Normcore & “Dress Normal” Are Not The Same Thing, Gap’s Head Honcho Explains

rebekkaPhoto: Marc Hom/Gap.
For a trend that drew upon the most base of style aesthetics — uncomplicated silhouettes, mainstream designers, and clothes your grandpa might wear on vacation — "normcore" has gotten pretty specific within the relatively short amount of time it's been a thing. We've come to identify it by a pair of tube socks matched with Birkenstocks, a Patagonia fleece, or a bucket hat worn unironically (we think). But, just because a style is normcore does not mean it's normal, per se. And, this is what Rebekka Bay wants you to know.
As the creative director of Gap, Bay is credited as one of the major forces behind the mall brand's fall campaign "Dress Normal." And, admittedly even we assumed that meant they were hopping on the normcore bandwagon — i.e., denim bucket hats were inevitable. But, when we spoke with the Danish designer (who is also the creator of our recently Stateside e-commerce obsession, COS), she cleared up our misconceptions. For starters: think Pulp Fiction.
It's the classic movie's leading female who serves as Bay's ultimate "Dress Normal" icon — a symbol for how the most basic of fashion trends are still the most exciting ones in your closet. After all, if Uma Thurman can launch herself into style stardom with a simple men's tailored top, we bet you can do the same with Gap's famously simplistic offerings. (In fact, we know you can.) Read on for why normcore is really just a fleeting term, but normal will last forever.

How did the whole idea of “Dress Normal” come about?
“The idea really came up because I strongly believe that what Gap does so well, and certainly what American casual wear does so well, is allowing you to dress for your life, rather than [let] your dressing decide how you live. That’s pretty much the idea."

This season, and in the campaign, black denim plays a big part. So, how did you decide on what the initial first "normal" pieces would be? “Black denim is so versatile in that it works really well as a casual piece but it’s easy to dress up. You don’t ever get bored of black pants, that timeless look. Ever since I came to the brand, I really have been focusing on the iconic pieces, which are really wardrobe fundamentals: the five-pocket denim, the perfect white T-shirt, the collared shirt… And, I’m really looking at these iconic outerwear pieces, making sure we have a varsity jacket, a really good biker jacket, and a bomber jacket. When we get further into fall, we will add on the cocoon coat and a peacoat.”

Has there been any initial confusion with the fall campaign? Did the general public get what "Dress Normal" is?
“We’ve gotten super-positive responses. 'Dress Normal' is more relevant today than it has ever been. There’s a real mood for low-key, hard-working, non-branded pieces, and a real understanding of a true value proposition; when you get great quality at great price.”

Right. So, what is it about the state of fashion right now that makes a concept like "Dress Normal" so relevant?
“I think the times are uncertain. There has been a lot of political uproar, financial instability, global warming, and it feels like at times when there is uproar or confusion, we are retreating back to something that is much simpler, or much more basic. You know, we saw a similar pattern in the ‘90s, and I feel we are kind of going through that again. But, now our customer is so savvy, and really understands how to shop up and shop down.”

We have to ask: We're all well-versed on normcore, and "Dress Normal" sounds pretty similar. Is there a difference?
“I think 'Dress Normal' and normcore are two very different animals. I don’t even want to go down that normcore route because I think it’s a very specific route and empty fashion, and that’s definitely not what 'Dress Normal' is. I think 'Dress Normal' is dressing for yourself, for a way that works around your life. So, much less rigid. I really want to distinct between the two, but I think they both stand out as the same social, cultural trend.”

Click over to page two for the rest of the story.
gapPhoto: Courtesy of Gap.

There are possibly some readers out there who haven't stepped foot in a mall, let alone a Gap, for the last few years. What's the most surprising thing they'll find in your stores now?
“How on-trend we are. Gap has always been about speaking to big categories and really owning basic categories. But, I think the surprise to that new customer would be how we applied trends to those core categories. So, we have a skinny khaki, or five-pocket jean, but then we’ve outfitted that with really nice rayon tees or linen biker jackets.”

Part of the whole "Dress Normal" campaign is being able to complicate your outfit yourself. Can you speak to that?
“[It's about] how you wear it. One thing is the item and the other thing is the attitude. You know how you wear a shirt. Is it untucked? Is it tucked in? Is it rolled up? Is it buttoned down? Do you wear your hair sleek, or do you wear it straight out of bed? We always have that conversation of how you choose femininity, or how you choose sexiness, or something that is very casual. That’s in the attitude.”

Okay, so we know already "Dress Normal" is really all about dressing for your own life but, in your opinion, who would your "Dress Normal" muse be?
“One of my greatest inspirations is just the street; I really love watching how people get out, how they stick out, how to make something their own. But, as for one of the most iconic looks throughout my career, I always fall back on Pulp Fiction, to that dancing scene where Uma Thurman is wearing black trousers and a white men’s shirt, and a men’s trench coat over her shoulder. I think that’s so iconic-basic, and she makes it look so fashionable and directional. That’s the inspiration. I love to see a white shirt but worn in a million different ways. I love to see a T-shirt being personalized. It’s really in the attitude and in the detail in how to wear something.”

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