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NORMCORE: Ever Heard of It?

If you Google “normcore,” a series of articles from New York Magazine, Forbes, Esquire, Huffington Post, Lucky Magazine, and an array of personal blogs will fill your screen, alongside images of Jerry Seinfeld, Birkenstocks, Patagonias, and mom-jeans. It seems an unlikely mash-up, and maybe that’s why this new idea, trend, theory, lifestyle, difficult-to-define-word has been blowing up the Internet throughout the past few months. But what is it?

I first came across the concept in a widely-read blog post on The Cut and was intrigued and curious to read more. Author Fiona Duncan writes about the “ardently ordinary” clothes she’s been observing in the streets of New York recently, and deems them part of the emerging fashion trend, normcore. She argues that there has been a surge of “stylized, self-aware blandness” among even the most stylish and fashion-inclined that includes “anonymous denim” (hence, Jerry Seinfeld) and “North Face fleece, khakis, and New Balances.” For many, there seems to have been a rejection of the expressly fashionable–the stand out, eye catching– for something more digestible, familiar, and part-of-the-whole feeling (think Céline’s take on the classically-granola birkenstock). 

Many internet writers responded to Duncan’s assertion about fashion normcore, and the idea tumbled out of strict definition. On Forbes.com, normcore is the “fashion agnostic way that youth are dressing” On Esquire.com, normcore is a trend that “flips the bird to hipsters,” but is self-conscious in its plainness. The Guardian’s blog post says that normcore pushes back against the “razzmatazz that has become a fashion norm,” by favoring “blending into the crowd.”

After reading all of these articles on normcore, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about it. So, I delved in deeper and headed to what has been widely accepted as the origin of normcore: a report published by the trend forecasting group K-HOLE. According to their report, Normcore is a social trend that has been observed among contemporary youth. The group argues that technology has undermined the ability to maintain coolness by difference because of how quickly these differences are publicized, named, and spread. With the Internet and social media, “potentially anything” can go viral. Striving to be different is thrown out of the window in favor of a “coolness that opts in to sameness.” Normcore is the idea that we can be one thing today and another tomorrow and not feel hypocritical about it. It abandons the desire to be perpetually distinct, to raise oneself above the rest based on a choice to be different. Difference has been deemed too ephemeral and too restrictive.

I followed their observations and argument the whole way through, but I’ll be honest, I just can’t bring myself to totally buy the idea that people are refusing difference. I think we’ll continue to make choices—big or small—that push back against the mainstream in an effort to be unique for a while (isn’t this opting to sameness in some way an attempt at difference?), and I’d say that’s for the best—it forces us to think in new ways. But I do think K-HOLE makes some relevant and accurate observations about the way we connect and what that means for our lifestyles and social interactions. Because we’re so connected–streams of new images on Instagram, constant information about the world on Twitter, communication with people everywhere through Facebook–we have an incredible fountain of inspiration at our fingertips at any given moment. It feeds us different views, styles, and opinions that we can piece together in a way that totally escapes preconceived stereotypes. No longer are we the Athlete, the Prep, the Nerd, or the Punk; we can be any part of each of those “groups” at once. The power of normcore isn’t in rejecting restricted identities and in delineated differences to be blank. It’s to be a collage, to pick and choose among them: we can be anything and everything all at once.

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