WIW: Japanese normcore

My recent trip to Japan inspired me to explore the relaxed silhouettes and low-key styles that emerged in the wake of normcore. I should have seen it coming because the signs had been all over the Asian street style blogs for months. In case you didn’t already know, normcore is the slippery concept that dressing in an unremarkably normal way is somehow fashionable.

Confused? You will be.

The problem with normcore as it appeared in Europe and the US is that it’s so blandly nondescript that you can’t get away with it unless you’re a bright young thing or a middle-aged white guy, in which case go ahead. In Japan, though, the raw materials to take an idea like this and run with it are all in place. They've got avant-garde fashion, awesome school uniforms and Uniqlo, all of which ground the concept in something altogether more stylish to begin with. Only the Japanese could elevate unremarkable clothing to an art form.

It looks a bit dull at first glance but in action it makes a certain kind of sense: a back-to-basics aesthetic that's not so much about keeping up appearances as enjoying the clothes for their own sake. There's a strange liberation to be found in embracing a non-identity and nothing's more comforting in cold weather than loose-fitting pants and a big woolly jumper. Then again, baggy head to toe is challenging and I’m not getting dressed without considering how it all fits together. There's got to be a certain attention to detail and I can't resist a statement shoe.

So here’s my take on Japanese normcore with two favourite jumpers and accompanying source material. I’m very comfortable in both these looks and I’ll be wearing more like them this winter. Just not every day.

I like to think of this man’s sweater as the normest of the normcore. It is lovely, but there’s nothing remotely fashionable about it, as I discovered when I tried to write about it on my short-lived blog last year. The only way to style it is to embrace its geezerly quality and team it with slouchy mannish pants and the type of shoes your sleazy uncle might wear. Mon Oncle indeed.

This is fancier, but only slightly. My all-time favourite woolly jumper (>10 y.o Pringle) worn with oversized denim pants by Christophe Lemaire, found on the deepest of deep discounts in the women’s department (I’m pretty sure they’re menswear.) Outstanding cut and fabrication, very dubious fit. Finished off with a pair of Japanese kawaii sneakers so high-concept they’re mildly absurd.

I have the vaguest of doubts about these sneakers, even though they fill me with irrational joy. I can’t take them back and I never saw myself in Stan Smiths anyway, but are they a little OTT?

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Angie replied 3 years ago

    I'm rushing out the door but wanted to chime in quickly to say that you look SUPER KILLER CUTE in #4. Semi tuck that top to get the same effect with your hands in pockets! 

  • shedev replied 3 years ago

    I think the shoes make the outfits. Well done.

  • Joy replied 3 years ago

    I find that I love this look on you. Your gorgeous hair and perky stance make it look intentional or maybe JIE (just intentional enough). I would look like a homeless old bag lady. Did you see any older Japanese in normcore?

  • Sara L. replied 3 years ago

    I think this look works on you. I think your shoes and hair make it look intentional.

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    Thanks ladies! 

    Angie, the half tuck is tricky with this piece on account of the giant pocket in the front, but it might work with a lower rise on the pants. I'll explore that.

    , you just summed up my modus operandi in one line.

    Joy: is that a trick question? :P It's hard to tell if older ladies are going for normcore or just regular clothes, because they're so very polished in their style. I did however see a few absolutely nail a low-key sportswear and sun-visor look, making it look very desirable. Just don't ask me how they did it! 

    Sara L: cheers! good to know the shoes are working!

  • skylurker replied 3 years ago

    I LOVE both looks - you will probably find that statement worrying, given our different style preferences...I guess you nailed normcore :)

    My favourite is #1, I love the tartan jumper (I'm a sucker for British country stuff), I love the proportions with the pants, I love the necklace matching the yellow lines - so clever, and I love the creepers, awesome creepers.

    I don't find the sneakers OTT, they're white so they look "crisp" as Angie would say, and flatforms don't overwhelm you. To me, they look vaguely like sledges - a fun association.

    I think Lemaire's creations are often under Asian influence, so his jeans fit right in - not too oversized - actually I think they'd look like regular BF if you rolled them up.

    Off to read the links, thanks for providing them, I always learn lots from you.

  • Gaylene replied 3 years ago

    Isn't it back to that old adage "style belongs to the person wearing the clothes, not the clothes themselves"?

