Until Su of Sewstyled drew “Norm Core” to my attention i had a strange idea about what it was. I thought Norm Core was a bit of a joke trend – the trend that isn’t a trend, fashion that isn’t fashion. A variety of ironic dressing that makes a virtue of dressing in ‘ugly” clothes in order to stand out from the crowd. Geek-type clothes or maybe what is unkindly known as American tourist.
Actually since Sue mentioned an article in the Guardian, I have found out more. It is the opposite of what I thought. It is a continuation of the anti-logo, anti-consumerist position. Norm Core as a fashion or trend simply requires that we wear more or less the same as everyone else! Norm core is a style that gives up the idea of following fashion (supposedly) and choosing bland conformist mainstream outfits. An example would be the billionaire tech giants who wear jeans and a grey T-shirt. Of course the big brands (consumerist, multi-national, logo-bound brands) have appropriated it, just as they did with all previous rebellions against convention eg. punk, hippy looks, Mods etc.
My take is this.
In considering what to wear there are two axis – one is the authority/approachability axis. The other is the standing out/fitting in axis. Let’s say we work in a senior role in the City. We want an authority look, but we also want to fit in. So our outfits would be in the top right hand corner. We might choose a dark grey suit, white shirt and a sober tie, with black classic shoes and belt. Now if that man wanted to stand out, without endangering his authority he might chose a beautiful silk tie. He might ask his tailor for red silk linings. He may choose an up to the minute shoe or spectacle designer. The standing out is very subtle – just enough so that the watcher knows you have style and an interest in the arts, for example.
Take the other end of the spectrum. We teach in a primary school teacher. We need to be approachable, with enough authority to make parents and children listen. But we want to be much closer to the lower end of the square. Let’s say she wants to fit in. She might choose black trousers and shoes, with a blue M&S short sleeved T-shirt, with a cardigan if it gets cold. A stand out colleague on the other hand wears 1980s colourful jumpers she buys at the Charity shop and always wears green trainers. Wardrobe personality works alongside these choices. For example the classic and natural dressers don’t want to stand out too much, whereas a Dramatic or Romantic dresser is more “showy”. In addition being different from the majority of people you work amongst, due to gender, race or disability, may mean you stand out more than you want to. For myself (in a sector and level that is male dominated) I embrace the standing out and play with it in my dress. As I will never fit in I sometimes dress ultra-feminine in order to make a point. Other times I go for a stylish androgynous look which also makes me stand out! Anyway I find this “Style Axis” quite helpful.
So where does Norm Core fit in? It is quite a slippery concept. If you want to fit in completely you need to wear what everyone else is wearing. This means you are part of 95% of the population. Most people dress to blend in – the fashion they are following is the norm. For example this would be the entirely boring skinny jeans, grey jumper, flat dark shoes, long hair that nearly every young woman wears in London today. Adolescents in particular often feel the need to fit in most acutely – comfort with being different takes a while to accept I would suggest. For many of us being “cool” meant setting, rather than following trends – historically I would include Coco Chanel, Schiaparelli and the Duchess of Windsor – more recently Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Lady GaGa.
Norm Core is trying to create a way of dressing that is at once cool and also normal and boring.
An architect friend refers to the Georgian and Victorian architecture of London as being “like wallpaper”. He means it is so “boringly normal” that we don’t really register it. But it is also beautiful and functional. Much modern architecture, in its quest for invention and fame makes the mistake of standing out too much – looking garish, or ugly or ridiculous. And innovative styles are not necessarily fit for purpose. In the picture below the doors are all blue (implying a single landlord) but often, despite there being no rule that says it, we paint our doors black. Norm core.
It’s the same with clothes. Norm core is a desire to move away from the exhausting habit of trying to set or follow the latest trend. Yet the big brands are all doing Norm Core, from Uniqlo to Karl Lagerfeld. Super-lux is surely just the boring/normal shell suit/elasticated pants/hoody/sweat shirt redefined (and re-priced), made of better fabrics and marketed well.
The difference between how we actually dress and how the magazines and blogs suggest we should dress has always gaped. There are a sub group of people who wear funny hats and handbags, red lipstick, vintage shoes etc and stand around in New York, London, Mumbai or Milan hoping to be photographed for a street style blog. Most of us would feel overdressed and actually uncomfortable like this. It looks like you are trying to hard if you stagger on your high heels, or have to keep pulling down your body con dress (and your Spanx’s make you sweat). Look at how some of our top designers dress – they can’t compete with the 10 foot models, so they just wear comfortable clothes.
Where would I go with this? Well I fully understand the desire to fit in, but I love character, personality and individualism. I like to see someone’s interpretation and style. When I see someone on the tube, or at work, who has just made a bit of effort – put a couple of things together – a scarf and a blouse for example – in an interesting and exciting way – my heart gives a little leap. Mary, who works with me, often wears beige trousers with a little sludgy jumper and flat shoes. But she has great hair, interesting accessories and such a great sense of style that she always looks amazing. This is how I would interpret Carine Roitfeld’s idea of “the importance of establishing a solid, classical wardrobe with simple twists”. Just wearing boring clothes is boring for the viewer, and to my mind a little philistine like saying you would never eat foreign food, or you don’t like modern art. Black poloneck with jeans = norm core – interesting silver necklace, vintage silk scarf or patina’ed brown brogues is the little twist,