I have to say that my non-fashion friends keep me grounded. When you work in the industry, it’s really easy to get swept away in the fabulousness of the fashion world, fixate on OOTDs, and run after trend after trend after trend. Being with people who can’t tell (and don’t care) if platforms are in for Spring/Summer 2015 (after being out for so long) is great for keeping everything in perspective. After all, fashion is only just fashion in the grand scheme of things. We gossip, throwback to what happened when we were in high school, regale each other with adventures and misadventures in motherhood, and talk food, politics, business, and show biz. Occasionally, though, my non-fashion friends will hazard a fashion question.
“Why is your illustration wearing Birkenstocks?” asked my friend Ann after reading Preview Magazine's February 2015 Fashion Sense. “Didn’t I read in one of your Preview Facebook posts that Birks are out?” For the record, my likeness was drawn wearing a pair of sandals from the Spring/Summer 2015 look book of Sea, an under-the-radar brand based in New York. Lug soles and thick straps might have given the untrained eye the impression that they were Birks, but they weren’t. I didn’t want to say, even if it was partly true, that a brand like an indie downtown label like Sea would definitely have more fashion cachet than Birkenstocks. That would have been way too simple an explanation. Instead, I said, “Well, they’re back.”
Fashion reportage has a way of marking this season from the last one by calling this season’s trends “in” and last season’s especially ubiquitous trends “out.” I wanted her to realize that the ins and outs that pepper fashion coverage are timely events and happen after fashion month, when deliveries of either the Spring/Summer or Fall/Winter merchandise arrive at the stores, or during the new year, when we are prone to cleaning out our closets and making fashion resolutions.
Sometimes, though, things are deemed “out” simply because pieces like summer sandals are no longer appropriate weather-wise. But studying the trend cycle, it’s pretty clear that Birkenstocks (and other thick-soled, orthopedic-looking sandals of the same ilk) aren’t yet going to bid us adieu. Mary-Kate and Ashley have been sporting these for a while now (they have probably moved on to the next cool thing, though), and early adopters in Manila took to them in the summer of 2014. These sandals have gone mainstream, meaning even the girls from your HR and accounting teams are wearing Birks, if not a variation of the sandals. What happened last year is that before most people could decide whether they wanted a pair, the seasons changed and the trendsetters switched out their sandals for sneakers and boots. So this trend was touted “out,” but faster than you can shimmy out of flared jeans (which are making a comeback), someone will wear them again, evoking irony (“I know these are out, but who cares?”) or nostalgia (“They are so '90s!”)—enough for it to be cool again. And so, this type of footwear will be back.
“Didn’t you also say normcore was over?” pressed Ann, who obviously was clicking on a lot of our Facebook posts. “But all these basics are still all over the stores.” She sighed dramatically, “I’ll never understand fashion.” “Yeah,” I conceded a little sheepishly. “If you call them basic with a twist, then they’re still in.” Ann rolled her eyes.
The problem with normcore is that the fashion world appropriated this term to talk about a return to basic, more or less nondescript clothing that served as an antidote to trendy, change-with-every-season dressing. Conceptually, the idea carries a lot of weight, and I know a lot of fashion folk who subscribe to this. Fashion being fashion, though, it needs something new every season, and so normcore the fashion trend—which was all about the basic white button-down, the marl-gray sweater, or the below-the-knee A-line skirt—needed to evolve. Designers toiled over how to make the perfect sweater, moving shoulder seams down an inch or two, tightening sleeves and cutting the bodice with just enough fabric to give it a dignified slouch. Such obsession to detail needed a new name, so “normcore” gave way to new trends like “the new minimalism” or “luxe basics” or “garçonne dressing.” “I see,” said Ann, even if she didn’t. I winked at her. Fashion’s a lot more complex than it looks.
Plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose. The more things change, the more it stays the same.
*This article was originally published in Preview Magazine's April 2015 issue.