Why Are We All Dressing Like the Most Pared Down Versions of Ourselves?

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March 12, 2014

Consider this a cry against normcore.

This morning, I put on a navy blue poplin turtleneck, a pair of mid-rise, slouchy fit white jeans and a black leather jacket. It took no longer than five minutes to get dressed from the moment of outfit inception to the actual process of leg-in-pant, arm-in-sleeve and so forth. Then, I stood against my shoes, head tilted to shoulder, wondering why I couldn’t just do what I always do: put on my white low top sneakers and get on with my day.

I tried on a pair of beige suede boots. Too western. Another pair in black patent leather. Weird with jeans. Then I put on one egg-shell colored high heeled brogue but stopped myself before applying the second shoe: I don’t feel like wearing heels — why am I putting on heels?

So I settled on a pair of white patent leather Ferragamo Icona slippers. The kind with the two-inch heel that make me feel like my grandmother during her 1967 heyday.

But far more interesting than my decision to wear the ballet flats seems to have been my decision not to wear the white sneakers. They’ve been my go-to shoes — the apple to my eve, the lamb to my tuna fish, the 463,782,472 page views to my BuzzFeed gif list — since the early portion of 2012 so for me to reject them now, to find myself having to think about what will and should happen south of my ankle just seems, I don’t know, unnatural.

The thing is, I think I also know exactly why this is happening — it is normcore’s fault.

Now that fashion has identified a term to describe the cues that initiated members of this large, Philo-obsessed cult with which to some degree we all associate ourselves have been taking, I don’t really want to be part of it. That feeling has only been further propelled by the realization that when I got home from Paris last week, I very atypically found myself less inspired than before I went.

I’ve been covering Paris Fashion Week for five seasons and in those seasons, I have learned that when I come home, I come home incredibly stimulated. The same way you might find yourself feeling ready to write a novel after reading Nora Ephron or Dave Eggers, or ready to run a marathon after a dose of caffeine, I have historically found myself looking into my closet post-Paris, rediscovering garments I’d previously dubbed old or boring or stale as indelibly new. Those jeans, that dress, those jeans to wear under that dress, that skirt — which I can wear over the same dress — and so on.

This piquancy customarily comes from what happens outside the shows. Say what you will about street style peacocks and the craft’s nature as a new-age billboard but watching the way real humans interact with fashion, no matter how unattainable — Valentino gowns and Comme des Garcons denim jackets or Chanel tweed trousers and Anthony Vaccarello leather blouses — will always, to a certain degree, be attainably inspiring.

Far more inspiring, at least, than plebeian sweatpants and sneakers and hoodies or black jeans and navy sweaters and unassuming flat boots. Sure, those items are currently de rigeur but after the novelty wears off — and it wears off quickly — they’re also decidedly boring.

So consider this a plea against the adoptive paladins of normcore. Fashion has always been a vehicle that allowed a benign mode of escapism, a fantastical game of dress up and an outlet that allows a woman’s creativity to flow like a river that is densely populated by freak flags. Why change that?

  • lynne

    Yes! SO many fashion bloggers right now are obsessed with their “uniforms” and their “tomboy chic” and their “neutrals” and it all comes down to BORING. Thanks for saying what we’re all seeing. Three cheers for fantasy, fun, and beauty.

    • Martine

      How does people simply wearing simple, effective clothing keep anyone from anything? I will certainly keep on wearing pants that fit at my natural waist, if you want to call them ill fitting mom jeans; go for it. I am quite over layering. One top/one bottom. And I am very much done with heels. Also, with lime green. But it doesn’t stop you, or Leandra from dressing like a Spanish bull fighter if you wish it. Do as YOU like. I certainly don’t find it boring, I find it refreshing. New fits,new volume, new palette. And I don’t see why it needs to be called a name. Honestly most “normal” people these days wear super tight, low rise, stovepipe, printed pants and a big chunky necklace.

      • Marina Doshkevich

        Definitely NO layering. I would add to that throw away those big annoying scarves. How about a nice normal cashemere, not too expensive but good quality, regular sized black scarf! I swear these people wear so much draped around their necks, tucked into belts or whatever, I am afraid their will eventually trip and strangle themselves. It will be an article labeled “How Normcore can save your life.”

