Posts Categorized: reader requests

Reader Request: Normcore vs. Classic


Reader Brenda sent this question my way:

I think that normcore is relatively pejorative. It connotes boring and plain, when most of what I’ve seen labeled normcore leads me to think “classic.” I’d love to hear what you think about that. One thing I’m wondering is if this “trend” has any staying power or if this is a comma in the essay of fashion. It seems obvious that classic items should be here to stay, but sometimes fashion is far from obvious.

Quick refresher: Normcore is a term coined by writer Fiona Duncan (or really, by a friend of hers … but she wrote the NYT article). It describes the pervasive fashion attitude of the moment, one of comfort, plainness, sameness, even disinterest. Duncan says normcore encompasses ” … embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for ‘difference’ or ‘authenticity.’ In fashion, though, this manifests itself in ardently ordinary clothes. Mall clothes. Blank clothes. The kind of dad-brand non-style you might have once associated with Jerry Seinfeld, but transposed on a Cooper Union student with William Gibson glasses.”

Like Brenda, my impression is that the term isn’t an entirely positive one. Which may sound odd since, clearly, the cool kids are embracing normcore with both arms. But after so many years of watching the fashionable elite fall all over themselves to do different, wild, even controversial things to set themselves apart, this seems like a reaction rooted in exhaustion or millennial-generation indifference.

But we can thank normcore for the resurgence of Birkenstocks* and New Balance sneakers, for making sweatshirts sexy, and for making the dirty-hair-baseball-cap combo chic. Although the style is rooted in existing basics like loose-fit jeans and slouchy hoodies, I’d also credit normcore with creating and popularizing the fancy sweatpant, for which I, personally, will be forever grateful. This is a dressing practice rooted in comfort. And after decades of body-con dresses and sky-high stilettos, many people are surprised and delighted to find that what they’ve been wearing all along is suddenly stylish.

Brenda points out that many normcore items are simply classics – Chuck Taylors, plain t-shirts, turtlenecks, clogs. But I’d also venture that normcore skews a bit sporty. Fleece, Adidas slides, caps, and track suits fold into this genre, too. Also, as Duncan points out in her article, many items have a 90s bent to them in terms of fit and styling, so certain items may be classic (jeans) but in their normcore incarnations they’re more specific (high-waisted tapered jeans).

As to whether or not this is a passing fad or the new normal (no pun intended), I’m reluctant to weigh in. I mean, the nature of fashion is to force change. The industry won’t make any money if we all just settle into normcore forever and aren’t prodded into buying the next new thing every season. Also this style is somewhat anti-fashion, and most anti-fashion movements have limited staying power. But who knows? This could be the one that sticks for a decade. We’ll all be a lot comfier if it does.

What are your thoughts on normcore? Love it? Not for you? Think it’s here to stay?

*I completely love that the AARP covered the Birk trend. Rock on, AARP.

Images courtesy ASOS (left) and Gap (right)

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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Reader Request: Professional Style for Figures With Larger Hips

profession clothes pear shape

Reader Karin sent me this request via email:

I am a 43 year old woman returning to work after 10 years out raising children. I am looking to return to mid-level corporate management, so a fairly traditional atmosphere. I am a chubby pear. Bust size 12, waist size 14, hips size 16/18. The full skirts, tighter shirts combinations that are generally flattering on my figure look a little bit too “1950s Picnic,” for a corporate office. I just look dumpy in the sheath dresses and trouser/blouse combos that seem so of the moment.

An interesting conundrum, no? The styles that flatter Karin’s figure in traditional ways don’t look quite as professional as she’d like. But if she were to prioritize typical dress code expectations over figure-flattery, she might not look or feel her best either. She’s focusing on both figure balance and relative sartorial conservatism, so that’s how I’ll couch my advice. But it’s worth noting that women with pronounced hips can and should wear pencil skirts if they want to, even if said skirts emphasize their hips. Hips happen. Observers can deal with it. And, as always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.

Now, assuming creating balance and downplaying hips are both goals, here are a few tips:

Track down some a-line skirts

I couldn’t say why, but most available skirts and dresses seem to be slim pencils or pleated fulls. Which is bonkers since a-line shapes work beautifully for so many women. AND lots of vendors are mislabeling skirts as a-line when they’re really full – a true a-line creates the shape of a capital letter A, widening gradually from waistband to hem without pleats or gathers. The Calvin Klein skirt above is the right shape, and done up in suiting style fabrics that will work with blouses and/or blazers in corporate environments. It’s also available in sizes 14W – 24W here. But any skirt in that shape will glide over hips without clinging, yet look more professional than its full, pleated cousins. A-line dresses (like this one) are even harder to find, but also work well.

