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How I turned into a gorpcore minimalist
Life is too short to not wear your favorite clothes every day
Walking along the canal with a friend on a recent Saturday morning, he casually mentioned a $500 designer t-shirt he’d seen in a streetwear boutique. Even my friend, who dresses extremely well and obviously spends a lot of money on clothing, found that ridiculous.
I had probably fallen silent during that part of our conversation, so he suddenly turned towards me and said: “Well, you’ve made it pretty easy for yourself, haven’t you? You simply turned gorpcore ten years ago.”
“I turned what?”, I chuckled, as if I hadn’t caught what he said. “Gorpcore”, he repeated. “What’s that?”, I asked more seriously. Surprised and a bit impatient, he answered: “You know, just wearing outdoor clothes all the time.” I sensed a mixture of contempt and envy in his voice.
When I got home, I did some research. Apparently, gorpcore is an internet microtrend (GORP stands for “good old raisins and peanuts”) that refers to wearing outdoor apparel as streetwear. It’s not to be confused with goblincore (in short: gobcore), another microtrend for young people celebrating nature and the outdoors (not the actual outdoors, just the aesthetic), which is a sister movement to cottagecore, a microtrend that has young people baking bread and making pottery (and, most importantly, filming themselves while doing it).
Though I don’t particularly enjoy being lumped in with some pseudo-countercultural internet movement, especially one with such a weird name, I felt that my friend had a point. Yes, I’d made the whole fashion-thing pretty easy for myself. I simply decided to stop caring ten years ago.
See, I came of age in the brand-obsessed 1990s. At my school, kids that didn’t wear name brand clothes were ridiculed and mobbed. Even for an introverted kid that loved skateboarding, goth rock and expressionist poetry, there was no way around it. It was expensive and stressful to keep up with the trends, but I got pretty good at adapting.
In my 20s, I moved to the big city and became a music writer. I went out to the clubs every week, spending even more money on sneakers and streetwear. I never spent $500 on a t-shirt, but I certainly believed certain brands would hallmark me as part of the in-crowd. Deep down inside, I hoped that if I wore these brands, others might accept me or like me more. Maybe that was the case, or it was just an illusion created by marketing. Still, it was my reality.
By my mid-30s, I slowly started to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle. I pared down my wardrobe and got rid of many way-too-fashionable pieces. My friend is probably right in concluding I “turned gorpcore” somewhere around that point, even if that microtrend didn’t exist yet. I remember visiting a hip London streetwear boutique with him, but I wasn’t able to find a single piece I would enjoy wearing. I realized something had changed.
By that time, I’d resorted to wearing functional outdoor clothes – all day, every day. I know that many of you hip, young people find nothing more cringeworthy than a middle-aged man in functional outdoor clothes. No offense, but I literally don’t care about your opinion anymore.
I even started liking the idea of a uniform. I don’t really have one, but I do have several go-to standard pieces. For example, my favorite t-shirt is a black or grey Uniqlo Airism shirt. It costs not $500, but $14.90, and actually lasts years if treated properly. It’s super light-weight, feels nice on the skin and has a great fit (a bit longer and looser than most standard shirts). I never think about what shirt to wear or buy anymore.
Back in the day, I spent a lot of time thinking about what to wear and how to match colours and cuts. Today, most of my wardrobe can be freely combined. To limit decision fatigue, I mostly buy black and grey clothes, with some earthtones sprinkled in. I never wear big name brand logos, as I just don’t want to be a walking ad for a corporation. (I realize I sound like my dad right now.)
I even wear functional clothing to more formal occasions like important client meetings or funerals. Don’t worry, I won’t come to your wedding dressed like I’m about to go on a six-month survival trip. These days, you can easily find functional clothes that look like regular garments – simple and plain in style, well-cut, even elegant.
I do wear a lot of Patagonia items, because I like them and I like their philosophy, but I’m actually not too crazy about “sustainable” fashion. In my book, real sustainability mainly means wearing your clothes for a long time, and not buying too much new stuff. Many of my pants and shirts already had to get stitched up by my wife, and I’ve learned to love their worn-out, sun-bleached look. In Zen teachings, that’s called wabi-sabi – the beauty of patina.
Sure, in certain settings it’s important to make a good visual impression, so you probably shouldn’t wear stitched up pants, a dad hat and an old flannel shirt to a first date or a company-wide presentation. But you will always be fine wearing fitted minimalist clothing, like a single-color shirt, slim functional pants and sneakers, for example. When I first met my wife, I consciously chose to wear a black t-shirt and cargo shorts. It was a hot day, and I didn’t feel like pretending. Fortunately, she liked me the way I am.
We live in the countryside now, and out here, nobody cares what you wear. There are no streetwear boutiques. People are actually buying their clothes in discounters. We’ve started buying stuff in discounters as well, like crocs or fleece sweaters or workpants, especially if they’re on sale. Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror, and I can’t help laughing because I look like a hillbilly. Maybe I’m turning into one.
You will never see me set foot into a Primark or Shein outlet though. I am aware that shopping at Uniqlo or Lidl isn’t much better from an ethical standpoint. Any big fashion chain talking about their commitment to sustainability is definitely involved in some kind of greenwashing. But while I can wear my chainstore t-shirts and discounter workpants for years, these aforementioned companies sell ultra-cheap garbage which falls apart as soon as you leave the store.
My weak spot might be shoes. I currently own like ten pairs, which is admittedly not very minimalist of me. Most of them have a very specific use case though: I just need a pair of hiking boots, a pair of waterproof sandals, a pair of wellingtons, a pair of lined snowboots, and so on. Whenever I’m in the city, I wear my single pair of basic Vans sneakers, or my Birkenstock sandals in the summer. (I’m still a child of the 90s, after all.)
I understand that many people obsess over fashion and clothing, and they could never imagine dressing like that. That’s absolutely fine of course. As mentioned previously, I had similar views, but at one point I just stopped caring so much. So what exactly has changed, you are asking?
First of all, I let go of the idea to express myself through clothing. In my mind, it’s totally acceptable to look boring. I actually try not to stand out anymore. I choose other ways of self-expression, like writing or creating art. Of course, in the wise words of Paul Watzlawick, you cannot not communicate, so wearing a minimalist wardrobe is indeed another kind of personal branding – but that’s okay, as it still frees me of the need to keep up with the Joneses.
Secondly, I let go of the idea to dress to impress. Sure, no one will ever compliment me on my comfy fleece sweater, my functional cargo pants or my healthy barefoot running shoes. Most people tend to think of these garments as extremely ugly, aesthetically neutral at best. But does it really matter that much what other people think? When I stopped trying to make other peoples’ acceptance a precondition for my well-being, it took a lot of weight off my shoulder.
See, I don’t need to convince anyone in their mid-20s that I still know what’s going on. I don’t need to be hip. If you see me on the street, you might think I’m a #gorpcore enthusiast. It’s more likely that you won’t think much about me, because I just look extremely featureless to you. Both is completely fine with me. I’m out of the competition. I’m invisible. And I’m feeling good about it, because I am always wearing my favorite clothes, every single day of my life.
© 2023 Stephan Kunze