Aesthetic Detective: Normcore

Jenessa Williams 8 March 2022

In a new series, Jenessa Williams unravels the aesthetics trends emerging on social media and advises on how you can embrace them for yourself. This month: Normcore  

Where does this trend come from?

Outfit 1: Thrifted College Sweater, Calvin Klein Jeans, North Face Jacket, New Balance Trainers, Google Pixel 6 Phone, Kanken Backpack, Seinfeld DVD Box Set, Sally Rooney ‘Normal People’ book

Originally coined by trend forecasting group K-Hole in the mid 2000s, normcore is said to speak of the joy of “finding liberation in being nothing special”.

Focusing on fitting in rather than standing out, it actively strides against the oversaturation of fast-fashion trends, focusing instead on building a stylish aesthetic of minimalism and practicality. In keeping with this value of ease, normcore relies heavily on simple, mass-produced items by brands such as Gap, North Face and Superdry, as well as all the core leading sports brands.

Though some normcore fashion may also utilize designer brands as a means of securing ‘quality’, it just as readily makes use of total basics and neutral colours, with a hefty emphasis on plainness or simple, instantly recognisable logos.   

Though ‘normcore’ cinema, music or literature is rarely self-identifying, the growing success of popular media that prioritises an examination of everyday relationships over fantastical plot suggests that we may well all be in a phase of comforting quietness, choosing to find the excitement in the everyday.

Authors such as Sally Rooney, Sayaka Murata and even Jack Kerouac all fit a type of ‘normalcy’ that is much harder to pull off than it looks, establishing fictional worlds with enough vividity that they feel deeply relatable to your own.

The same might also be said for popular reality tv shows and YouTube vloggers; by following the often-mundane rituals of others, we find comfort in the slow pace of what we are watching, and bond with others over the shared experience of ‘event’ TV.

What does it look like?

Outfit 2: Tommy Hilfiger Dungarees, Cos Striped Top, Apiece Apart Coat, Aspinal of London Bag, Reebok Cap, Monica Vinader Earrings, Nike Air Force 1 Trainers, Real Estate ‘In Mind’ album

Essentially, normcore looks a lot like everyone else. Drawing heavily on ‘classic’ brand emblems and wardrobe essentials, the key to normcore is to look well-put together but not especially flashy, focusing on pieces that evoke a degree of timeliness, or at very least, a pre-millennium age before technology really amped up the speed with which we move through fashion trends.

Straight leg jeans, plain coloured t-shirts, simple hoodies and sportswear…all feel low-effort and evoke connotations of vague intellectualism, as if the wearer is far too busy pursuing worthy endeavours to care about something as frivolous as the latest trends.

This doesn’t mean to say that normcore fans don’t like technology or appreciate the expressive element of fashion. Many happily interacting with brands such as Apple, Starbucks, Amazon and Lulu Lemon, synonymous with convenience and unfussy utilitarianism that suits the modern lifestyle.

Normcore is also hugely appealing to those who choose not to identify strongly with a particular gender or sexuality, given the aesthetics’ penchant for unisex, comfortable clothing.

Very often, flashes of personality will still come through in a normcore wearers choice of colour, in the media they consume, or the tiny accessories they add in; a strong eyeliner, a fun keychain, or maybe even a nostalgic bag of hair accessory.

How can I embody it myself?

Outfit 3: Best Coast ‘Crazy For You’ album, Gilly Hicks Hollister Top, Primark Scrunchies, Lulu Lemon Leggings, Superdry Bumbag, Ralph Lauren Jacket, Converse Trainers, Sayaka Murata ‘Convenience Store Woman’ book, Typo Smoothie Cup

To establish the normcore look, you likely don’t need to try too hard. Think of the items in your wardrobe that you wear most often, the staples that have survived every clear-out, and the pieces that feel you genuinely feel good.

Though normcore does often incorporate big-name brands, the look needn’t be expensive; thrifted college sweaters, flannel button down shirts and plain jeans can be sourced easily on the second-hand market, topped off with a fresh trainer or re-styled by layering.

Slightly pricier investment pieces in plainer colours come with the satisfaction of knowing that they will pair seamlessly with plenty of outfits you already own, minimising any spenders guilt. Once you get used to the normcore way of living, you’ll likely find yourself wondering how you ever shopped so much in the first place.

In terms of inspiration, you needn’t look much further than TV sitcoms, whose costume designers often lean towards classic clothing as a means of creating viewer longevity.

90s shows such as ‘Friends’ and Seinfeld offer up a huge array of normcore outfits that can be spiced up depending on your chosen event or personality, but normally come back to a fairly pared-back range of all-American classic cuts and fits.

American ‘College-Rock’ bands such as Real Estate or might also provide inspiration, offering up a laid-back soundscape to match your new low-key way of living. Whether you’re ready to go full incognito or simply want a quicker way to get dressed for work, the normcore aesthetic is one that all generations can get behindfancy labels or none.

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