In the film Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis plays the crotchety yet brilliant designer Reynolds Woodcock. A man so tightly wound he yells at his muse for audibly consuming toast, Reynolds is not concerned with keeping with the times. When he learns from his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) that a major client has switched to a new fashion house, he feigns confusion. “All I’ve done is dress her beautifully,” he says. To which Cyril replies, “I don’t think that matters to some people. I think they want what is fashionable and chic.” Reynolds loses it. “Chic! Whoever invented that ought to be spanked in public. I don’t even know what that word means! What is that word? Fucking chic! They should be hung, drawn, and quartered. Fucking chic.” Sub out chic for core, and you’ve just glimpsed my inner monologue for the past few months. You either die a Cyril or live long enough to see yourself become a Reynolds.
I’ve been guilty of using the word core in place of style, and the phrase that has become common parlance almost overnight. But I’m here with contrition: It’s time to retire the expression. Over the past month, Barbiecore has become the trend of the summer. This magazine has published several articles on the style and its history, and I’ve received 18 P.R. pitches outlining ways to bring Barbie style to the beach, your bar cart, and your underwear drawer. The items cover everything from a utility jacket to a sapphire necklace to a Telfar bag. The aesthetic through line is the color—that’s it. Depop informed me on July 8 that they had seen a 93% increase in searches for “Barbie pink.” I have nothing against the color pink, but what’s with the deep desire to label a trend with an entirely new word, to elevate it from a series of garments into a fully fledged phenomenon?
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 my inbox last year, hitting a peak in the spring when season two came out. I haven’t heard anything about it since May, and according to Google Trends, not many people are searching for it. 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 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. To be clear, my issue isn’t with the fact that young people are coming up with new trends. I’m more interested in the disposability of these terms and the constant cycle of identifying and naming a new thing only to forget about it a month later.
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, I think 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. I’m certain that some people really identify with these terms, and it is a helpful shorthand to define their style in the same way that Lady Gaga deployed what she called “painful Italian glamour.”
Calling every trend core makes sense from some perspectives. My colleague 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.
Let’s take 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.
To go back to Reynolds, he is railing against chic because it’s so amorphous as to be useless. It doesn’t describe the way the clothes fall on the body; it doesn’t describe the effect. It is as vague as calling something good. 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.
Still, there are times when I can’t resist calling a style [fill in the blank]-core, just like I reflexively call outfits, decor, and runway collections chic. It’s just so easy; it communicates just enough to keep the conversation going. But it’s worth resisting precisely for that reason. It also creates a cycle where writers, TikTokers, and less-than-casual observers of fashion are scrambling to be the first—or the best—at naming the next big thing. There’s enough disposability in fashion as it is.
This story was originally published on Vogue.com