Image Credit: @linennaive on Instagram
Cottagecore, a term that has seen dramatically increased usage during and since lockdown, describes a lifestyle trend that focuses on the idyllic aspects of country living, a greater involvement with nature and traditional resources, and general concepts of “cosiness”. Yet, from talking to friends and an initial Google search, it seems that most people don’t have a set understanding of what cottagecore actually is. Whilst it has existed for years, the trend has become amorphous; circulating in Pinterest galleries, and finding form in “peasant dress up” videos on the popular platform TikTok (don’t ask me, I don’t have an account).
It is particularly popular in these image-based media formats as the entire concept of cottagecore revolves around an aesthetic – that of cosy, down-to-earth scenes in the cottage or similar. Underlying the aesthetic is a focus on living a harmonious existence away from the dangers of city life, where people live in tune with nature and their bodies. In a time where the majority of us have been given space to reflect on the harmful “busyness” of how we used to live, cottagecore can provide a kind of glimpse into a simpler life – even if that life is categorised by small things: a chai latte, or a homemade loaf of bread.
Distanced from the satirical, quasi-nostalgic memes that mocked the absurdity of lockdown, such as a popular image that went around of somebody dressed to the nines for a trip to Tesco, cottagecore embodies the ‘stay at home’ message and curates a cosy aesthetic adopted by its followers. In this way, it’s clear that the trend provided an optimistic route through lockdown, far from the doom and gloom of regular coronavirus press conferences, and the remembrance of lost freedoms.
From this description, newbies to the lifestyle trend would be forgiven for confusing it with the Danish phenomenon of Hygge. But where Hygge was a faraway ideal for most individuals, embodying a Scandinavian mindset that most anglophones perceived as impractical, the specific circumstances of 2020 have made cottagecore an attractive and viable alternative to the mainstream.
Also, cottagecore is more gimmicky than the well-established Hygge. Cottagecore finds its audience much more tailored to a specific demographic – teens and young adults – and much more kitsch, through its TikTok popularisation. Though seemingly odd that such an aesthetic would be taken up so readily by young people, I wonder if perhaps it relates more broadly to the fact that generationally we identify with more sensible values; added to our financial worries, we are more politically engaged than ever, and we drink less than our parents.
During lockdown, the release of Nintendo’s latest Animal Crossing outing, New Horizons, fed directly into the popularity of the cottagecore trend. As an RPG that allows the user to build their own “cottage” in a friendly, rural town, with the ability to garden, go “fishing”, collect natural specimens, and customise your wardrobe, the connection between cottagecore and the game is immediately understandable. Just a simple Google search for the two terms together brings up a multitude of YouTube videos, offering cottagecore design tips and showing off the “ultimate” cottagecore makeovers for Animal Crossing. These how-to guides and gametube videos have garnered hundreds of thousands of views, demonstrating the appeal and cultural capital of the cottagecore movement as a part of a more popularised trend.
While the cottagecore trend is popular in the WLW (women who love women) community, a quick browse of the #cottagecore hashtag on Instagram finds that the trend largely produces heavily curated images of thin, white women in flowing dresses. However, there is some effort within cottagecore to make the trend more inclusive of individuals who do not fit this paradigm. For instance, the Instagram account @sweetnspicegirl posts mood boards themed around cottagecore. Recent posts on their feed include targeted collections for different groups. The account creates mood boards that display versions of the trend tailored to these groups, such as a Jewish version and a Chinese version. While this acknowledges that the core concept of cottagecore may be exclusionary, it helps to carve a space to make the community more inclusive.
Similarly, cottagecore suffers from a lack of BIPOC representation in promotional materials and photoshoots. Yet, within the community there is a concerted effort to increase diversity. One account, @cottagecoreblackgirls, is specifically dedicated to increasing representation of black women within the cottagecore aesthetic, and reposts followers’ photos that match their aesthetic – offering payment based on the perceived quality of the image. In this way, cottagecore has the potential to provide an alternative space to queer BIPOC women – although, at the moment, the mainstream trend certainly hasn’t realised this potential. The other poorer aspect of cottagecore is that, quite aside from the mentioned potential issues of bodily privilege, it seems to me like a luxury that most cannot afford. It takes a lot of effort and time to create perfect sourdough loaves or perfect your latest hand-stitched cushion.
Cottagecore, like so many viral trends, will inevitably have its heyday before mainstream attention moves away from it, and people move on. But, in zooming out from the specific qualities and individuals engaging with the cottagecore trends, it seems that the desire for a more “homely” and “down-to-earth” lifestyle is filtering into wider society. Just last month, high-fashion brands were showcasing trends that spoke deeply of the changed work habits this year – this season’s catwalks were graced by models exhibiting the latest so-called ‘waist-up’ trends. This new fashion trend focuses the creative interest on the upper half of the body, using designs that are aimed specifically for the many workers attending video conferences every single day. Though one example, it begs the question of whether 2020’s trends could be here to stay in some form. How long will this emphasis on “home” be sustained in a possible post-pandemic world, if things go back to anything like (the old) normal? Only time will tell.
Your Cottagecore Guide
Opt for long, sweeping dresses that are quasi-period or quasi-fantasy. Accessorise with a shawl that you made – of course.
For the ‘gram: typically stage your fashion shoots by some alpine mountain scene, a rushing lake or river, or a cutesy cottage exterior. Your outfit may be impractical for the rough outdoors, but it’s a whole vibe.
Anything that looks like it wasn’t made in a factory. Emphasise the organic and local when choosing your assortment of cosy items. Think wooden furniture, weaved baskets, and delicate floral patterns.
For the ‘gram: You’ll probably spend just as much time perfecting your photo ops as actually decorating, so make sure you know your soft filters and autumnal hues as well as you do your cross-stitch.
The typical behaviours of a cottagecore aficionado are: baking, gardening, yoga, DIY home décor, and any crafts – from pottery-making to crochet. This one’s much more up to you – from all that is tagged online under #cottagecore, it seems you could attach anything even vaguely “homely” to the trend.
For the ‘gram: Take pictures of everything! Be proud that you’ve probably learned a new skill or two, especially in these strangest of times.