Mind your fibers

So I just kinda ragged on full skirts, I know, but it’s worth noting that a full skirt made from tropical wool will be far more office-friendly than one made of cotton poplin. It might still feel too casual or young for the boardroom, but could be fine for desk days. This tip also runs in the opposite direction: Casual materials like ponte can be made to feel more formal when done up in pencil skirt and blazer shapes, and since ponte has thickness and flexibility, it can be a great option for women with curves.

Opt for simple trousers

Flat front, pocket-free, mid-rise versions are fantastic, but top-entry pockets will do in a pinch. I agree with Angie that you should be sure to buy trousers that fit where you are largest (likely hips) and have them tailored elsewhere (waist and possibly legs depending on your build). Also that slight boot cuts and wide-legs will work best, worn with heels if elongating your legs is a priority. Straight leg styles can also work and look marvelously modern. If you feel like this style emphasizes your hips, pair them with bright or printed tops to focus visual attention upward. Speaking of which …

Add a little visual volume up top

Balancing a larger bottom half sometimes means adding some visual volume to your top half. I’m not talking chunky sweaters or oversized blouses as much as jackets with defined shoulders, ruffle-detail tops, and even statement necklaces. Nothing drastic, just detailing that makes your top half look subtly bigger, draws the eye upward, or both.

Look to office-wear brands

I’m thinking Calvin Klein, Jones New York, and Anne Klein, all of which offer office-friendly staples in regular and plus sizes. Check Amazon for all three brands, too. I keep an eye on this trio since many of my clients need classic office-wear, and I feel like they all provide more figure-friendly designs than Ann Taylor, J.Crew, Banana Republic, and other mid-market suiting/work-wear brands. Skirts aren’t super short or super tight, and tops are classic but with thoughtful details. JNY does blazers and jackets a bit better than the other two. Also check Talbots for office-friendly staples in regular, plus, petite, and petite plus sizes.

And, of course, befriending your tailor is a good idea. When your waist is dramatically smaller than your hips, pants will seldom fit right off the rack, and you may need to have jackets and blazers altered to work with your curves.

Other ladies with hips, what are your tips for professional dressing? Any brands or styles to recommend? Do you try to visually balance your lower half? What advice would you give Karin?

Images courtesy Amazon

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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Reader Requests: Why Are SO Many Dresses Sleeveless?

why dresses sleeveless

Gerri popped this one into the suggestion box:

I would love a post about why they don’t make dresses with sleeves anymore? Why can’t I find dresses with flattering sleeve lengths for summer (about midway to elbow)? I’m so tired of having to buy shrugs and jackets then coordinate them over all my dresses. I have a few dresses that fit great and are flattering but need different lengths/cuts/colors of shrugs and jackets. It’s discouraging. Do designers do this so we have to buy more clothes? We have hot humid summers so wearing my regular jackets doesn’t work. Any insights/advice about this would make me so happy!

And this is a phenomenon that we Minnesotans lament for the opposite reason: When it’s winter, the mere prospect of wearing sleeveless dresses makes us shiver. Even layered, they just aren’t as warm. Many of my readers and clients and friends are on a constant hunt for sleeved dress options, and retail buyers are hungry for them, too. But they are rare critters.

For years, I made my own assumptions about this bizarre trend: That the shift to shorter or no sleeves was related to our country’s obsession with youth, since sleeveless garments would appeal younger women who aren’t as self-conscious about their arms (supposedly). I also wondered about cost savings for the manufacturers, who could use less material overall and also design one basic dress shape for the entire year. Growing shopping and fashion markets in warm cities like Miami and Las Vegas struck me as another possible factor, as did the overall move toward “seasonless” dressing.

And if it weren’t for this WSJ article, I probably would have continued with my guesses. But here are the reasons, as outlined by designers including Nanette Lepore and Trina Turk:

  • Sleeves are frumpy. (This is news to me.)
  • It’s difficult to design a cute or flattering sleeve that also feels comfortable.
  • Related: Sleeves can restrict range of motion, which causes more comfort issues. And in our comfort-centric climate, designers fear that buyers won’t tolerate restricted range.
  • Design features that make sleeves more comfortable and less constricting – like gussets – are costly and seldom included.
  • Sleeves can mess with the lines and overall tailored elegance of a dress.

So there you have it. Even though customers are clamoring for them, designers just don’t want to do sleeves. Mainly for aesthetic reasons. Annoying and frustrating.

Want to turn the tide? Continue to let your favorite designers and retailers know that you’d spend even more money with them if they offered dresses with sleeves. Although designers don’t love adding sleeves, it’s clear that some of them do it anyway because they know women really, truly want them. With constant reminders, perhaps they’ll shift from adding the occasional sleeved dress to a collection to adding the occasional sleeveless dress to a collection.

P.S. From what I’ve seen, Boden stocks sleeved dresses year-round. And Nordstrom almost always has some petite and plus dresses with sleeves.

Images courtesy J.Crew

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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