Is Normcore another term for Metamodern?
Not quite. Although it may be argued that Normcore grew out of metamodern soil.
At the moment, the Wikipedia article on Normcore portrays it as strictly a fashion sensibility, whereby people make the conscious choice to opt for indistinguishable clothing, going for the most “normal” look possible. “Having mastered difference, the truly cool attempt to master sameness,” writes K-Hole, a trend watching/business consulting organization and the apparent originators of the term Normcore. Instead of adopting a “look,” the distinguishing move is to adopt a non-look. “Blending in is the new standing out,” Lauren Cochrane in The Guardian from Feb 27, 2014 declares. But this is overly simplistic. As with all fashion trends, there’s more to it than the exterior layer of clothing.
Can Normcore be considered one of the fashion expressions of a metamodern sensibility? Let’s explore…
Two aspects of Normcore that map onto metamodernism are 1) its relation to relationality, and, 2) its transcendence of, or active response to, irony. If the impulse to dress as a “normal” stems from valuing the ability to blend into any group, as K-Hole intones, then relationality, human connection, would seem to be prized over making a statement of exclusive allegiance to one group (geeks, hipsters, hippies, jocks, goths). Like celebrities who make their forays into the public in the most innocuous of clothing so as to avoid being spotted as a “star” while at the grocery store, Normcore lets folks hide, in a sense, inside a neutral identity, poised to jump freely into any subcultural scene, or to hang out and groove in the mainstream. If K-Hole is correct, the current crop of youth and young adults fluidly occupies multiple worlds and recognizes themselves as by turns famous, almost famous, oddball or invisible, shifting as quickly and as randomly as views on their YouTube accounts can be racked up. The prioritization of the emotional desire to connect with potentially anybody over the intellectual agenda of defining cultural categories through fashion choices is a metamodernist motivation.
The other major aspect of Normcore that we think seems pretty metamodern is that it takes a break from postmodern irony. Not that self-awareness isn’t there in spades. But, “Normcore moves away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity coolness that opts into sameness.” (K-Hole) Retro and other postmodern Hipster fashion states with a wink and a nod what Normcore is content to state with just the nod. In other words, Normcore chooses “normal” not through an ignorance about the varied non-mainstream fashion codes that are available, but through a deliberate choice to “act basic.”* Does this sound like patronizing shopping-mall slumming? Possibly, but it’s different from hipster sartorial irony in that the Normcore dresser does not want to be recognized as a jokester. Though s/he is a cultural pundit.
“Normcore doesn’t want the freedom to become someone, it wants the freedom to be with anyone. … In Normcore one does not pretend to be above the indignity of belonging.” (K-Hole) So Normcore is not simply a fashion style, a mode of dress; it is what massive adaptability looks like.
*K-Hole devises an alternative typology to our Foucauldian breakdown of the Traditional, Modern, Postmodern, and the addition of the Metamodern, episteme (or cultural sensibility, or “structure of feeling,” as some have called it). In their typology, Youth mode (an understanding “that being adaptable is the only thing that will set you free”) gives way to Mass indie (which “has an additive conception of how culture works. Identities aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re always ripe for new combinations”) which becomes Acting basic, followed by Normcore.