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Gorpcore and the Accidental Coolness Behind Seattle Style

How a fashion trend plays off the well-established canon of local fashion.

By Jack Kelly June 9, 2017

 All zipped up: Quarter-zips have moved from the fratty to the fashion-forward.

You’ve seen it heading north on the light rail from the International District, making out under cherry trees on the University of Washington campus, hell, you’ve even seen it smoking an American Spirit outside of Kremwerk—the Patagonia quarter-zip and sock/no sock Teva combination is both distinctly Seattleite and seemingly out of place anywhere else. Pacific Northwest fashion has always embraced functionality at the cost of formality, and here, dressing to impress has always been about spending the most while appearing to have spent the least. That’s why when A$AP Rocky was spotted wearing a Calvin Klein via Patagonia fleece pullover in the streets of New York, Seattle fashion seemed to, once again, experience accidental relevance. The resulting codification of gorpcore, toted by New York Magazine as the spiritual successor to normcore, sees the archetypical Seattle look: fleece windbreakers (Northface, Patagonia, Eddie Bauer, take your pick), wool socks, open-toed shoes (Tevas, Birks), anoraks, cargo pants, and anything else you find strewn across the trunk of your Subaru, cast as the latest look in avant-garde fashion.

The idea behind the trend is that the overt nods to camping communicate a survivalist mentality directed toward the political establishment—coupled with a dose of high-fashion irony. While this attitude suits the culture of New York, Seattle’s congruence with the trend is much more unintentional. Seattleites have been sporting gorpcore for years (or at least, the underlying ideology behind it), and for often not-so-intellectual reasons. The city has always leaned toward the practical and the coincidentally cool. Grunge came almost out of nowhere in the late ’80s and it aesthetically incorporated an aggressive informality that juxtaposed the power-suit Reagan era that preceded it. The universal lightwash jeans and plaid flannel was not a deliberate trend so much as it grew from the Pacific Northwest’s storied tradition of thrifting. Gorpcore, much like normcore, relies heavily on accessible brands and the homogeneity they present. A homogeneity that is mirrored in the very cityscape of Seattle itself.

A vast desert of glass windows with 1970s concrete desperately interrupted by greenery that does little more than signify the natural landscape that exists far beyond the city—Seattle can be an architecturally bland, if not slightly dark environment. Seattle espouses homogeny and sensibility in its ordinary appearance, the very same qualities that gorpcore as a fashion statement seeks to elevate as satirical and ironic in our highly divided contemporary landscape. It’s as if Seattle is prematurely hip or cool. Either way, it shows irony can be equal parts warm, cozy, and completely unintentional.

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