Is Dad-Fashion Really Dead? A Look At The Re-Emergence Of Normcore During The Year Of Coronavirus

by Vanessa Wolosz

Normcore fashion has certainly lived out its days: the axioms of the movement have died, even though its aesthetics continue to dominate the fashion world. Perhaps they even dominate your own closet (I know that there are more than a few articles of “dad clothes” strewn across my room). From the beginning, normcore was a movement against the fundamentals of an oversaturated, overpriced, and unsustainable fashion market that peaked in 2014. If the trends aren’t exactly beneficial for the consumer, then it’s time to actively dress in outdated, used, and potentially aesthetically displeasing garments that are obtained by thrifting, social commerce sites like Depop, or by altering your own older clothes.

When normcore became more popular as a fashion movement, though, its stylistic fundamentals were adopted by the very industry that it meant to defy. Initially characterized as an “anti-fashion phenomenon,” it’s more anti-anti-fashion at the moment. Unless you’re actually someone’s dad, wearing a pair of New Balances and a frayed trucker hat is not going to win you any brownie points at FIT. Since its peak, normcore slid into relative obscurity. However, remnants of the concept prevail with the rise of “ugly” fashion, which appears here to stay.

This concept of clothes that are purposely ugly has even been espoused by Gucci, marketing gross-looking sneakers that they claim exude a “vintage, distressed effect” since 2019. Companies like Converse — not exactly a luxury shoe brand — have been cashing in, too, selling Chuck Taylors that are treated with a “dirty-wash” to make them look scuffed prior to leaving the shelf. For the record, Converse did it better.

This year, COVID-19 brought the trend back into the picture. Fewer adults have been attending their jobs in-person. Moreover, the true arbiters of fashion — the youth — aren’t even leaving their homes. There’s not much reason to dress your best for these days. With everyday fashion put on hold, the apparel industry is completely transforming, a few major retailers permanently shuttering their storefronts. Many aspects of this industry are abhorrent; the practices of fast fashion giants like H&M, for example. But considering textile creation and display as an inherently political art, some losses are difficult to confront. Everyone must wear clothes; the ones we choose to adorn say as much about ourselves as our values. This messaging is at the center of normcore as both a trend and a subculture.  Accordingly, fashion itself, as cultural and social currency, must adapt to the circumstances generated by this pandemic if it wants to survive.

chase fade E9VJhmKMnws unsplash 1 f36a8Photo by Chase Fade on Unsplash.

Current times may offer the perfect environment for a revival of normcore’s original terms. Indulging in an unremarkable, schlubby wardrobe is the current standard. As winter closes in, high school sweatpants and a worn college sweatshirt are par for the course during both weekdays and weekends. Black Friday just passed, and many both in-person and online clothes shoppers opted out. Correspondingly, the crux of normcore is the avoidance of the over-consumption that major retailers demand. Many American families are still suffering from profound income loss due to the pandemic, and simply cannot afford to buy new clothes needlessly (or, unfortunately, needfully). Lower-income adults have suffered the most from the COVID-19 job losses.

Coronavirus has affected our decisions about which garments we choose to spend money on, if we choose to do so at all. In 2014, normcore was relatively popular among those who considered themselves fashion-forward. Now, similar attitudes toward dressing are commonplace, this time because of how coronavirus has affected everyday life for, well, everyone. The coincidental nature of contemporary normcore doesn’t negate the fact that six years after its peak, it is experiencing a resurgence.  A resurgence of magnitude. 

Header image via Zackary Drucker for Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection  

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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