  • http://mafaldadotzero.blogspot.fr/ Mafalda

    These are just fads that will disappear as fast as they appeared, and true, they become the norm. I tend to pick what I like and leave the rest to others. There isn’t much originality if fashion these days and most girls/bloggers tend to wear the same uniforms. I think it’s up to us to try and stay true to ourselves and keep what makes us special.

    Mafalda ❤
    http://mafaldadotzero.blogspot.fr

  • http://thenouvelliste.com kate

    While the spirit of normcore is intended to evoke an air of effortlessness and understated expressionism, these rather deliberate choices in aesthetic ‘normalcy’ lead me to feel as though these outfits often fall flat; dull, contrived and au contraire, full of effort. In the New York Magazine piece “Normcore: Fashion for Those Who Realize They’re One in 7 Billion”, Jeremy Lewis says “I like the idea that one doesn’t need their clothes to make a statement”, but isn’t normcore and its new-found a la mode status an indication that no matter the garments, we all have something to express through our fashion choices? Even by adopting the normcore style, one is in fact making a statement regarding their choices, likes, levels of comfort, etc. And while many are quick to blame the commercialization of fashion and streetstyle for the new war on the antithesis of normcore, I’m sure we can all agree that dressing up is not only more fun and exciting, but also much more pleasing to the eye. So bring on the feathers, pom poms, and elaborate and artful tailoring!

    http://thenouvelliste.com/

    • Leandra Medine

      Yes, yes, yes! Was just having this conversation a few hours ago (ironically with another Kate) — and I said that when I don’t make an effort to get dressed I mean really, really, deliberately don’t think before putting clothes on, I don’t want that to make a statement, I don’t want the effortlessness to be confused with contrived conviction to look, frankly, blase.

      • Marina Doshkevich

        Who said anything about effortless. Maybe some people are just done with tacky. Hey, frayed edges, glittery socks and high heeled sandals are great until they make people want to upchuck. Dressing neatly, comfortably, and neutrally works perfectly right now. Its not a lack of effort, its just a lack of effort to stand out for all the silliest reasons.

    • I meaaan…

      If I see one more “model off-duty” look… I mean… I just can’t.
      Give me a LOOK over faux frenchie casual any day.

      • Marina Doshkevich

        I think that is the point. People were tired of model off duty, which is a carelessly thrown together, but definitely high fashion look. Normcore is sort of the opposite. You are using middle market, mainstream items. You are not throwing your Balenciaga jacket casually over a fifty dollar white t shirt.

  • naturalsparkle

    I’m all for neutrals and staple items in a closet, but what’s style and fashion without taking a little risk once in a while? Yes, the normcore began as a risk because people we trying to be different and effortless, expressing themselves in his or her own way, but I hope we don’t get sucked into a fashion rut of dullness.
    Then again we can’t stop someone from dressing as they wish!
    I love days when I get to get dolled up to go somewhere, even if I do because I want to wear a dress really bad with my favorite pair of shoes.

    http://naturalsparkle1.wordpress.com/

  • pinkschmink

    A thousand times yes. Another blogger wrote the other day on this topic and described ‘Annas’ and ‘Phoebes’ – the rule-breaking maximalists and the pared-back minimalists respectively. Whilst I have the utmost respect for people who can seemingly content themselves with a wardrobe of basics and a palette of black, white, grey and navy (with perhaps a touch of tan leather or trench coat beige if they’re feeling particularly adventurous), it does all rather look the same after the first five street style shots.

    Give me a surfeit of sequins and a profusion of prints any day.

  • Tracy

    You are my morning java….

    http://Www.inallhonestynyc.com

  • sara

    I think paired-down chic and looking effortless and neutral are great, especially in the Muji/Phoebe Philo way, but if you’re not going to wear something visually stimulating, you better make sure it fits really well. So much of what bugs me about normcore is the terrible fit, like mom jeans contrasted with a turtleneck that is either too tight or too loose…it reminds me of 90s fashion.

    • Martine

      I think high rise jeans ARE well fitting. The waist should be at the natural waist. Thats how people wore it in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s…until the 90’s someone got tyne “bright ” idea to wear pants around their ankles. The waist of the pants should be where the waist of the human being is; at the belly button. I am all for the good fit of the outfit you describe. Its flattering, and unassuming.

    • Nicky

      Good fits yes, but I think the most important being QUALITY and FABRIC. Think surface interest, the type of garment that looks like you want to eat it when you see it up close. I think that’s possibly one of the most important values about normcore that is lost online – you only see style and shape, not texture quality and fabric etc.

