Why ‘core’—as in Barbiecore—is the new ‘chic’

May 11, 2023

Many of us have been guilty of using the word, core, in place of style or chic—think Barbiecore for the bright pink wardrobe worn in Warner Bros.’ new summer movie, Barbie—and the word has become common parlance almost overnight, reports Vogue.

Indeed, the digital obsession with cores—used as a suffix that basically denotes a kind of style—began back in 2013, when the term, normcore, was first coined by trend forecasters K-Hole as a philosophy of fashion.

They posited that the chronically online were competing for virality and uniqueness, and as a result, both were harder to come by. Enter normcore. It was a look for people who didn’t want to stand out but saw the social power of fitting in. “Normcore moves away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity coolness that opts into sameness,” they wrote.

Memorably, New York magazine described it as “fashion for those who realize they’re one in 7 billion.”

Normcore was followed in 2017 by gorpcore—also popularized in New York magazine. This took its name from acronym for the hiker snack “good old raisins and peanuts” and, therefore, was defined by crunchy, outdoorsy gear that could very well be Patagonia.

Then came discourse around menocore, a term coined by Harling Ross of Man Repeller that was coastal grandmother chic by another name. And so on.

The rise of micro-cores coincides with the rise of hyper-specific Internet aesthetics. There’s even an Aesthetics Wiki that chronicles all the possible cores online—including, but not limited to, bubblegumbitchcore, cottagecore, and fairycore. The ones that have penetrated the mainstream this year have been balletcore; regencycore; and our dear friend, Barbiecore. Regencycore—fueled by the return of Bridgerton and often conflated with princesscore or royaltycore—started popping up in our inboxes last year, hitting a peak in the spring when season two came out.

Balletcore shot up in searches from February 5 through February 12 and, while there is still some interest, it’s clear it had a one-week-long peak.

Of these three terms, Barbiecore has the most interest—sharply rising from June 19 until now, although the projected searches show a steep drop-off.

Kidcore, a rainbow-filled trend that leans heavily on ’90s and Y2K childhood nostalgia, and cottagecore are both vastly more popular than any of the terms listed above, showing that some of these terms have longevity for at least 12 months.

Depop—the fashion resale app beloved by Gen Z—also tells Vogue that the trends that have held strong through 2022 on the app are fairycore, gorpcore, and cottagecore. Kidcore saw an 82% search increase between the end of 2021 and Q2 in 2022.

What the earliest cores—and the most interesting ones—have in common is the understanding that the clothes represent an inner existence. Normcore is for people who believe that cool is blending in rather than standing out (a philosophy adopted by the hyper-rich like Warren Buffet and the hyper-cool like the Olsen twins); the clothes represent a way of thinking.

Similarly, the enduring power of cottagecore is likely in part because there’s a whole lifestyle to ascribe to—one that involves churning butter and making jam—or at least the fantasy of one.

Calling every trend core makes sense from some perspectives. José Criales-Unzueta wrote for i-D earlier this year that “these micro-trends are a way for writers and commentators to make new collections and designers’ ideas more digestible or understandable for a broader audience.”

A core is easily googled, whether you’re searching for clothes that fit into the look or just the definition. Also, trends exist—but not everything needs to be legitimized and elevated to the level of a core. By giving it its own name, it’s a phenomenon; not just clothes. More often than not, it overcomplicates what is, in fact, quite basic.

Taking Barbiecore as a prime example, there are a few simple reasons for why celebrities are wearing bubble-gum pink now. First, Pierpaolo Piccioli—one of the most influential designers working today—made an entire collection of gorgeous Valentino clothing in the same shade of Pantone-approved pink. Second, big Hollywood director Greta Gerwig is behind a movie about Barbie starring big Hollywood stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, and the costume design is intriguing. Third, pink is an eye-catching, summery color that people like. Yes, pink is trending—but for reasons much more easily explained than why people turned to dressing like Jerry Seinfeld in 2014. It’s not running against the grain; it is the grain.

Attempting to elevate something as simple as a color into the trend of the summer by calling it a core is a lazy way of thinking about fashion.

Research contact: @voguemagazine