Posts Categorized: style

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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A Half-baked Argument for Clothing Rental Services


Nestled in between the clothes that look horrific on you in the dressing room and never get purchased and the ones that work perfectly years after you’ve bought them is a group of very cagey items. These items may fit, but they don’t work. Unfortunately, you weren’t able to figure that out until after you’d worn and washed them a few times, and discovered how odd they look when mixed with other items from your closet. Because you understand your style, you know what you like, and you can tell when something fits well … but you occasionally fail to accurately gauge how well a new item will play with old items.

And occasionally a sweater that looks amazing in the store and works beautifully with your outfits will begin to pill uncontrollably after three washes, or reveal that it is knit in such a way that cat hairs weave themselves in and cannot be removed with any lint roller known to humankind. Occasionally a blazer that looked amazing with the jeans you wore in the fitting room ends up looking horrible with your actual work clothes. Making sure you can think of at least three outfits built around a potential purchase helps, as does bringing it home and immediately attempting to create those outfits. But frequently it takes time and experimentation and wear to know for sure.

And yes, some vendors will give you your money back or store credit even if something has been washed and worn dozens of times. But most won’t. Most won’t even accept something unless it has its tags and zero signs of wear. Which makes sense for retailers, but can bite consumers in the butt.

I would love a grace period, a trial run, a set amount of time to experiment with a new piece and make damned sure it really is worth my money. I would love to be able to rent clothing for a few weeks, and then turn them back in if they don’t work. Rent the Runway uses a rental structure, but is mainly limited to evening and formalwear. Closet Collective is almost there, but still not customizable enough. The Gwynnie Bee model is more what I’m envisioning – pay a flat monthly fee, pick some items, wear them for a while, send them back when/if you’re sure you don’t want them or purchase them to keep. (They meticulously clean worn clothes before putting them back into rotation, of course.) But the service is only offered for women who wear sizes 10 to 32 – which is, of course, amazing since women in that size range often have limited and/or boring choices available. But it also means it’s not available to everyone. And since it’s a subscription, it’s also limited in brands offered. I want the Gap and Nordstrom to do this. I want it universal.

Do I know how to make that happen? Nope. That’s why “half-baked” is part of this post title. This is a daydream of mine, something I chew on when I find myself donating a garment that I bought a month ago and failed to predict would be a problem child. I think about my style frequently and try to make informed, careful purchases. But since I can’t cart the entire contents of my closet with me whenever I try on clothes, I can’t always guess which items are cute and useful and which ones are just cute.

Do you ever find yourself stuck with nearly-new items that seemed like they’d work initially, but failed to really work with your wardrobe after several wears? How do you handle this? Would you try a clothing rental service? Think it could be helpful?

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Does it Fit vs. Does it WORK

fit vs work

Above you see two outfits that never hit the blog. They’re both perfectly fine outfits, but their main players – the dress and the utility vest – have long since been donated. Because while they may have fit just fine, they didn’t actually work for me.

I had been searching for a magenta dress with sleeves for ages. I wanted one I could wear on its own without layers. And when this one arrived and it fit, I was filled with glee. But after a handful of wearings I discovered that half-sleeves are not nearly warm enough for winter wear, and that the deep V in the back was a very pretty feature but left me totally freezing. Even in warmish weather. The sleeves were pretty thick, so layering a blazer or jacket over the dress made me feel like a sausage. And possibly look like one. I was so excited that it fit, I didn’t give much thought to whether it had all of the characteristics I needed for it to work.

The utility vest was bought on sale for a pittance, and was a piece I’d seen and loved on other women. Again, it fit, so I committed to it and removed the tags. And after several wearings I realized that it hit me right where my hips are widest, drawing attention where I’d rather it weren’t placed. But perhaps more importantly, it didn’t mesh with my style or wardrobe. It didn’t work with the dresses and skirts that were my mainstay a year or so ago, and it didn’t really work with my badass looks, either. I tried it in both mixes, and it just looked goofy. This outfit was as close as I got to making it work … but it still barely passed muster.

I spent much of my childhood hating the way clothes looked on my body and now, decades later, I can still be blinded by decent fit. If an item I’ve been wanting and seeking out fits me well, I will sometimes buy it before thinking through exactly how and when it will be worn. Because it fits! When I’m wearing it, I don’t look at myself and see a potato sack full of live weasels! REJOICE!

It took me many, many missteps to figure it out, but now I try to seek a good fit and also think more carefully about how new items will function within my wardrobe. I still bung it up sometimes, but I’m learning. And if I have any doubts, I’m more likely to attempt to create at least three outfits around a new item before I remove tags.

Do you find yourself with items that fit but don’t work? Are you like me, and just over the moon when something fits and looks good? Any tips for gauging whether or not a new piece will actually work?

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