  • http://www.creamstop.com/ The Macadame

    Yes – yes and YES! Leandra you made my night!

    The Macadame. xx

    http://www.creamstop.com

  • Johanna

    Totally agree! And like Kate said: More feathers and pom poms!

    http://unt.se/johannasmode

  • Lily Zeltser

    ha! i could not agree with you more..real fashion is about attitude and fantasy and doing something a little out of the norm.. that’s what makes it exciting and an art form.. i asked you about normcore few days ago and you said it was high low or wearing adidas.. and it’s not that.. it’s just kids that are lazy and lack imagination

    • SLee

      I don’t think that’s true at all- just because someone has a less decorated sense of style than someone else, doesn’t make them lazy or lack imagination. Maybe rather than wear something flashy, they’d rather focus on the quality of a simple item.

    • Martine

      I think it takes more imagination. Just because someone doesn’t look like a print catalogue threw up on them, isn’t wearing five vests, three pairs of skirts, and a pair of pants all layered like one of those Russian Babushka dolls, does not mean they are lacking in visual interest. And its far tom the norm.

    • Nicky

      I think the most important lesson learned by these comments, and by this entire article is – DRESS HOW EVER YOU WANT. Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak, so just go with it and be yourself, whether that’s Normcore or Grannycore or Grungecore or what ever core you feel like on that day. We live in an age where there are no rules anymore so have fun with fashion and style :)

  • DTrain

    I’m on a quest to not buy clothes for a year. Being over six months in, I’ve wrestled, tussled and twerked (yes, I got that down and dirty) with the idea of either living in a uniform…or being a full-on fashion unicorn. The see-sawing between these two extremes seems endless. Thank you for introducing the term “normcore” to my troubled self. Acknowledgement that this is not my singular affliction is the first step to embracing an anti “stylized-bland” wardrobe. I’ve written more about it here: http://hangerhiatus.tumblr.com/post/79384782029/the-classics-why-the-10-french-capsule-wardrobe

    So what are you?
    Uniform or Unicorn?

    • Jill

      Bit of both?? I do have my uniforms…most of my clothes are classics-with-a-twist: I’m always looking for details that make my basics less basic. As a girl with a body (large shoulders, big breasts, smaller waist and a booty) that can’t really pull off a lot of *different* styles, I am limited in my wadrobing options. So I always wear things that drape, that fit me well, otherwise I’d just look a lot bigger than I am or frumpy. BUT I also always have something whimsical, sparkly, colorful, unexpected, and/or JUST PLAIN FUN going on, in my accessory choices. Lace, laser-cutouts, texture, sequins, zippers, oversized collars, animal print, etc, are all ways to have fun with fashion even if you’re a uniform wearer-of-sorts.

  • http://www.lezu.com/ L’ezu

    Eclectic styles the best type of style. You HAVE to mix it up to stay interesting! All new styles at http://www.LEZU.com

  • Jill

    I was JUST reading about this whole “normcore” and I call bullshit. It’s boring, it’s ugly, it’s just as bad as the sort of forced overdressing that’s been going on for a while. At least the peacocks give us something to talk about. Fashion just needs something new to buzz about and the pendulum is swinging hard to this “approach” (in quotes because I don’t really consider it an approach). It’ll swing back soon enough, thank goodness!

    • http://www.anativeblonde.com/ Jess H.

      I dunno. Half of my college studio dressed “normcore” and that was five years ago. I think there will always be people who just really like to dress like their moms and dads did.

  • Cherie
  • Lauren

    The beginning of the end…

  • kathryn

    i think there is a much larger gender discussion regarding your topic. that, and f_ckin activewear. and what ever happened to daphne guinness??

  • http://1979to5.wordpress.com Aislynn

    I love the comments made by the Normcore kids so much I want to marry them. “I have no problem doing something a little more awkward; sometimes I’ll wear, like, a fanny pack.” Cleaner, and better behaved versions of the hipster-by-way-of-gutter punks that proliferate my neighborhood. I may not agree with their ways, but if the only way the kids feel unique is by looking the same (while actively seeking out the ABSOLUTE WORST of the nineties), then same the shit out of it, you average Joe and Janes. Sure, I may roll my eyes as I pass you on the street, but they are RESPECT rolls.

