Fashion: it’s strictly the domain of the best-dressed people on the planet who act as gatekeepers of sartorial style. Or is it? In the last three years, a new craze has swept the runways of New York, Paris, London, ushering in garments conspicuous in their ugliness.
Ugly is not only the new normal, it’s the new desirable. Lou Stoppard of Fashion Times describes the recent SS18 runway experience as a case in point. “Every catwalk seemed to offer a giant, clumpy trainer, oversized fleeces or coats wrapped in plastic like wipe-clean sofas.” Shoes resembled “cleaning mops”. Jeans “puddled at the ankles”. In an industry obsessed with looking good, how did this happen?
In 2014, brand consultancy K-Hole invented the term “normcore”. At the time, they were advocating coolness in the form of badly-fitting mom/dad clothes that were so ordinary they were extraordinary. Sky blue denim jeans were the order of the day; slack and ill-fitting and square at the ankles. New, daring and decidedly unglamorous, the fashion world stoked the fire further and started to push the envelope. Today in 2017, Lou Stoppard writes that “heinous is [the new] hot.”
Much of it is down to simple novelty. The greatest sin a fashionista can commit is being “basic”, or in other words, mainstream. If we take sports as an allegory, basic is the equivalent to being in the stands watching the game. You’re not at the cutting edge – you haven’t even made it on to the pitch. For a budding fashion blogger or a designer at the crest of the wave, mainstream is a death sentence. Ugliness then is a means to survival.
Zanita Whittington spends her days and nights channelling normcore to an audience of over 300,000 Instagram followers. She describes the noise online as a further incentive to push the limits further and to shirk what used to be considered glamorous. “Just look on Instagram and everyone is stylish – and if everyone is stylish, then how do you stand out from that? You go the other way.”
Trend forecaster Megan Collins echoes those sentiments. “More than ever, influencers have to go to more and more extremes to set the trend, because people are picking it up so fast — it's becoming mainstream so fast — so they have to go further and further to feel different.”
This desire to be different has given rise to lurid yellow rain jackets, denim on denim and hoodies that you wouldn’t normally wear out the house. Think pieces from every ‘90s music video you’ve ever watched ramped up to 10. And this style doesn’t come cheap either. French design house Vetements routinely slaps £1000 to its normcore wear. Then there are the shoes, an entire sub category of this movement that encompass the retro and the lurid. Belenciaga has had fun with the chunky straps and odd colours. Nike and Reebok have joined in the gamesmanship too. The ‘90s is well and truly alive – at least a version we think we remember.
But perhaps no accessory better exemplifies normcore than the rise of the once unforgivable fashion accessory: the Croc. From the home to the high street, Crocs have found a cult following at the high end of the fashion scale. Look out for neon pink and yellow ranges sporting cartoon styling set to mega platforms. Even BBC News has covered the craze.
“It’s almost a badge of honour,” Coco Chan of Stylebop says, “taking something from the fringe of fashion and raising it to the highest of style.” Paul Surridge of Roberto Cavalli suggests it goes deeper. “This epidemic of deliberately ugly or awkward pieces is about challenging this obsession with the artificial lifestyle. It’s a sign of the time that what feels current is something that isn’t so perfect and isn’t so insipid.” People are taking note, and mom and dad jeans are flying off store shelves.
And yet not everyone is impressed. The model and fashion designer Alexa Chung calls it her least-favourite fashion trend, while Andrea Cheng notes: “The '90s came to an end eventually — and so, too, will ugly fashion, just like every trend before it. So once ugly fashion becomes mainstream, it will inevitably flip. And at today's rate of trend turnovers, that might be sooner than we think.”
But even if the end is nigh, normcore shouldn’t be dismissed out of turn. It speaks to a wider movement that has pervaded society at large: opinions are democratic. Like media and politics, fashion has levelled the playing field. Normcore signals a break not only from the tired and the cliché, but from the unattainable. In a landscape of Instagram and Facebook it’s a movement everyone can get behind.
And after all, who hasn’t worn their parents’ clothes before?
Business of Fashion: https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/ugly-fashion-is-big-business