Somewhere in the world right now, someone is posting a picture on Instagram or Tumblr with the hashtag normcore. Since this past February, when New York Magazine introduced the term with “Normcore: Fashion for Those Who Realize They’re One in 7 Billion,” providing the fashion media with never-ending fodder, it’s become hard to ignore. It’s filled a hole in our language—much like "basic"—helping us to describe a semi-tongue-in-cheek private club that’s at once a rejection of the mainstream and a celebration of it. It can be a positive or negative, depending on who’s on the receiving end of the label. It carries more weight than can be easily explained in 140 characters. Yet, Oxford’s dictionaries division shortlisted normcore for 2014’s word of the year, opting instead to give the title (and dictionary inclusion) to “vape.”
Why? Perhaps they’re not fans of Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Jobs, and Louis CK, who’ve all been credited as normcore’s figureheads. I'm kidding, of course, but I *am* not entirely sure Casper Grathwohl, the president of Oxford’s dictionaries division, actually listened to and reflected on his explanation for choosing vape—because it seemingly applies more to normcore than vape. In his words, “A word is just the surface of something that often has a really complex and rich life underneath. Vape has been a lightning rod for a lot of discussion about the positions we want to take as a society.”
The thing is: Normcore does have “a really complex and rich life underneath,” and it’s also prompted a lot of smart discussions about the complications of differentiating yourself while participating in consumer-driven culture and how it’s the next page in the slow-dying saga of hipsterdom—a movement that’s reached peak commercial appropriation to the point where indie kids have turned to uniformity in order to differentiate themselves. As K-Hole, the collective who started the movement explains, “#Normcore finds liberation in being nothing special, and realizes that adaptability leads to belonging.”
It’s an adjective. A noun. A meme. A philosophy. And it also, as with the case of many Internet-born things, doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s inspired a ton of jokes, some self-aware (The New York Times’ winking feature on it, for example) and some not (a segment on NYC’s local television channel WPIX.) It’s even seeped into high-fashion, prompting a W Magazine spread that posed the question, “Why be normal when you can be normal and then some?” and street style galleries dedicated to the trend. All of which led to the inevitable moment in any underground-founded movement: Normcore became commercialized. This year Gap, the originators of the Be Anonymous, Wear Khakis and Solids style, launched a “Dress Normal” marketing campaign.
Normcore might just be a cultural blip but it’s an important one. It’s emblematic of the way we use language in post-Internet-with-a-capital-I, post-ironic times, where everything has two meanings, and how much the internet has diluted our collective sense of self—which is all the more ironic considering "selfie" was last year’s word of the year.