Breeches & Bodice: Normcore: making suburban dads chic and Birkenstocks haute couture since 2014

August 28, 2014

Now that we’re all back on the Hilltop, please take my advice: those Birkenstocks aren’t doing you any favors. They’re ugly, comfortable, and —dare I say it— painfully hip. But, it’s Normcore and since real lifestyle publications are writing about it, you know it’s not the biggest mass media prank of the year.

Hold on. Let’s backpedal a bit. In case you live under a rock, or went home this summer, Normcore is the new black. The word is a portmanteau of normal and hardcore. It’s the trend for those of you who don’t want anyone to know how hard you’re trying. It’s so ridiculous that even the New York Times can’t quite tell whether it’s a “Fashion Movement or Massive In-Joke,” as Style desk reporter Alex Williams wrote in April.

Perhaps it’s the socialization of the free-market economy? Sartorial equality for all? Regardless of whether it is or isn’t, I love it. In a word where floral printed men’s blazers and metal-plated sneakers have reigned, I relish a return to the plain.

Let me explain. To me, the whole idea behind Normcore seems rooted in the total disregard for the absurd pace, trends, and prices in high fashion. It’s a return to basics, to the things that are comfortable, well made, and eternal. A fleece jacket or a basic sneaker, worn by suburban dads everywhere, are beloved because they are undeniably comfortable, built to last a lifetime, and perennially predictable. No Fashion Week peacocks here.

I don’t appreciate Normcore’s distinct aesthetic. Let’s be totally honest: suburban dad has never been, and never will be, cool. But, I guess, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. If you’re trolling the internet for Normspiration—a term coined by yours truly—you’ll be happy to know that the Internet is (as always) here to save you, with weird results like the “dadchic” Tumblr, replete with weird quotes and weird photos of someone’s dad. Weird. Not even a “Made In Italy” tag makes Normcore appropriate.

Even so, I find Normcore to be ideologically appealing. In this world of H&M, Zara, and Forever 21, clothes are poorly made and far too trendy to be stylish. In five years, all of that stuff will end up in the garbage–it’ll be outdated and in tatters. Fast fashion is not only diminishing societal standards of quality, but also putting quality manufacturers out of business. There’s a reason behind the success of boring dad wardrobe staples.

In this vein, my first requirement of my closet auditions is quality of construction because I don’t want to have to replace clothing in a couple of years because of its shoddy fabrication. Instead, try to focus on building your closet to a critical mass of fewer clothes that you’ll wear all the time.

But critical mass doesn’t have to mean high-priced designer garb. Again, the Church of Normcore prays in a language called comfort, and it’s preaching to the choir here. You’re grown up, so hopefully you should be getting to a pretty good understanding of who you are and how you express yourself. Build up a set of staples that cater to your lifestyle, whether it’s hand-welted brogues, pinstripe suits, hoodies, or lederhosen. If you love mohair sweaters more than anything else in the entire world, wear them. Don’t let my shudders of horror dissuade you.

My second requirement at closet auditions is a sense of timelessness. It’s not about impulse purchases you’ll wear once or twice. At the end of the day, there are only a few of things you really need in your life, and it’s up to you to figure out what those items are. Ideally, though, you should be able to wear them in five or ten years and not look like Marty McFly. Nobody wants to be the person with shoulder pads and jellies… but if that is 100 percent, authentically you, who cares?

With all this being said, maybe Normcore really is the future, not an Atomic age comic strip. Which is why this summer, to match my grandfather’s, I got myself a pair of Birkenstocks.

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