Before there were his Vivienne Westwood mountain hats, Pharrell Williams's trucker caps of the early 2000s grew to be one of the most popular fashion trends of the new millennium. Simultaneously appropriated by the Ashton Kutchers and Britney Spears of the world—begetting bro brands like Von Dutch and Ed Hardy’s bedazzled versions—Skateboard P's signature headwear was special due to its induction into hip-hop culture. As the preeminent hip-hop style icon of the time, Pharrell brought a stereotypical "white trash" accessory to the forefront of urban style. The trucker hat's hipster appeal was abetted by its existence in fashion's periphery. Today, a similar sort of phenomenon has taken shape with the Air Force 1 Mid, a shoe that has traditionally been viewed as corny by sneakerhead purists.
Once relegated to the shelves of Modell's, and other stores selling "tier struggle" Nikes, the Air Force 1 Mid is now the go-to footwear for official representatives of #TeamTightsAndShorts and #TeamOverpricedGraphicTees. Besides the color black, this particular sneaker is a key component of the archetype. It was featured in Pyrex Vision's 2013 collection lookbook, and has since been cited by Virgil Abloh as the inspiration for his new line, Off-White (there's even a women’s high heel show in the collection named in homage to the Air Force 1). And then there's A$AP Rocky, who made a concerted effort to elevate it into a symbol of the "high fashion meets streetwear" movement. By his own account, he consciously appropriated a shoe that was looked down upon by "real heads," for being a post-OG Air Force silhouette, originally available in only low and high versions. And what of its readily available nature? In the world of jawn-copping hypebeasts, accessibility is aversive. Scarcity lies at the core of streetwear and sneaker culture, and the Air Force 1 Mid is not rare. In fact, they're the definition of average.
Air Force 1s, as a style in general, are iconic and ubiquitous. But ubiquity and high-fashion have always been at odds. Even as labels like Zara have made their fortunes by bringing designer aesthetics to the masses, they've relied heavily on things like recognizable patterns and graphics to allude to a higher status. By contrast, the AF1 needs nothing more than its own classic design and tenured street cred to stay relevant. Yet, its popularity as something "fashionable" is recent. At no other point in its history has it so often been paired with high-end garments from the world's largest fashion houses, whether on some popular women's style blogger or onstage with Kanye West, as he rocks them alongside a custom-made Margiela Swarovski crystal mask. Only in 2014 could Givenchy Creative Director Riccardo Tisci—who has worn Air Force 1's exclusively for 17 years—release the most buzzed about fashion sneaker by teaming up with Nike on such a style.
At the end of the day, that's why Air Force 1 has remained on people's feet for over 30 years, serving as a muse and outfitting movements.
While the Air Force 1 Mid has catapulted to the forefront of the fashion world, the idea of "normcore" has begun to gain steam amongst hipsters. For the sake of argument, let's define normcore as the purposeful fashionization of bland, mass market garments. This includes things like stonewashed Levi's jeans, geriatric New Balances and generic North Face fleeces. The style and appeal of it is, in theory, that some sort of statement is being made by going against the grain of the inherent exclusivity of fashion and refusing to buy into it. This all seems quite stupid to many, but, in normcore's defense, fashion today isn't exactly healthy. It promotes unrealistic goals and creates voids in peoples lives that otherwise wouldn't exist.
Regardless of whether the normcore movement has stemmed from a knee-jerk reaction to conspicuous consumerism or just a general millennial desire to be contrarian, it still wants to be cool. Even if its participants are blind to the possibility that they are in turn being elitist themselves by thumbing their noses at those who are obsessed with fashion and potentially mocking genuine blue collar folks in the process, those who subscribe to normcore do so because they feel it's somehow "better" than the alternative. Ironically, those who identify with normcore are often well-versed in clothing, completely self-aware of what they’re doing, just like A$AP Rocky's calculated appropriation of the Air Force 1 Mid for the fashion set. But people who actually don't care about fashion trends don't make the conscious choice to dress boring or corny; they just do.
The trajectory of the AF1 Mid and normcore tell similar stories. Both involve taking mass market, uncool things and making them popular through a conscious effort in bestowing them with a "cool factor" and a dose of extremely safe rebellion. Both signal a shift in the paradigm of the clothing retail industry from a market driven by hype and exclusivity, to one of readily available, traditionally unfashionable products. At the end of the day, that's why theAir Force 1 has remained on people's feet for over 30 years, serving as a muse and outfitting movements. They exist above the fray of labels and are so basic they can easily be co-opted by whoever. That's why they work, and always will.