    Both of your normcore outfits look utterly stylish on you, but it's the synergy and confidence of the whole, not the individual pieces , that capture and delight. I sometimes wonder if we North Americans don't spend too much time and energy focusing on what's "in" and what's "out" instead of cultivating our personal style instincts and connecting with what gives us pleasure. Normcore, worn with that sense of self and nod to the absurd, is anything but normal.

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    skylurker, that's a lovely thing to say! I don't think our sensibilities are that divergent, even if we express them in very different ways, as you might expect from a Parisienne and a Londoner.

    Gaylene, I should own up to my deep ambivalence about the whole concept of normcore. It's hugely problematic for all kinds of reasons, but it's also a reference point for questioning our relationship with trends and fashion. It's an important development and it shouldn't be written off. You articulated why very well, as you always do.

  • Xtabay replied 3 years ago

    This is normcore done right.  I could easily embrace this style because it looks (deceptively?) effortless and comfortable.  The shoes you've chosen add your own personal touch, and elevate the looks beyond the strictly normcore label.   The white shoes are intriguing -- they look like they could be characters in an animated movie!  Love.

  • CocoLion replied 3 years ago

    I love them both.  You have amazing style, you should be a street style star!

    There is norm core which is classic casual dressing a la techies.  Then there is norm core done the trendy way which is oversized.  The big silhouettes take a classic piece and make them more fashionable.  You see a lot of this look in Scandinavia and Europe, more so than in the US.  I am at the moment preferring more tailored lady like cuts, but that could change.  

  • Greyscale replied 3 years ago

    I love these looks! And I totally get what you mean. Your first paragraph made me think of Uniqlo and school uniforms, and then you said exactly that in the next paragraph.

    I almost want this look to have another name rather than normcore, since I think the Gap ruined that one for me, but I'm not sure what it would be.

    Do you read Man Repeller? Her aesthetic is different, but you both write smart and unconventional things about clothes.

  • Angie replied 3 years ago

    Can you semi-tuck one side? 

  • shevia replied 3 years ago

    The comments on this thread are as good as the original post, which is very good indeed. The second outfit had the most Japanese normcore vibe to me - and I think the sneakers, which in some ways are OTT are a big part of it, as well as the jeans shape. The shoes absolutely make the first outfit, which I love and relate to completely. Perhaps you need to post more often, please.

  • Joy replied 3 years ago

    The oversized visors look like fun and also useful. Maybe DS in Tokyo can send a couple. Thank you for the link.

  • Maneera replied 3 years ago

    I love both of these (I have a slight preference for the first). It's effortless and somehow, it's extremely stylish on you.
    Like - you're dressed in your most comfortable clothes and don't care about getting attention, but it's exactly that *vibe* from your clothes & your body language that will make you instantly stand out from the crowd. But then I guess, that is the result when you do normcore right :)
    I love both shoes. They play an intrinsic part in making your outfits so stylish.

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    Xtabay: yeah, there's a manga/cosplay thing going on with these sneaks. The cartoon character thing is very appealing.

    CocoLion: haha in my dreams. I think that about a lot of the ladies who post here, your good self included. We should all be street style stars.

    Greyscale: I do read the lovely Leandra from time to time for that very reason. StyleBubble is good like that too. 

    Angie: you're a genius. Why didn't i think of that?

    shevia: I always say I'm gonna post more often and then... huh. I'll try :)

    Joy: aren't they the coolest? I could see you in one of those in the summer.

    Maneera: yeah, I think that got missed when normcore hit the fashion press. Suddenly it wasn't about you and your clothes, it was all about Getting Another Look. I'm trying to think of it as a state of mind rather than a style. 

    Thanks all! You're too kind. :)

  • replied 3 years ago

    I so enjoyed reading your post Liz! I can't remember the last time I heard the word 'geezer'! :D I think you've nailed the normcore look in your own inimitable way and it totally works. I'm going with the first as my fave as I love the shoes and sweater.

  • Beth Ann replied 3 years ago

    I've completely ignored the "normcore" trend, unless you count unintentional forays into the territory!  I love your looks (particularly #2), and would love to recreate the glen plaid/black turtleneck look in the mag pic.  

