Remember Normcore? Halfway between a trend and a subculture, the movement ironically turned to nondescript clothing like baseball caps, washed denim and running sneakers in defiance of the high-fashion circus’s hysterical obsession with peacocking. Among a new breed of trend - one that was driven entirely online - Normcore’s swift rise and fall demonstrated just how greatly the internet and social media have impacted personal style.
After the term was first coined by trend forecaster group K-Hole and spotlighted by New York Magazine, it wasn't long before the fashion press, eager to unearth the next big thing, sent Normcore viral in a flurry of trend reports and "Get the Look" pieces. Weeks later and it was forgotten, exiled to the depths of our collective browser history with only #KONY2012 and Grumpy Cat for company.
Traditionally, fashion's changing aesthetics have moved in tandem with broader subcultures – movements like punk, goth and grunge had specific dress codes that were inextricably tied to their music, values and beliefs. Participating in these groups required a level of dedication to their uniform; the punk's getup would go hand-in-hand with a rebellious rejection of authority, while the skater's spoke of broken bones.
Normcore, however, was a new kind of subculture – a kind driven entirely online, where joining required no weighty cultural baggage or commitments. There was no need to hunt out obscure boutiques, experience oddball bands in sweaty venues or break your legs bailing kickflips; everything you needed to know about the latest craze was right there, neatly summed up in bite-sized trend reports.
The internet and social media have, to an extent, removed the connection between subcultures and style, birthing a new wave of internet-driven pseudo-subcultures in the process. With style and shopping information so readily available, there is no longer any need to commit to a set of values or beliefs when adopting a group’s uniforms or idioms. Normcore's embracing of all things ordinary was just a look, something for stylists, editors and bloggers to toy with before they inevitably moved on – there was no underlying message on the virtues of “normality.” We can already see the next wave of net-driven movements bubbling underneath the surface – Health Goth, Vaporwave and Soft Grunge are just waiting to be swept into the spotlight and declared the next new craze before disappearing into obscurity almost immediately after.
By offering the visual language of a genuine movement, only without the cumbersome values, music or beliefs, Health Goth and the like may offer beautiful, exciting new aesthetics via Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook, but without any values, they exist halfway between a meme and a genuine culture. Dressed as something new, daring and exciting, but without any sacrifice or need for dedication they don’t mean anything. No one is there to stick around when the hype dies down, and so these movements exist on a diet of hype alone.
But what does this mean for the future? The internet generation has yet to birth a genuine subculture - the last clearly defined youth group being the '00s Emo craze, which came of age when social media was still in its infancy. It’s hard to imagine a genuine new subculture emerging when the youth of today has access to everything at once - processing a whole kaleidoscope of music, fashion and art simultaneously, unlimited by borders or languages. One can envision a world where subcultures exist only as vague, ever-shifting parodies of genuine youth movements - ones that are temporarily flirted with, not wholly dedicated to.
You can already see this playing out in the fashion world. Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent offers a glimpse of rock ’n’ roll’s rebellious spirit for those who have nothing to rebel against, while the new wave of luxury streetwear designers like Hood By Air, Nasir Mazhar and OFF-WHITE offer luxurious, extravagantly-priced parodies of youth culture. Presenting beautifully crafted products and groundbreaking aesthetics, perhaps, but ultimately meaning very little as their portrayal of subcultures comes at a price tag that no youth could realistically afford, stripped of the danger and beliefs that made these movements so vital in the first place.
The real irony of Normcore was that it raised a salient point about the fashion world's capricious obsession with fads, demonstrating that style can easily exist away from trends, catwalks and exorbitant price tags. The spirit of Normcore may live on - socks and slides, baseball caps, washed denim have all become part of the contemporary fashion landscape - but the fashion press's frenzied response to the movement combined with its lack of genuine substance means that it now sadly looks like one of the meaningless fads that it supposedly defied.