read

April 10th, 2024

Rosie Preston-Cary

'Corplore', a tongue-in-cheek term for their audacious approach to work

Subvert / Conform, our recent report looked at the polarisation we are seeing emerge in design trends. In this blog post we take a deep dive into the driving forces behind why these trends are happening and their connection to the consumer psyche.

Out of office?

Corplore is a growing visual trend identified in our latest report and is exemplified by exaggerated tailoring (think oversized blazers), a monotonous greige colour palette and the quirks of archaic IT equipment. It’s a play on all things ‘office’ and invites participants to get creative with their parody. Its seen on runways like Carven S/S 2024 and in 2D design choices, like mono-spaced fonts and the introduction of photocopier artifacts into graphic design. Its main component however, is dark humour, and in this post, we aim to understand the reasoning behind the trend’s disconcerting undercurrent.

 

[Credit: Prada, Spring RTW 2024]

Corplore’s blazered rise coincides with the growing disillusionment of Gen Z, a generation burdened by student loans, a seemingly unattainable housing market, and a job market that often feels rigged against them. The Work Foundation’s Insecure Work Index found that young workers are 2.5 times more likely than older workers to be in severely insecure paid work — 43% of 16-24-year olds compared to 17% of 25-65-year olds.

There are still challenges for those lucky enough to be in secure employment, with stagnant wages and unattainably high and rising house deposits, on average £50,000, perpetuating ‘generation rent’. Witnessing their parents’ struggles to achieve the “dream,” many Gen Zers see no amount of hard work guaranteeing similar success. This fuels an “antiwork” rhetoric, which Corplore reflects through its sardonic lens.

Breaking boundaries

“Anti-work” isn’t a call to mass unemployment, but a complex challenge to the glorification of hustle culture and its toll on well-being. And this way of thinking is growing: with over 2.7 million members, Reddit’s r/antiwork has become a face for the movement. The bustling community challenges “hustle harder” mantras and promotes “Quiet quitting” and “bare minimum Mondays”, highlighting the importance of setting boundaries and prioritising personal sanity over workplace expectations.

Even “Big-girl-job-cosplay,” donned with a knowing wink, exposes the performativity often demanded in professional settings. Anti-work isn’t about shirking responsibility, but prioritising self-care in a system that can push towards burnout and exploitation with aforementioned small rewards. It reclaims time, energy, and mental health as currency in a world obsessed with productivity.

 

But Corplore isn’t just blind anger and a pushback to intrinsic power structures. It’s satire, a tool to mock the corporate world’s often-toxic culture, unrealistic expectations, and performative wokeness. By donning the corporate uniform, albeit with in-joke irony, participants highlight the absurdity of the system they’re stuck in. It’s a way of reclaiming power through humour and shared understanding.

Parallels can be drawn between today’s Corplore trend and the ballroom scene that emerged during the late 1980s in New York, since becoming more widespread. Ballrooms provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ communities, particularly BIPOC individuals, to express themselves freely and celebrate their identities. It challenges societal norms around gender, race, and sexuality, often using fashion as a tool for social commentary.

 

[Credit: Office (Numero Russia) (models.com)]

Work work work

Popularised more recently by shows like ‘Legendary’ and ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ ball competitions grade participants on their ‘passing’ ability in designated categories, often adopting larger than life personas from fields they would traditionally be excluded from. Participants of both Corplore and Ballroom, particularly within the ‘Executive Realness’ category, play with power structures and irony to satirise and critique corporate culture.

‘Drag Race’ allum include the likes of ‘Karen from Finance’ and ‘Amanda Tori Meeting’, queens with chosen names and drag styles that are wholly Corplore in their theming and parody the executive world from which they would ordinarily be omitted. This affinity shows that within disillusionment can be born not only creativity and defiance, but humour as a method of coping with unfair realities.

 

[Credit: https://karenfromfinance.com/gallery]

Although extreme in its purest form, Corplore, by satirising corporate norms and highlighting Gen Z’s disillusionment, ignites vital discussions about work-life balance, wealth disparity, and the social contract. It gives voice to anxieties and frustrations often left unspoken, pushing us to question the very structures we operate within.

The ironic nature of Corplore encourages self-reflection on our relationship with work and expectations. It allows individuals to acknowledge the absurdity of some workplace norms while using humour as a coping mechanism in demanding environments. This self-awareness and ability to laugh at the situation can be empowering and contribute to better mental well-being and provides opportunity for positive change.

Design in the Age of Polarisation

To get the full story on this identified trend, along with 12 design dualities we have identified, read our full report ‘Subvert/Conform‘.