THE RISE, AND DEMISE, OF ‘BASIC BITCH’ FASHION

The contempt surrounding the “pumpkin spice” aesthetic is coming to an end, and that’s a good thing.

This winter, I lived in my Ugg boots — at least, when I wasn’t wearing my Ugg slippers. This time, trudging through slush in the same footwear my friends and I wore over 10 years ago, I paired them with 2010-appropriate skinny jeans, a branded Gap hoodie and an oversized jacket, reveling in the magic of being absolutely “basic.” Whatever that word means now, anyway.

The thing is, “Basic Bitch™” fashion isn’t what it used to be — specifically in that it no longer truly exists. Trends rooted in mass consumption have evolved from serving as aesthetic stigmas to being testaments to the ways in which our approach to personal style has grown. In the last few seasons, an emphasis on individuality (and even mall-centric snobbery) has finally surrendered to the simple celebration of self. After all, none of us consists only of one trait, so that means we shouldn’t be expected to dress in only one style of clothing, either. 

As a result, we’ve begun wearing what we like: pieces that fit us well or make us happy or, rather, work for us in a specific moment. Clothes have now become less about social suggestions or indicators of one’s trend allegiances. Finally, they’re more about the messiness of authenticity. Some days we’re vintage; other days we’re mall brands. To be “basic” now is to be whatever you want.

As it stands in 2018, “basic” is still a loaded term that suggests the wearer isn’t interesting enough, per se, to cultivate their own sense of style, and clinging to brands or trends that are inexplicably buzzy or celebrity-sanctioned as a result. (Consider the rise of my beloved Uggs in the early aughts, popularized by the well-documented street style of Mischa Barton or via the cast of “The Hills.”) But then, it gets complicated. After first being dismissed by outlier style-makers, the trends in question go on to be embraced by that very sect that wears them ironically until the trends return to the mainstream. This, in turn, sentences those pieces to death again — until they’re resurrected once more, years later.

The likes of “normcore” and, subsequently, “gorpcore” are excellent examples. The former, a portmanteau of the words “normal” and “hardcore,” first shot into the industry lexicon in early 2014. An explosive The New York Times article detailed the trend as being representative of those who passionately don’t care about fashion, outfitting themselves in head-to-toe comfort and avid blandness — or, per New York, “the kind of dad-brand non-style you might have once associated with Jerry Seinfeld, but transposed on a Cooper Union student with William Gibson glasses.” Certain elements of the “normcore” uniform — Stan Smith sneakers, for one — caught on, and to the extent that they became “basic” in their own right. “Gorpcore,” posited as the “new normcore” last spring with camping-chic garb like North Face fleeces and camouflage prints, followed several years after. 

“I think people have really leaned into their relationship with ‘basic bitch’ fashion — it’s all about owning your ‘basic bitch,'” explains Elle.com Fashion Features Director Nikki Ogunnaike. That’s made easier when putting style in perspective with everything else that’s going on in the world. As Ogunnaike reminds us: “We’ve got bigger things to deal with.” When the style pendulum swings back and returns with a few trends of yore, it’s easier to go with it.

“You’ve seen it with rosé and pumpkin spice,” says Ogunnaike. “Any smart brand would lean into it, though, and embrace it, and not alienate their loyal clientele.”

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