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What does the normcore meme mean for retail?

Last week, 37% of online mentions about normcore were negative. Has the meme overhyped the new consumer behaviour media claims it has detected?
What does the normcore meme mean for retail? | EDITED
  • EDITD Topshop newsletter 30th Jan 2014
  • EDITD normcore Gap tweet
  • EDITD Topman newsletter 18th Feb 2014
  • EDITD American Apparel hompage 25th Feb 2014
  • EDITD Rag & Bone Fall 2014

In the last two weeks, the concept of ‘normcore’ has flooded online media. Originally dreamt up by future ponderers, K-Hole, the New York Magazine’s article ‘Normcore: Fashion for those who realize they’re one in 7 billion’ published on the 26th February gave pace to the meme now sweeping the internet. Jerry Seinfeld’s fashion is being scrutinised, dads’ wardrobes are being rifled through and politicians’ style is being credited as the ‘new hipster’. But have these online publications got their (plain white, high waist) panties in a twist over this “mainstream minimalism”?

What is normcore?

The first issue surrounds the understanding of how K-Hole defined normcore. Fiona Duncan’s widely read NYMag piece describes the concept as “Mall clothes. Blank clothes.” and “dad-brand non-style”, and it’s this image of the entire generation of Millennials turning their back on trend-led product that has sent the online world into a spin. In fact, Duncan has misappropriated the term normcore, which was never intended to refer to clothing, but is meant to refer to a cultural shift towards conformity, flexibility and connectivity. Instead Duncan has confused normcore with K-Hole’s ‘Acting Basic’ fashion trend, which they never intended to garner so much attention. Consumers aren’t turning their backs on trend-led, fashionable apparel, as online media would suggest – and the story highlights how misleadingly persuasive trends reported in the press can be!

Is there truth in the trend?

So where has this all sprung from? Is there a cultural shift that retailers need to prepare for in their merchandising? The answer is simple: no. Why? Because every retailer already knows about normcore, caters to it season in, season out, and is where the bulk of most retailer’s business lies. A retailer’s core collection are the basics that they can repeat order, avoid discounting and manufacture ahead of trend ranges. It’s the vest tops, t-shirts and denim at Topshop, ASOS and Gap. Whole businesses are built around these practical basics, just look to American Apparel, Muji, A.P.C. and Uniqlo.

What the core collection comprises of can vary greatly from retailer to retailer. At ASOS, there are items like their £20 slash neck, short-sleeved skater dress which have been repeatedly restocked, and are still in stock at full price more than 14 months after first arriving in store. Their women’s £12 colorblock baseball top and their £18 men’s crew neck jumper and £6 extreme racer back vest are all core range items.

Core items don’t just refer to budget items at mass and value retailers. Even luxury retailers do well from their core. At Net-a-Porter, their core range is compromised by pieces such as £355 Stella McCartney jogging bottoms, £115 T by Alexander Wang striped t-shirt and a £180 Theory stretch pencil skirt.

EDITD customers can login here to view full commercial analysis around normcore product in our latest Trend Watch report.

The underlying story

So why has the meme gained such pace? If not a new cultural shift, the attention created does at least suggest a fast-moving trend. In the first week following NYMag’s normcore article, 37% of online mentions of the trend were positive in their sentiment and 24% were negative. One week later and that’s dropped to 31% positive and 37% negative, so retailers should certainly act with caution when approaching this topic as a trend. But there is some substance behind the overall look and the key items the media refer to.

What we have is a global surge in the popularity of casual wear – be it for global economic reasons (see the onesie – its popularity coincided with much of the Western world being less inclined to leave the house and spend) or a Gen Y approach to the workwear wardrobe. At the same time, sports luxe has raised the profile of technical and practical performance garments, and designers like Stella McCartney teaming up with Adidas, Solange now steering the creative at Puma and global icons like Cara Delevingne and Rihanna favouring sporty styles, have transmitted this message through every online channel. Simultaneously, the 90s are being referenced in art, fashion and music as a natural progression from the recent obsession with the 80s. This is driving consumer interest in the shapes, colours and stylings of a decade which was defined by a loose silhouette and minimalist detailing. Rag & Bone sent fleece down their Fall 2014 runway in New York last month, and bomber jackets, sweaters and hoodies were seen across the fashion capital.  When these components collide, normcore exists.

Undoubtedly, there is profit to be made in this segment but in no way is normcore going to see consumers shift away from trend-led product and seek non-identity in their image. Retailers know their core range is an absolute necessity, but it is newness that drives consumers to return to their stores. The best retail performers can nod to the meme, like Gap’s fantastic tweet “We’ve been carrying normcore staples since 1969.”, or in their visual merchandising and email campaigns, like Topshop, Topman and American Apparel have. But don’t even think about holding back on fashion-forward product. That would be a very grave retail mistake.

What remains unchanged in every retail business is that data and analytics can make a real difference to profits. Only when brands and retailers base their decisions on tangible facts can  they confidently buy into the trends their consumers want and maximize pricing and sales. EDITD is already bringing a tangible difference to global retailers like ASOS and Target. Jump on the bandwagon and see how EDITD can help your business here.