About two years ago, I overheard a colleague telling someone that trying was the new not trying. “I used to be that girl in the T-shirt and jeans, acting like she doesn’t care,” she admitted. “But not anymore!” I remember confidently looking down at the silk polka dot pants and glitter-covered Miu Miu brogues I was wearing and internally nodding in agreement. Yes, over-the-top effort was undoubtedly in.
This was right around the same time that the street style boom had reached critical mass, and blog feeds were bubbling over with image after image of both men and women wearing outlandish ensembles. Fashion month had become much more about attendees’ attire than what was on the actual runways; every day was a contest to see who could pull off the craziest prints, the tallest shoes or the weirdest sunglasses. It was fun for awhile, but soon the scene outside the tents became overwhelmingly frenzied, and the backlash began. Fashion journalist Suzy Menkes caused waves of debate by posting a piece in February 2013 that described the situation as “a circus,” and editors began buzzing about the return of minimalism. By the time NYFW rolled around last September, the look of the moment had changed. It was simpler, less flashy, kind of bland and little bit ugly. It was normcore.
Normcore, in case you haven’t heard of it yet, has been the fashion world’s favorite topic lately. Described by New York Magazine as a way of “embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for ‘difference’ or ‘authenticity,'” it’s a look comprised of the sort of frumpy mom and dad attire—Birkenstocks, Tevas, polar fleece—you used to make fun of your parents for wearing. It’s all about showing you can’t be bothered with the uncomfortable and impractical; you’ve got more important things to worry about than following the latest trend.
Here’s the thing, though: I think that normcorers care a great deal about their appearance. While they’re working with plain, middle America mall clothes, they still put everything together in a way that’s not only flattering, but distinctive. It’s sort of like when you watch a movie or television show, and every character—even the ones with no sense of style or spare money to spend on fashion—seem to have a perfectly tailored wardrobe and a excellent sense of what works with what. Everything looks good because the proportions are just right, and the styling is just so; that’s something much harder to pull off than you’d think. To show you just how much effort actually goes into making the unfashionable seem cool, I’ve broken down the normcore look into six specific types I’ve been seeing on editors, models and bloggers recently, along with a how-to on getting the look yourself. Just don’t go and tell me that you didn’t try—I know better.
Click through to decode the normcore look now.