Cottagecore is a fashion and lifestyle trend that’s made an impressive splash on social media platforms over the past year. Its defining ethos is its attempt to recreate an idealized quiet life in the countryside — flowy dresses, Emily Dickinson poems, baking cookies out of dandelion petals, and so on. Cottagecore celebrates the beauty of a slow-paced, blissful life of one’s own making.
Cottagecore’s ideals are essentially a 21st century version of the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived”. It’s a declaration of self-sufficiency that prioritizes rejuvenative isolation and the healing power of nature, far from the anxieties of industrialization, mechanization, commodification, and all the other -ations of the modern world. But we need to keep in mind that cottagecore is still a product of the internet, and nothing on the internet is ever as simple as we want it to be. Here’s a beginner’s guide to the ins and outs of cottagecore, and how to have fun in these spaces without losing track of the real world.
Cottagecore: The Basics
Cottagecore is an online subculture that got its start a few years ago on Tumblr, but it exploded during the pandemic. As the real world seemingly spiraled out of control, people looked for a quiet, safe, fantasy space, and cottagecore fit that bill perfectly. It is now a vibrant subculture on social media sites like TikTok and Instagram.
Like a lot of internet-born phenomena, it’s hard to cleanly categorize, but simply put, it exists somewhere between an internet meme, community art project, and social movement. Everything that could be considered “labor” or “work” is fun and fulfilling, and you answer to no one but yourself. Taking its cues from a romanticized fantasy version of country living, cottagecore imagines a peaceful life in harmony with nature, where you can reflect, imagine, and, perhaps most importantly, create.
Cottagecore is heavily associated with creativity; a great number of people who participate in cottagecore do so by painting, writing poetry, gardening, and cooking. Unified by a guiding aesthetic, cottagecore participants celebrate the beauty and joy in the little things: growing your own food, sewing and working with cloth, even designing ideal Animal Crossing islands. For aspiring artists, cottagecore can be a fun place to create and interact with other people. And due to its inherent fantasy element, it’s also got a sizable following among LGBTQ+ women who use it as a space to play with the gentle, romantic fairy-tale types of stories and imagery that they are often denied in real life.
But Is It More Complicated?
Despite the earnest simplicity and fairy tale-like aesthetic, cottagecore is still a product of a much larger culture and it is worth looking into the specific fantasy world that cottagecore upholds. This calls for some critical media literacy to give context to the cottagecore world.
The tropes and images that overwhelm the cottagecore sphere come from a very white and Eurocentric tradition. As Bethan Kapur points out in her piece for i-D, “white women draped in long cotton dresses and wandering romantically through fields connotes something else when your history is shaped by enslavement and exploitation.” The ugliness of colonialism is always out of frame. There’s been a lot of criticism of cottagecore that argues it is inherently colonialist and white-supremacist, and there is no denying that most people in cottagecore spaces are white. That said, there is a push from women of color to include themselves in the trend, and argue that their place in cottagecore is itself revolutionary: they are entitled to the same simple joys and beauties that white people have historically hoarded.
Cottagecore is also very fixated on country living, which has sparked criticism from both urban and rural living. On the one hand, it is hard to participate in the cottagecore world when you don’t have access to the landscape that supports it. On the other hand, the fantasy inherently simplifies the hard work that actually goes into living on a farm and rural poverty. Most cottagecore proponents are simply not cognizant of these things; they are here first and foremost for the appeal of the fantasy. But it serves as a potent reminder that cottagecore is ultimately a fantasy space, and that it can’t completely escape the issues of the real world.
In tumultuous times like these, a celebration of the dainty and idyllic absolutely has an appeal. The creativity cottagecore encourages, and its push for more diverse representation, are both laudable. Using cottagecore as a framework to make art or express themselves or learn more about the world are all valid. But we can’t forget that this is ultimately a fantasy.
If any of this sounds appealing to you and you’d like to get involved, the good news is that it is relatively inexpensive. Cottagecore is closely associated with sustainability, and it values reused, vintage, or upcycled clothing and materials. It can be as simple as taking a picture in the natural sunlight of the trees or greenery, or experimenting with life hacks on how to keep food from spoiling. Plenty of people have compiled advice on cottagecore makeup, fashion, crafting, and lifestyle advice.
It’s all about starting small, taking a deep breath, and enjoying the beauty around you for your own pleasure. Cottagecore celebrates self-love and creating something for no other reason than the fact that it makes you happy, but once the camera phones come out, it becomes all too easy to fall into the loop of social comparisons. The most important thing to remember is that this is a hobby, not a competition. If it stops being fun for you, then you have every right to leave it behind. At its best, cottagecore serves as a space to take a deep breath before going back to real life, not a replacement for it.
Katherine Lynch is a student at Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. She studies Communications and Media with a minor in Marketing. She loves to read, write, and learn about the world, passions she is eager to share with the MEDIAGIRLS community.