Inside the Enchanting World of Cottagecore
How the dreamy, Internet-born aesthetic offers escape from judgement thru an imaginary world of flowers and woodland cabins
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Happy Wednesday and welcome to another Deep Dive, brought to you by the internet’s most trusted newsletter-based source for cabin fodder, Cabins Etc. Today, your girl Ellen is taking the reigns to dive deep into the pastel-hued world of Cottagecore, a cabin-adjacent internet-born aesthetic that captured the heart of many during the lockdowns of 2020.
I first stumbled upon Cottagecore myself during my own TikTok trial phase, before realizing the app was much too powerful and deleting it (RIP). The Cottagecore posts I saw were sugary sweet, full of a nostalgic feeling and wistful daydreaming. The more I saw, the more they reminded me of my own childhood spent exploring the woods of Pennsylvania and being obsessed with peasant dresses. But I'd never seen the aesthetic so fleshed out and the movement piqued my interest…
“What exactly was happening here?” I wondered. Today, I’ll try to provide some semblance of an answer.
Cottagecore is effectively an aesthetic, one characterized by a romanticized picture of a rural, countryside lifestyle. But there's much more than meets its rose-tinted surface. Like everything on the internet, it's been overanalyzed and picked apart, much to the benefit of curious minds. So much so, that it's hard to sum up in a Wednesday Deep Dive afternoon newsletter. But that is what we must do, for attention spans are minimal, snack breaks call, and a cup of coffee is finite, unfortunately.
This movement may not be the most expected topic on a Wednesday Deep Dive but we did promise we would be exploring all aspects of the cabin world and well, Cottagecore is somewhere in there…after all dreaming of life in a woodland cottage is the basic founding principle of this internet trend. While it may be a far cry from the MCM inspired lewk Cabins Etc prefers, there's always room for exposing ye ol' eyeballs to some other aesthetics, PLUS Cottagecore inspired posts look like cotton candy thru a microscope, so feast your eyes, buckle up, and come along as we explore this particular flower-filled corner of The Internet.
Cottagecore is believed to have started back in 2017 when the word first began appearing on Instagram and Tumblr (*sigh* remember that platform?). Linked to posts of gauzy photos of women in flowing dresses, fields of wildflowers, pastel hues, and hobbies like baking bread, embroidery, flower crown making, and the like, it first rose to prominence as a dreamy internet aesthetic, marked by a decidedly English countryside undercurrent.
The aesthetic movement glorifies the idea of living alongside nature, cultivating your own food in a pastoral garden, and escaping the fast-paced, tech-heavy lifestyle of the year of our Lord, 2022. As such, it centers on sustainability and wellness as a result of these ideas, even if the movement didn’t exactly intend for that to happen. And all of this makes Cottagecore an excellent contender for escapist daydreams, made even more excellent by the fact that it's readily accessible on the internet—a recipe that made Cottagecore the perfect visual escape for say, humans that are trapped in their homes with nothing to do during a nerve-wracking global pandemic. *hands slowly raise*
Although first populating posts a handful of years ago, the Covid pandemic’s onset pushed Cottagecore to the forefront for certain extremely online individuals, helped along by a boom on the world's most addicting app (TikTok, of course) where the hashtag now has 9 billion views to date-and pop culture happenings like the somber woodland cover of Taylor Swift’s Folklore album and the quaint animated world of Animal Crossing.
In the first few months of the pandemic, the hashtag jumped 153% on Tumblr while likes of Cottagecore posts increased 541%, according to Vox. As the posts grew, so too, did the aesthetic, with creators posting about almost every aspect of life dusted with a #Cottagecore touch.
There are how-to videos and online guides, like how to decorate your interior to add more charm, how to make heart-shaped lavender white chocolate scones, how to style a vintage flower-printed dress, or tours of people’s Cottagecore home renovations set to light, twinkling music. Or posts and videos that simply encourage daydreaming, like picking "your escape house", building your own outfit paper doll style, or music to "chill out, study, read or dance in the garden".
It’s even birthed more niche aesthetics like Honeycore, Bloomcore, Forestcore, and Goblincore (not to be confused with Goblin Mode, of course) among others. Cottagecore fans are, in essence, collectively building an alternate reality, a group daydream. And it is all decidedly simply pleasant to ingest—making it a wide-reaching balm for pandemic worn-souls.