    Thanks for sharing your observations, too!

  • Angie replied 3 years ago

    *happy dance*

  • Suz replied 3 years ago

    I am in love with sweater #1 and to me, that's just a fantastic look. 

    I also love you in #2. 

    What Gaylene said. You wear it well. 

  • Style Fan replied 3 years ago

    Great looks on you.  I love simple but well made clothing.  And a neutral palette.

  • unfrumped replied 3 years ago

    I love both but especially 1.
    I'm in the weeds on streetstyle so to me #1 makes me think of fab Hollywood menswear( for women) looks and not necessarily Normcore. So it's something I'd try to do with slouchy trousers and oxfords and not know quite what I'd end up with as long as i liked all the proportions.

  • kkards replied 3 years ago

    Wow, wow, wow. I'm overwhelmed with how much I like these looks .....they/ you are making me rethink normcare.

  • Diana replied 3 years ago

    These are both great. I especially love #1: that jumper, and those shoes! You know, I think you've hit on that thing that makes Japanese normcore work so much better than the American/Euro version, which is that although it's meant to look unremarkable, the pieces themselves are exquisitely made and have the perfect little details.

  • rachylou replied 3 years ago

    Well, you just look good. Are the white sneaks too much? I don't know. They're theatrical. Like I don't know what they'd do for you shopping at Marshall's, but you'd kill it in Target or Walmart with them... which maybe speaks to the difference between normal and normcore.

  • dakotacheryl replied 3 years ago

    I really like this look...rather androgynous, and the details to my eye would be luscious textures and fabrics...and of course fabulous shoes like you've shown us.

    Interesting thread and well done interpretations!!

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    Sorry ladies, been offline and out of the loop this weekend. Since I'm in baggy pants and sneakers again today and we're still talking about this, here's another 2c.

    Diana: that's a very good point. As we've already discussed, Japanese style tends to be very polished so there's more emphasis on garment quality. Looking in the shops, I had the impression that the average city dweller in Japan is prepared to spend a bit more money on nice pieces than perhaps we are in the US and Europe.

    In keeping with what skylurker said, classic British style is also a big deal (brands like Margaret Howell and Paul Smith have a bigger retail presence than they do in many British cities) and I think that feeds into the aesthetic as much as American urban sportswear.

    That said, there's a distinctly Japanese approach to form, silhouette, proportion and execution which is subtly different from Western style and very hard to define from the outside. Whatever it is, the end result is unremarkable clothing that ultimately looks quite interesting.

    rachylou: is that an insult or a compliment? I'm not sure I'm part of Marshall's core demographic but I've never been to Target and I'm terrified of Walmart, which probably speaks volumes about the self-contradictory nature of normcore as a concept.

    (Oh and Diane G, you might want to ask Joy about the geezers. I hear they're still alive and kicking ;) )

  • replied 3 years ago

    Normcore is a fascinating topic. My eyes are still adjusting to this look, and I think I might be there now, ha ha :-)

    "Baggy head to toe is challenging" --> Exactly.
    I think it's the challenge that makes it appealing to me. How do you make it look 'on-purpose' instead of 'I put this on in the dark'?

    I'm still on a quest for some sneaker-type shoes that aren't too big. I'm now thinking that what I need are some norcore reeboks!

  • rachylou replied 3 years ago

    What! I'd never insult you online... only in person! Just kidding!! You are ultra cool always. No, Marshall's, Target, and Walmart are my tests for whether outfits are really wearable. That is, basically going out to do something totally and completely mundane, where you'll be in the throng of ho-hum life and not be there formally to entertain or engage, but will, however, encounter hordes of people. You just need to get a pot holder and run sort of thing.

    The interesting thing about Marshall's is, while you go there to get fashion - you don't really go to be fashionable. The Marshall's stores are smaller places, people are quieter and much more eyes to themselves. Shoppers hide from other shoppers while there: they really mind their own business and try to be not unremarkable but invisible. Target and Walmart now, they're places to mill about, see and be seen. And although there are all those pics of people going to Walmart looking their fattest and slobbiest, the stores themselves are fashion conscious. They look to drive fashion, oh yes they do. Marshall's doesn't try to do that.

    So.. I'd say Marshall's is normal and Target and Walmart are normcore.

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