At The Intersection of Basic and Normcore


Should you choose to look up from your phone between classes and glance at the quad, you might notice something interesting, sartorial-wise.

Or maybe you won’t notice it, because the thing to take note of is that everyone is dressing like everyone else. This, in itself, is not surprising— we’ve known since seventh-grade health class that youths such as ourselves are precariously susceptible to peer pressure in all forms, which extends to what we choose to put on our bodies.

What is noteworthy, then, is not the likeness between peer-reviewed fashion, but rather the varying levels of self-awareness that surrounds it: some people are consciously dressing like everyone else, others are blindly doing so, still optimistic that their clothes reflect their internal special snowflake.

Welcome to the intersection of normcore and basic.

If you are a human who is alive in the universe, you should be aware of these terms.  Both emerged around the same time and followed similar life cycles that ended with over-exposure and vernacular exhaustion, as is the way on the Internet.

For the visiting aliens: “Normcore” is a term that became well-known in early 2014 with a trend piece in The Cut, described simply as “fashion for those who realize they’re one in 7 billion.” Essentially, normcore is the act of dressing to flout the notion of individuality. It includes, but is not limited to: generic track pants, frumpy sweatshirts, deliberately dressing like Danny Tanner.

The advent of “basic” is a little murkier, although many attribute it to the 2011 Kreayshawn song Gucci Gucci, which goes: “Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada/
Basic bitches wear that shit so I don’t even bother.”

Basic, then, is anything “obscenely obvious,” according to Urban Dictionary. It includes, in its most well-known manifestation, yoga pants, Uggs and Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

There is an argument to be made that Wake Forest is currently at peak normcore. This can be supported simply by the campus-wide, unisex prevalence of Chacos, tribal print Patagonias, high-waist jeans/jorts, Wake Forest sweatshirts (without hoods or pockets), New Balance Classics, and Goodwill (or Urban Outfitters, for the lazy) sweaters.

The most damning evidence, however, are those shoes. You know the pair. Converse. Red, white and blue. Seemingly in the ownership of at least half of the female student body. These are pure normcore— inconspicuous, unassuming, and, well, basic. In fact, they are so simple and so widespread that they might even be considered basic basic.

Herein lies the dilemma: The aforementioned “basic bitch” has clearly not yet ended its reign at Wake— Vineyard Vines, Sperry and Lilly Pulitzer still loom ominously, and we are a campus, after all, that requires two Starbucks’ within a five-minute walk of each other.

But normcore is, theoretically, being cognizant of “dressing like you’re one in 7 billion,” while basic is being blatantly unaware of your own ubiquity.  And yet, normcore’s influence is strongest in one location— the “Forest Folk” tumblr— which still seems to consider the style new. Almost every photograph is a variation on the normcore theme (denim jackets, cable-knit sweaters, thick-rimmed glasses) juxtaposed against the site’s masthead, which pithily declares: “Dare to be different.”

Those who appear basic, on the other hand, seem to accept it. The $92 price tag on Lululemon leggings is really just a free pass to wear, without conflict, the same thing as least three other girls in the ZSR Starbucks at any given time. Brands, after all, aim to unify, and all that makes up the basic populace— Diet Coke and Starbucks and Soul Cycle— do just that.

The takeaway: You know how sometimes words become meaningless? Obviously, no one fits as neatly into these binary rules as a terms like these aim to suggest. But basic is as basic does, and, to oversimplify, it seems that normcore might be going the way of basic and basic that of normcore.

But don’t just take my word for it.

While waiting out this liminal state, take a selfie in your tribal-print Patagonia, Lululemon pants and red, white and blue Chucks. Hashtag #WaitChapel #PSL #tbt. Whether that’ll make you normcore or basic is anyone’s guess.

At The Intersection of Basic and Normcore

Spooky, scary

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When I was in the 6th grade, I had a special morning routine. I rose at 6:45 to the shrill buzz of a 1975 alarm clock purchased from an estate sale when my aging neighbor had died, dressed in my favorite school outfit of high-waist, light-wash jeans and a sweatshirt advertising a resort in Belize but was actually from Pennywise, and arranged my hair into a fetching middle-parted low ponytail (normcore before it was normcore!). Then, I’d sit down, pour myself a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and read the Washington Post Style section in full, starting from the back page and moving to the front.

Clearly, it was rubbing off on me.

Any part of this regimen can probably be used to explain why, for that Halloween of 2004, I chose to dress as a carbohydrate. I had long been developing a taste for things that delighted myself and, at best, confused and alienated others— 2004 was an election year, so had I waded into the actual news section of the Post at any point, I likely would have chosen to be something similarly obtuse, like the Foot in John Kerry’s Mouth or the War on Terror.

As it was, all I knew from my daily, exclusive perusal of the Style section that low-carb, protein-heavy diets like South Beach and Atkins were the trendy methods of attaining trimness. From that, I deduced that to the health-conscious residents of my Northern Virginia suburb, there would be nothing more terrifying than a rogue carbohydrate traipsing around their neighborhood in the night, and I planned to use the horror I would surely inflict to abscond with as much candy as I could.

Whether this plot was the zenith or nadir of my career as a human being remains to be seen. Regardless, it is common knowledge that a female tween with a unibrow has to get creative if she is ever to get anything that she wants, and so I decided to go full-force.

Choosing this costume was easy, but executing it was another matter. I felt that dressing as a loaf of bread or a human-sized potato would be far too on the nose, and that both would require hefty amounts of wiring, papier-mâché and time. My days were already full with learning vocabulary words for the SAT, which was a mere six years away, and sprawling on the leopard-print bean bag in my closet and imagining that I was Jane Eyre (a character who resonated with me both because of her plainness and similar inclination to middle parts), and thus, I simply could not devote any energy towards a new task.

Besides, I had seen To Kill a Mockingbird and knew what might happen if I dressed in a motion-restricting, food-based costume. Suppose I was knocked to the ground by an errant, revenge-bent racist and, entrapped in my plaster baguette, was unable to escape, just as Scout Finch had been in her Alabama Ham? It was unlikely that my father had incensed any possible local members of the Ku Klux Klan to the point that they might try to murder me or my siblings, but the idea of relying on a friendly neighborhood lunatic to save me if such an event did occur was not appealing.

Instead, I went for a minimalist approach— “all black everything,” as Lupe Fiasco would later opine, so that my subjects could project their own personal fears onto my murky visage. I had a black skirt, top, and, to complete the look, a long, flowing cape. On my front, I attached a sign, with what I deemed a “spooky” font:

Am a carb.
Fear me.

In what was a surprise only to myself, nobody really “got” what I was trying to do. Photographic evidence prior to the event shows the chasm between what might have been recognizable and relatable on Halloween, and what was not: my sister is an adorable witch. My brother, a tiny skeleton. I am, unintelligibly, a young carbohydrate, blissfully content to wander the streets striking fear into the hearts of some and comprehension into the minds of none.

Spooky, scary