    1979to5.com

  • http://triple-thread.net/ Ashlyn

    Normcore just seems to be slapping on a more cerebral label to 90s minimalism. Just like minimalism was a pendulum swing away from grunge, normcore does seem to be a swing away from peacocking. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to have a LOOK every single day. However, it seems like those who were actually old enough to realize the movement the first time (and not decked out in toddler leggings and tees like I was) aren’t turning their heads as much as those younger people who seem to be trying to evoke nostalgia for something they weren’t necessarily a part of the first time around.

    • http://www.anativeblonde.com/ Jess H.

      When I hear “90s normcore” I just think of all the outfits from Zenon:
      Girl of the 21st Century. But really I also imagined that in the year
      2014, everyone would actually just wear everything from that movie. That or everything Ace of Base wore, ever.

  • http://thebargaintrendsetter.com Bargain Trendsetter

    I agree COMPLETELY with this post. That’s one of the main focus points on my blog. We have to learn to embrace our own individual style personality and learn to be comfortable in our own skin. Just because something is “on trend,” does not mean it needs to be “on you.”

    http://www.thebargaintrendsetter.com

  • http://www.anativeblonde.com/ Jess H.

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate and point out that a lot of the “normcore kids” are probably students or recent grads (read: broke). Drop into your local Salvation Army and you’re going to be confronted with a sea of… normal clothing.

    There’s probably also a contingency in the normcore camp who see it as a middle finger in the air to fashion altogether. It seems like the whole idea is that by removing yourself from “fashion” you save yourself the time of interacting with people who would judge you solely on your clothing, and force everyone else to look beyond an outfit in order to learn more about you.

  • diane

    this happened to me literally this morning. I actually woke up early to pick an outfit and went from a FITTED outfit…like heels, skirt to –> white blouse + light denim + trench. Internal crisis set in early and remained with me throughout the day. This was a CRITICAL time for me to have come across a voice telling me to take risks and get uncomfortable. there are 2 people on this boat right now (me… you….).

  • Dandy,

    Life’s to short to wear boring clothes, and normcore is hands down boring yet every body seems to be doing it! I wouldn’t mind if I never saw a pair of Adidas slip on’s ever again. SIGH

  • tweety

    I love this post and everything it chooses to be.

    Thank you for articulating what I’ve been feeling for the past few months, so so SO well.

  • Amommy

    I love this article. I’m pretty sure I find the concept of normcore depressing. Because style and fashion are fun! But then the idea of inclusion/anti-elitism gets me. So conflicted!
    Having said that, I will die the day I consider it stylish to wear my “my kids win I give up” clothing.

  • Missy

    Great post. That would be considered a “normcore” response. This isn’t a trend… It’s a reason for people to be lazy and call it fashion. Moving along.

  • Petra

    I actually saw a photo of you in an article about normcore yesterday.

    • Leandra Medine

      See and therein lies the problem. Normcore takes a nuance of personal style (sneakers with a black tie dress. Jeans with an embellished bustier) and turns it into a genre unto itself and that pulls a lot of the fun and personality — and it needs personality to remain interesting — out of it.

      • Petra

        The way I see it, the only thing that happened is that this trend now has a name. Normcore has been infesting streetstyle cats and making their outfits more boring by the day for a while before it was called this. I think it just bothers people it isn’t so exclusive anymore.

  • Lisanna Wallance

    Long live the fashion peacocks! could it be that this new hipster predilection for “plain dressing” has filtered up to the fashion fiends? god forbid… I think there’s been a shift in the fashion week, at least it felt that way in new york. People have been tired, and over it, and it seems to be affecting their dress. They aren’t trying as hard….

    – Lisanna Wallance
    Paris expat, new yorker girl born and bred. Blogger (newb!) at –>
    www. ModeArte.com

  • http://www.ModeArte.com Lisanna Wallance

    Long live the fashion peacocks! could it be that this new hipster predilection for “plain dressing” has filtered up to the fashion fiends? god forbid… I think there’s been a shift in the fashion week, at least it felt that way in new york. People have been tired, and over it, and it seems to be affecting their dress. They aren’t trying as hard….

    – Lisanna Wallance
    Paris expat, new yorker girl born and bred. Blogger (newb!) at –>
    www. ModeArte.com

  • kirbybee

    At first I thought normcore was a joke. Then I saw the hashtag appear in my Twitter feed and it all became just a little too real. The whole thing seems ridiculously hypocritical. ‘Hey, look at me, I don’t care about fashion – I’m normcore.’ A statement you make, by (place emphasis here > ) wearing a specific style of dress. Consequently you must care about fashion, or at least care about what your fashion choices say about you. Frankly, I hope the normcores get swallowed by their own hypocrisy and spat out by the fashion gods as Anna Della Russo incarnate. Normcore that, bitches.

