The term “basic,” often in tandem with another word that begins with the letter B, has evolved from previous understandings of wardrobe essentials, pH scale references and fundamental principles into a pejorative descriptor for those who enjoy mainstream products or music. This expanding new usage has come to represent a culture of material consumption with no regard to long term value and meaning.
“Basic” is the antonym of all that hipsters stand for in their desperate race to avoid accusations of gentrification, the Billboard Top 40 and anything resembling a label — two simultaneous movements that represent a polarizing shift in young adult interests. This emerging group of younger trend followers carries the stigma of lacking sophistication, intelligence or any defining characteristics and, despite recent efforts from within the mainly Caucasian subgroup to retake and redefine the word, carries decidedly negative connotations.
While this particular usage of the word can be seen as early as 1985, by the all-girl R&B group Klymaxx, the term didn’t gain much traction until 2013. The use of “basic” in terms of wardrobe selection, however, emerged during the mid 2000s while collections of pieces themselves and the idea of wardrobe staples had already been decades in the making.
This definition carries connotations of the classic and the timeless, bringing to mind the historically esoteric and desperately sought after Little Black Dress, a perfectly fitted, crisp white button-down and a Breton-striped shirt Coco Chanel herself would wear. The woman whose closet revolves around these key, style basics carries a fundamental understanding of timeless fashion and commands the respect and attention of her peers.
To obtain a sufficient grasp on the term as a whole and its relevance within fashion, a distinction between the two meanings must be established. Wardrobe basics represent monetary efficiency and the blood, sweat and tears of older generations who spent countless seasons testing wardrobe staple contenders before settling on the chosen few. Conversely, this emerging slang variation brings to mind trendy pieces that quickly dissolve into irrelevancy, a near opposite of the original definition.
A quick google search of basic picks up thousands of hits, everything from “Wardrobe Staples – Everyday Basics Your Closet Needs” to “How to Avoid Dressing Like a Basic Bitch.” With such an obvious contradiction between the two, it can be hard to pinpoint the connection that led to their shared linguistic derivative. Perhaps this link can be traced to the association of both with items that saturate the market. Yet even then, in the case of basic in the slang sense, this saturation exists in the short term while wardrobe essentials are consistently prevalent, mainstays in any closet.
Accepting and understanding these two meanings, as well as obtaining the ability to differentiate between them, is the first step toward reclaiming “basic” within the fashion industry. By their own definition, these staples will far outlive the slang term whose significance will soon fade into the annals of pop culture along with buggin, home skillet and fugly, all abandoned by the flitting attention span that characterizes young adults. In the meantime, hold on tight to those white sneakers and flattering, light-wash jeans while this colloquialism, and the flashy trends associated with it, runs its course.
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