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Essay: Experiencing Normcore

  • Text by TESSA VON WALDERDORFF
    Bio photo_Tessa von Walderdorff

    TESSA VON WALDERDORFF

    Editor

    Tessa von Walderdorff is a third year student at Bard College, currently studying for a semester in Berlin. Though born in Manhattan, Tessa’s mother is a combination of Danish, Swiss, and French, while her father entirely German. A double major in Written Arts and French – fascinated by the interplay between body language and speech, translation and transformation, and reality and fiction. Other than journalistic writing, she focuses mostly on historical fiction and is currently working on a compilation of short stories. Her interests range from the poetic voice to industrial techno.

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Piece of Me

Style is not neutral; it gives moral directions.

  – Martin Amis

So, after endless discussion concerning the new word “normcore”, which gave name to an apparent style trend where dressing like a monotonous, suburban fashion-indifferent, Jerry Seinfeld-esque character became the optimum style revolution of 2014, what has become of this hot trend in the birth of the new year? Was it ever a trend, or, has it always been a sociological attitude assumed more generally by the young hipster of the 21st century?

Attitude or mode: one thing we know for sure is that what may have started as a theoretical movement has transformed – through the influence of utter impetus – into a real-life movement. The online newspaper, Daily Dot, writes that though it is hopeless to foresee what sort of favored styles the New Year will bring, “Pinterest thinks pins can tell us”; based on the latest craze circulating through the social network, normcore will continue to embody the Queen B title, stealing the spot light on pin boards all over.

The irony lies in the very celebration of the Nike golf hat, the plain white t-shirt; that pair of Gap blue jeans coupled with Timberlands–this conventional mom look or tourist type had never been praised before (and rightfully so). Why now is it suddenly a new phenomenon that every magazine and website writes about and Williamsburg kid conforms to?

Perhaps the appeal lies in the irony, as do many things. Or maybe one is drawn to the sincerity it represents; is it possible that these radical individuals are currently trying to fit in with the rest of “normal” society? The latter, however, although it may seem true for both the participant and witness, has yet to occur. Normcore isn’t being worn sincerely, naturally, devoid of the irony coupled always with that smug smile. Last I checked the mainstream mom-type goes out to buy the $60 Teva Hurricane sandals, not the $545 leather Balenciaga sandals with silver studs. The difference is significant. The New York Times describes this as normcore’s inexorable progeny – fauxcore – worn by those who may want to appear like the non-style indifferent type dressed in household brands, but ultimately care a whole lot when it comes to choosing a Céline wool oversized coat to a Patagonia fleece. So what is this about?

The impudent contrast between an American tourist wearing her floral-patterned pants and animal-print muted sweater and a hipster woman in the same exact outfit indicates a curious convergence: the common people and the bourgeois hipsters are merging to become progressively imperceptible. What had started as a hippie culture of opposition to capitalist bourgeois culture (a true countercultural lifestyle that accentuates moral or social beliefs) has ripened exquisitely into an even greater capitalist bourgeois culture – think of Richard Branson or Steve Jobs. They have complied with the notion that rebellious identity is always in opposition to the general character or inclination, even if they have become the character or adopted the inclination they were previously against, which has the consequence of transforming resistance into fashion. Yet, when everyone tries to stand out and claim their own exceptional individuality, then the lure of rebellion and the notable individual is no longer active. If everyone is a rebel no one is. R. Jay Magill Jr. writes, “When rebellion and irony and individualist fashion statements are the new norm… and when the margin has become the center, which it has… the rebellion is reduced to acting in the realm of mimicry and mimesis.”

Normcore’s mimetic nature is one of the oldest tricks in the book: female characters in Medieval literature like Chaucer’s Wife of Bath assumes her place that patriarchal discourse grants the female, to eventually obstruct it; in Julie, or the New Heloise, Rousseau’s protagonist, Saint Preux, mimics the language of French society to reveal the flaws of bourgeois conversation; Stephen Colbert, through mimetic censure, belittles those who seem exactly like him. Is normcore in fact articulating, unveiling a culture that has been necessarily excluded by speaking precisely as the excluded other, as the “normal” individual?

In merging the two, once entirely separate identities, categories get erased and identities are no longer explicit. Faced with an evocative puzzle to piece together, normcore, once a simple lifestyle now the new vogue, is not just a fashion movement, but a physical way to express and expose the existing moral, social, political, and even aesthetic issues. It is an abstract experience, a spectacle lacking a conception. Regardless what people think normcore is, it must be really something considering its ability to stir such emotion and conversation worldwide.

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