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Normcore: Your not-so-new normal

Celine’s Spring/Summer show included the Phoebe Philo fur-lined slide.
Celine’s Spring/Summer show included the Phoebe Philo fur-lined slide. PIERRE VERDY/AFP/GettyImages

Normcore is a fashion movement that is happening, whether you’re aware of it or not. It started as a joke — I think — but not a funny one. I first heard of it a while back when a young stylist friend based in New York told me she couldn’t find a photographer that worked with her aesthetic anymore.

“They all want to do the cool kids downtown on a dirty couch in tube socks thing,” she said.

No longer did “downtown” imply off-duty models, hanging off fire escapes on the Lower East Side. This qualified as the ultimate high-low, Terry Richardson sleaze with extreme high fashion finesse. Hanes crewneck sweatshirts styled with an $1,890 Saint Laurent bolo tie, Crocs, and Balenciaga shorts. This is normcore.


Karl Lagerfeld sent his fall/winter 2014 Chanel collection through the aisles of a logo-encrusted grocery store. Models wearing tweed trainers purchased Chanel brand Camembert cheese, carrying handbags that had been crafted to resemble wire market baskets. It was all so literal. And it was quickly embraced and raided. The fashion set grabbing handfuls of Chanel tinned tomatoes, “Tweed” brand Italian sodas, and No. 9 eggs must have been a sight to see, especially when they were forced to surrender their goods at checkout. (Chanel confirmed the goods were donated to charity following the show.)

In a less brazen statement, Celine, a house that has revived the minimalist movement for mainstream fashion, introduced the ugliest sandal I have ever seen in my entire life for last spring. A fur-lined, flatform slide by Phoebe Philo, retailing just under $1,000, did the unthinkable: It started a trend. Birkenstocks (or as Philo’s version had been deemed fur-kenstocks) were having a comeback.

This season, everyone has their own version of this plain, ugly, low platform sandal. Givenchy’s double buckle metallic interpretation can be found for a cool $850 on www.saksfifthavenue.com, while Kate Spade New York throws in their sweet scalloped entry, deemed the “Attitude” sandal, for just under $200. Zara is stocking the knockoffs. J.Crew is just stocking Birkenstocks. This is normcore.


Normcore is also high-waisted, light wash jeans with tummy pouch pleats that don’t apologize. Normcore is white Reebok trainers and ribbed white socks with a fanny pack and cargo shorts. Normcore is that misshapen polyblend sweater mom sent you freshman year of college, whose width outstretches its length. Normcore is a Patagonia fleece jacket paired with Adidas track pants and a visor. Normcore is Jerry Seinfeld.

Chanel’s Fall/Winter show featured models in sweatpants and sneakers.
Chanel’s Fall/Winter show featured models in sweatpants and sneakers.Francois Durand/Getty Images/Getty

I hate normcore.

Esquire says normcore is “right on time,” according to retail sales analysts at Piper Jaffray, who report peaks of activity involving khakis, twill, and the like are right on schedule with a 20-year trend reemergence cycle. Even Vogue has acknowledged normcore, proclaiming, “Keep the sneakers and your ability to walk, wearing them with anything — even couture dresses!”

Retailers have joined in — I went to purchase my favorite pair of cigarette skinny jeans from Urban Outfitters the other day and was horrified to find the merchandise had been rearranged to make room for a new cut: the Mom jean. Just in time for summer.

So what does this mean for Boston? I’m not sure. Because normcore, for Boston, might as well be called “the norm.” Not to say the city is devoid of style enthusiasts, but fashion deemed “blah” often finds its natural habitat on the streets of Boston.


When that bro in his mesh basketball shorts, drop-shoulder T, and flat brim baseball cap and your office mate in the ill-fitting blazer and corduroy pants find themselves at the height of fashion, where exactly does that place us on the spectrum of style?

Will we finally make it off that Worst Dressed City list (by a magazine that shall not be named), purely for the fact that being the worst dressed has become chic? Does our stock gain traction every time Fenway fills with nylon windbreakers and jorts? Will our ranking improve when the students and their North Face fleece jackets and Ugg boots roll back into town this fall?

Time will tell — but for our sake, I hope not.

Rachel Raczka can be reached at rachel.raczka@globe.com.