Like so many of our current staples, the
white T-shirt rose to prominence after being issued to soldiers during the Second World War. It quickly became a natural pairing with jeans, often worn when people were doing handiwork. Since then, it has come to be one of the most foundational garments in fashion—a piece that everybody has. There’s nothing more simple and more normal than a white T-shirt; it can be paired with everything from a suit to a pair of jeans to the most rugged workwear in one's wardrobe.
In the context of normcore, where normal things take on some deeper meaning, the white T-shirt stands opposite logo-driven streetwear or the complex patterns of avant-garde designers. It’s kind of like a palette-cleanser in garment form.
Stonewashed Blue Jeans
While it’s now often achieved using chemical treatments, the term stone washing refers to the traditional method for producing faded—but not distressed—denim which saw jeans washed with pumice. In addition to fading the indigo dye, the stone washing technique also softened the denim. Jeans, originally made for
workers and manual laborers, were typically made from the sturdiest denim, but stonewashed jeans emerged as a more casual alternative.
By the ’80s and ’90s, stonewashed, straight-leg jeans were a weekend staple for Americans, popularized by movie bad boys and celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld alike. But as the trends shifted, overly distressed denim came to be in vogue, followed by heavyweight raw denim in the 2010s. That left the classic, slightly faded, formless jeans of the ’90s at the fringes of fashion and synonymous with the less style-conscious mainstream—and that is how they became a normcore icon.
Jeans and a T-shirt are undeniably classic garments, but they’re not exactly great for cold weather. When fall and winter roll around,
fleece jackets become the foundation of the normcore look. The likes of Columbia, Patagonia and The North Face all make full-length and quarter-zip fleece jackets that can act as mid-layers in the coldest weather, but make for good outer layers in most conditions.
Not only are these fleece jackets utilitarian, but they’re exceptionally durable, often lasting decades, which helped endear them to price-conscious consumers and thus ingrain them within the mainstream.
In recent years, the jackets became
a bit of a meme, due to their ubiquity in corporate milieus and on Wall Street—far from the forests and rock faces they were designed for.
Solid-Colored Crewneck Sweatshirt or Hoodie
Simple crewneck sweaters are another cold-weather normcore staple.
American Apparel helped popularize simple, straight-cut cotton crewnecks in the mid-’00s, but the crewneck was first introduced as a sports jersey in the 1920s, before being worn by soldiers.
The neckline has ebbed and flowed a bit, but, for the most part, the crewneck hasn’t changed much in the century it’s been around. Today, there are countless options available to consumers—whether they’re from second-hand marketplaces or higher-end brands—and a solid-coloured cotton crewneck remains a timeless piece in every wardrobe. It’s supremely versatile, acting as both an insulating and layering piece, and can be dressed up or down depending on the cut. One of the most obvious (but highly impactful) innovations—the inclusion of a hood—has turned the garment from a midlayer into something truly transcends all levels of personal style.
Sleeker options, like those offered by
wings + horns or A.P.C. are more closely linked to Scandinavian minimalism, while those with ties to workwear and sportswear, from brands like Champion or Gap, have their place in a normcore closet.
New Balance silhouettes are now synonymous with normcore, thanks in large part to the late Steve Jobs, who made them a staple of his wardrobe. On the whole, the important thing would seem to be valuing comfort over aesthetics. But, for the most part, any relatively simple general release sneaker fits the bill for the normcore aesthetic.
A pair of
Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, Vans Slip-Ons, Nike Blazers or adidas Campuses are all examples of shoes that would also fit into the normcore wardrobe. One thing that’s immediately apparent is that they’re all shoes that are decades old—another example of the important role vintage plays in establishing normcores codes.
Minimally-Branded (Non-Fashion) or Souvenir Cap
It’s not any type of headwear or cap that fits within normcore. A fitted New York Yankees cap with a flat brim isn’t the same as, say, an older, slightly faded, cap with a curved brim.
For the most part, the caps popular within normcore feature an adjustable rear strap. Unlike many of the other normcore staples—which tend to lack graphics or prints—the caps
tend to feature logos, whether that’s of a sports team or a golf course, though often smaller than you’d find on the aforementioned Yankees fitted.