  • http://www.runway2street.com/ Rathna Sharad

    I like imagination and thought put into an outfit. After all clothes are the easiest way to express yourself and for people to make that first impression of you.
    Why would you want that to be “I don’t give a damn…” or “can’t be bothered to care…”

  • Thamsa

    lol where were you Wednesday that flats were even an option? It snowed so much here in Toronto that anything but my Sorel’s weren’t an option ( I always though NYC weather was pretty similar to here :P ).

    Anyway, the bad weather aside, I know what you mean. I do like my uniform, and it’s mostly because my wardrobe is so small that I don’t have much to choose from.But there are times when I want to be that peacock, so I’ll sort of deviate from that “normcore” but the important thing is that it’s for me and it makes me feel good, just as I feel good in my plain, unassuming uniform :)

  • http://caryrandolph.tumblr.com caryrandolph

    I tried normcore once…about a month ago. Mom jeans, sneakers, a white turtleneck, a red cotton sweatshirt. I looked like Kristy Thomas, president of the Baby-Sitters Club. I felt like a schlubby, sexless time-traveler from 1995. I felt SHORT. And thus ended my torrid affair with normcore.

  • Martine

    Perhaps because tight, tight pants, and statement necklaces have given us all a permanent headache. Personally, I love neutrals, volume, and the death of high heels.

  • Martine

    Oh and lets not forget how annoying layering got to be. How about ONE shirt, ONE pair of pants OR skirt. Leave it there. I plan on doing it for a while. No more lime green! And I wish people stopped saying ” a DESIGNER did it” to every trend they wish would end. In fact calling everything you don’t like a trend is kind of a trend. Its just a natural progression. Can I say again how much I hate layering?

  • Nonono

    Why change that – because it hasn’t always been about escapism. Ultimately it’s about getting dressed to go out and live in the real world. For the majority, it’s about doing that well, not about donning a distracting costume.

  • Amber

    How about letting the shows excite you this time, rather than the street? Plenty on the runway to inspire. Be ahead of the street.

  • NoOvernightGuests

    Honestly I find it all rather confusing. The damned if you do, damned if you don’t idea comes to mind. I will say, as someone new to discovering my personal style, I am finding it difficult to not reach for the same things everyday.

  • Argel

    I applaud you, just a few days ago I wrote about you as an example of Normcore, I actually said that you have always worn the white sneakers, but I never knew how to call that style until I read about the article. I’m very surprised and happy, because you are a trendsetter and now that everyone is trying that you are against the rule, I love that!

  • http://thoughtsofglam.com/ ThoughtsofGlam

    Fashion is amazing but not appropriate for all settings, I think thats why people have “pared down.” You can’t walk in with a bedazzled sweater or a McDonald’s outfit inspired by the runway looks at Moschino and still be taken seriously. I’ve found being a little more bold accessories wise helps me deal with the everyday drab that comes with being in an office setting for 8 hours a day. You can make little statements during the day and big ones at night.

    http://www.thoughtsofglam.com

  • sarah

    hmmm, coming late to the convo, however…if I dress as the aforementioned peacock i feel like a bloody idiot. if i dress like the ‘norm core’, especially if it is in well tailored, luxe items, i feel like myself.

    maybe because i am as curvy as all get out, i can t carry off the ‘trussed like a turkey’ look. i love androgyny and don’t see it in anyway new, it just suits me.

    i think that finally i can wear the luxe sweatshirt with my tailored man-style pants and some filthy-ass shoes…and not have people look at me as if I’m boring because finally people get it. because i am shaped ruben-esque, and wear coloured lips, there is still a dichotomy that makes it interesting.

  • allie

    Such an interesting post! Definitely seeing a lot of normcore on most blogs and all over instagram at the moment. I agree there’s sometimes nothing better than a minimal, chic monochrome outfit which makes you feel great, but every girl should have wild and inspirational outfits which make her feel just as good. There is nothing wrong with standing out, but a lot of girls I see tend to want to fit in now.

    tie-dye-eyes

  • thunderlegz

    Im so embarrassed-i didn’t long ago realize your writing was so lovely and you were more than an eye