Every generation is responsible for at least one alarming style subculture that leaves both parents and the general population muttering under their breath. The OGs – punks and goths – have faced down backlash for their extreme looks since the 70s. But in recent years, such things have multiplied, thanks to the petri dish of TikTok, where people borrow and transform elements of style from the e-girls and e-boys of the past.
Recently, an entire branch of utility-focused dress styles have barrel-rolled onto our For You pages, repped by rappers like Scarlxrd and City Morgue’s ZillaKami.
Influenced by techno clubs, military-esque looks, video games and Japanese street style; techcore, darkcore and warcore focus on dressing for imminent doom. Think: cargo pants with pockets you can actually use, layered utility belts, bomber jackets with secret compartments, combat boots and surgical masks. If the end of the world is going to happen on the way to the shops, these kids will be prepared.
Techcore represents the most serious bulk of the trend, focusing more on the nerdier side of wearing ‘fits fit for both nightlife and the great outdoors, whilst darkcore adds an emo twist. But warcore, previously known online as terrorcore, is the style most likely to raise alarm bells – especially once you learn that it originated as a 4chan meme. As the name suggests, these looks wouldn’t be out of place in a war zone, and its adherents could easily be confused with a modern day soldier.
Walking around a pedestrian zone looking a bit too much like a soldier – or, at worst, a representative of a renegade militia group – doesn’t seem to be such a great idea in an era of school shootings and violent terror attacks. Without sounding too much like an out-of-touch millennial snowflake, is this particular Gen Z aesthetic fire or grounds for being fired? I went on a mission to decipher the true meaning of warcore, reaching out for intel on whether this aesthetic has truly crossed a line.
Tyler, known on TikTok as Trxtn.x, discovered the style during the pandemic and explains that wearing looks with vests, heavy straps and chains has helped him feel more like himself – just more futuristic. Though the teenager hasn’t experienced combat first-hand, his father is a US soldier and he has always envisioned himself in a similar role. “There are a bunch of people who only wear those styles for the internet, but I personally also wear that stuff for school,” Tyler tells me. “I'm going into the tenth grade and I always see everybody staring at me on the walk to school.”
He adds: “When I go into stores, sometimes the whole store is silent – people get nervous, especially when I go to the cashier to pay. Or when I walk near a huge group of people, they will sometimes start moving away or taking their kids and walking away from the group.”
Tyler knows that the public could find his presence frightening – and even potentially triggering – so he makes an effort to be as friendly as possible if people seem concerned. He also keeps his hands kept firmly out of his pockets. “I get searched by the police a lot, mainly for drugs or weapons.”
Techwear influencer, designer and UNIDEN® Collective founder Yijihoon intentionally ditched wearing warcore from his everyday look, though still respects those who wear the style. “It’s a bit different from punk, because it’s much more tactically inclined [and] is heavily associated with guns,” he explains. “Many people aren’t comfortable with that. I would be slightly concerned to see someone fully decked out in warcore at my local Costco but if I saw a warfare fit at a rave, I wouldn’t even blink.”
Yijihoon has amassed thousands of followers through YouTube and TikTok videos dissecting these styles, and has seen the influence of COVID-19 in accelerating the trend – not least because it allowed for face masks to be worn as part of the overall look. “Quarantine also solidified human acknowledgment that we live in a digital world,” he says. “As we come closer to integrating our lives with technology, we are able to express ourselves in an avatar-like manner.”
He also points to Canadian designer Errolson Hugh, whose pioneering techwear casts a long shadow on brands today. “His past work, even a decade back, influences these styles today,” Yijihoon adds.
Anyone who’s glanced at recently emerging street style trends would’ve spotted technical fashion and militia elements slowly infiltrating everyday styling, with Prada incorporating zip pockets and utility belts into their recent recycled nylon pieces and Kanye West recently taking the motif to new extremes by wearing a custom bulletproof vest and cargo trousers at the DONDA listening party – though judging by guest appearances from both the recently-cancelled DaBaby and alleged abuser Marilyn Manson, this was perhaps more for shock-factor purposes rather than anything else.
But strength, power and practicality are some of the key themes in warcore and young women seem to be increasingly drawn to the style. Taylor Rae, known on TikTok as imtaylorrae, regularly wears warcore inspired outfits casually. Her knowledgeable TikTok videos about techwear and its surrounding subcultures have amassed over five million likes, and she also enjoys seeing full-blown warcore styles online.
“As a woman who lives by myself in Chicago, warcore and similar styles has brought me a newfound level of self-assuredness,” she tells VICE. “I have found so much strength and empowerment in this style of clothing.” Taylor adds that she’s only ever received positive responses on her outfits: “I get a lot more rude comments when I’m wearing a ‘revealing outfit’, like a dress or a pair of shorts.”
She also acknowledges that this may not be the same for everyone. “I am a 5’1” white woman who lives in the US. The Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements have shown us that many people throughout the world still hold unfair biases against people of colour,” she says. “White people, like myself, are definitely in a place of privilege when it comes to wearing warcore and similar styles out in public. But this is just the beginning of warcore as a genre, so I definitely foresee it continuing to grow and change in the coming years.”
It seems increasingly likely that the bleak future we’ve read about in speculative fiction for decades is now actually here – so why not strap on a utility vest before you start the day? “I mean, we’re going on two years of a global pandemic at this point,” Taylor argues. “In today’s world, with all the uncertainties we face daily, I think it’s natural that people gravitate towards a style that makes them feel grounded and powerful. Because let’s be honest, some days deciding what to wear is one of the only things you do have control over.”