Trends come and go, but trend pieces are forever. Trend pieces have given us “normcore,” “treat culture,” the return of smoking, and infamously, the “vibe shift,” a piece not so much about a trend as the idea of trends. Why we like trend pieces is fairly easy to discern: it gives us information with which to judge others, either for not keeping up or for keeping up depending on our mood. It’s bad to be a trend chaser and also bad to be passé, which means that you can skewer anybody for any reason and you’ll always be right.
A certain hopeful contingent is currently waiting for the golden era of “indie sleaze” and American Apparel photoshoots of naked women bending over in thigh high socks to return. This isn’t going to happen, because phone cameras are too sharp and cannot bestow upon their subjects the alluring but vague haze that this aesthetic requires.
Much of the recent aesthetic of the past few years, on the other hand — the mid-century modern-esque furniture, the bland neutrals of our interiors, the shapeless clothes that nonetheless rely on their wearers being very thin, the smooth and egg-like look of technology — is built around the idea that we’re all rolling stones these days and it doesn’t do to invest in developing anything like personal taste when there are brands to say that for us. Post-lockdown, however, the appeal of living in a home that is meant to look like an AirBNB has worn thin; post–supply chain woes, buying whatever seems least offensive to buy because other people are buying it has its downsides.
So what’s next?
What’s next is simple.
Like… a garden gnome?
No, not like that. Like the 1977 book Gnomes, by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet, a detailed and lovingly illustrated account of the life and habits of gnomes. Gnomes live in cozy little homes under trees and are wise and loving caretakers of the natural world. I don’t really know what garden gnomes do and am unsure if I have ever seen one in an actual garden. I remember a garden gnome featured in the French charm offensive Amelie, where the quirky protagonist takes pictures of it in front of various landscapes. But that movie is not gnomecore.
If you grew up with Gnomes, you inherited an aesthetic ideal: that you should live in the roots of a tree and be best friends with various wild creatures. Unfortunately you also probably realized that you were never going to be the right size to live under a tree and that foxes neither liked nor trusted you, and this mismatch between what you want and what is possible has been the source of a deep sadness throughout the rest of your life. You have no doubt spent hours in therapy rehashing aspects of your relationships and your childhood without ever approaching the real problem.
But no longer — because there’s gnomecore.
What is gnomecore?
Gnomecore comes down to two different desires. The first is that everything has a fittingness, a purpose, and a place. Objects are ornate, created with care, and always functional. But because gnomes are so small, the second principle then comes into play: the cozy domestic world of the gnomes comes from carefully working around whatever happens to be there. Purposefulness, making do: that’s gnomecore.
Gnomecore is also a form of elevated laziness. Gnomes are industrious in the sense that they give themselves the coziest lives possible, but beyond that, work has no purpose. In the fable of the ant and the grasshopper, gnomes are grasshoppers who have worked out what they have to do to make it through the winter.
As with any aesthetic, however, it’s easier to list what is and isn’t gnomecore.
Things that are gnomecore:
Houseboats; mushrooms; toilets that play little songs; any type of household object that is a thing into which you pour part of a supply of some other thing (salt shakers, decanters, cream jugs, sugar bowls—egg cups, while not precisely this sort of object, also belong here); “plump womenfolk, round of form” (see “Courtship, Marriage, and the Family,” Gnomes); the Tumblr “Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things”; window seats; sitting on the floor; baseball and soccer (but not football); ecoterrorism; having “a hobby”; the crossword (but not sudoku, Wordle, or the Times’s “Spelling Bee” game); savory pies; house slippers; veganism (vegetarianism will do); cults; baths.
Things that are not gnomecore:
Banksy; having a bowl of rocks in your bathroom; West Elm furniture; the idea of trends in general; journalism; sneakers; calling things that aren’t alive “vital”; credit cards; Twitter; polyester; organizing books by color; computers in general; Buffalo sauce; having an “exercise routine” (gnomes simply naturally exercise over the course of a day); fake meat; ASMR; podcasts; square plates; sobriety; ballet flats; careers; sous vide cooking; plastic recycling (it isn’t real); gender reveal parties; every single television show except Frasier; zoos.
Things you might think are gnomecore but aren’t:
Eating crickets (they are friends of the gnome); goblincore (goblins are enemies of the gnome); marijuana (gnomes smoke tobacco only).
Things you might think aren’t gnomecore but are:
Marie Kondo (gnomes love her).
I never saw the show The World of David the Gnome but am open to it being gnomecore, as opposed to a gnome cash grab. Not gnomecore, however, is the part where the credits cheerfully inform you that the show is being produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein over a bunch of dancing rabbits.
Martinis have some of the necessary elements of being gnomecore — the dedicated tools and glasses — but all hard alcohol (fruit brandies aside) is only dubiously gnomecore, while wine and beer are obviously such.
Is therapy gnomecore? As established above, many of us go to therapy to deal with the unrecognized wound of not being gnomes, and so it has a complicated relationship with the concept. On the one hand, sitting on a couch and not doing much for an hour is very gnomecore; on the other, therapy is often called a form of “doing the work,” which isn’t gnomecore at all. We will split the difference and say that while therapy may or may not be gnomecore, generalized calls for therapy are not gnomecore, and tweets about therapy are deadly enemies to gnomecore (see “Twitter” under “Things that are not gnomecore,” above).
Is gnomecore timeless?
Timelessness is one of those things every trend promises — once you install the burnt orange shag carpeting, you’ll never have to think about carpet again — but only gnomecore can deliver. The biggest reason for this is that the gnome lifespan is very long and therefore the gnome way of life has been carefully crafted to suit creatures that live hundreds of years. The second is simply that gnomecore cannot go out of style, because it has never been in style. Gnomecore is a shimmering, transcendent promise of a good and sensible and beautiful life. Gnomecore is egalitarian, available to the young and the old, the tens and the fives, the city mouse and the country mouse.
Finally, gnomecore appeals to the eternal part of us that knows that if we ate an egg out of an egg cup in the morning, with a little spoon that we just use for eggs, we’d be happier, sexier, better people. But we don’t — because we don’t think we deserve that. Instead we drink power smoothies, ride exercise bikes that take us nowhere, and suffer. There is a better way: the gnomecore way.
What if we called it gnormcore?
Go sit in the corner.
Are gnomes real?
Uhh, there’s a book about them, I think that’s pretty definitive.
B.D. McClay is an essayist and critic.