quoted in the blog as explaining the reasoning this way: “There’s an exhaustion with trying to seem different. People are genuinely tired by the fact that to achieve status you need to be different from everyone else around you.”

But K-Hole wasn’t talking fashion, as such. They were identifying a lifestyle trend among young people, something broader than fashion alone.

For fashion, the Vogue blog says, “normcore is all about anonymous, detail-free” design. “The plainer the better. Like Gibson’s brand-free girl, there is barely a logo in sight.”

So, if I want to dress normcore — ?

Vox, April 16, 2014 — a blog of Vox Media, Inc. — says “The trend has many different looks, but it hinges on one premise: the wearer opts for clothes meant to be average.”

“Wearers leave Chanel sneakers in the closet in favor of off-brand Keds; colorful shorts are traded for khaki cargo pants, and designer purses for backpacks. Normcore is the antithesis of the highly stylized, dark-denim, vintage-tee hipster look.”

You could look at it this way, the Vox blog says: “As Erica Ceurlo for Vanity Fair points out, normcore is not about disappearing into a crowd, it’s about standing out from a community of people dressed to the nines in designer wear.”

And finally, the Vox blog ends with this question and answer : “How do I tell if I’m dressed normcore? Look down. What are you wearing? Is everything neutral colored, with very little identifying factors? You might be normcore.”