While Cottagecore is a fairly new movement, the idea of humanity turning to natural and dreamy aesthetics after a period of stress is nothing new. Think the Arts-and-Crafts movement after the Industrial Revolution, or the return to nature during the 60s and 70s, a reaction to the overbearing rise of capitalism. In times of stress, we turn to nature to soothe ourselves, both individually and as a collective.
Following the patterns above then, it's also not hard to see how Cottagecore has easily become politicized. Although there are no hard and fast rules to Cottagecore, nor real stated beliefs, there is a palpable undercurrent of anti-capitalism, similar to that which fueled the back to the land movement, and a direct reflection of growing sentiments in the wake of the pandemic as people quit their jobs in record numbers.
The sustainability of it all also has roots in turning away from the control of corporations; living in the woods, growing your own food, maintaining a humble cabin, and making your own clothes are all activities that provide relief, morally and consciously, in the face of capitalistic greed.
Cottagecore is also distinctly queer. Because the aesthetic is associated with an imaginative world, it gives space for people to be completely themselves, free of stigma and bigotry. And, it also tends to be free of the binary masculine, and largely of cis, straight men altogether. It focuses on the feminine stereotypes of homesteading, flowers, flowing dresses, and crafts while providing the ability to reclaim these spaces without the underlying connection of servitude afforded to men throughout history.
And, while many Cottagecore posts feature slim, white women, the movement also gives space for people of color to reclaim their spot in history too, and to explore an aesthetic historically associated with Colonialism. But while Cottagecore harkens back to a Colonial aesthetic, it does so, by and large, without associating with the era’s ugly caste system—it feels nostalgic, but for a past that doesn’t exist and is instead created by the imagination of the individual.
But because of Cottagecore’s amorphous structure—i.e. no rules, no stated beliefs, no group organizing—this imaginative world also belongs to anyone, including those who do embrace the social structure of old, in a spirit counter to the previously described interpretations.
Take, for instance, Trad Wives, or "Traditional Housewives", women who believe in the "natural order" of men and women, embracing the role as a career housewife under their husband's wing. Although their beliefs are rooted around gender roles of the 1950s, aesthetically, it's not unusual to see the same floral, homemade, natural elements found in Cottagecore posts throughout TradWife content. (Not to be confused with the tradwife of rock climbing circles, which my very brother defined as "an ultimate badass climbing partner and life partner"... basically akin to an outdoors wifey lol)
So, the inclusiveness and low barrier of entry to the Cottagecore movement means it encapsulates a wide range of identities under its umbrella, for good and perhaps, er, bad, but living a Cottagecore lifestyle in an actual cottage is not as accessible as scrolling past cotton-candy-colored posts on the internet.
Regardless of your endgame, it’s worth acknowledging the root of romanticizing a more simple life, or to live an actual Cottagecore lifestyle in this day and age, ironically, comes with a certain degree of privilege. Cottagecore creators have even been called out for idealizing poverty. Looking at images online of an off-grid life of sustaining yourself in a rural area is a completely different thing than actually living it. Even camping or a weekend away in a cabin exposes us to how much we are afforded at the press of a finger, like electricity or running water. Similar questions could (and likely should) be raised of the vanlife and tiny house trends, which both glorify “minimalist” living that is not a choice but a necessity for a whole social-economic segment of the world…
But Cottagecore, by working definition, is an aesthetic. Liking and following Cottagecore content can be just that—feeling comfort in the way something looks. Being a Cottagecore fan need not be directly correlated to actually living the lifestyle. It can simply be a way to escape your current one, perhaps, albeit briefly.
Imagination and escapism are important tools of the human mind, and in balanced quantities, can cultivate hope. At the end of the day, the concept of a “cabin lifestyle,” and this very newsletter itself, exist for no other reason than to offer its writers and readers a little slice of what could be, whether by way of momentary escapism or some semblance of a path towards an improved future.It’s fun to daydream, whether done in a Hill House nap dress or not.
That’s all I got, today! Hope you enjoyed and have a lovely afternoon. It’s 64 degrees here in NYC, so if you’re here with us, in the spirit of #Cottagecore, go picnic with a friend.
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