Cottagecore: A Guide to the Gen Z Aesthetic

It had to happen eventually. A growing number of younger people are flocking to the cottagecore aesthetic, romanticizing the pastoral life as an escape from the indoor, always connected, electronic rush of Information Age reality.

Wouldn’t you rather wear an old pair of careworn overalls or a flowy dress with big pockets and spend quality time with a gamboling lamb in the hazy sun of a countryside meadow than catch up on your work emails and race to the next PowerPoint meeting?

Well, the adherents of cottagecore (also known as “farmcore” and “countrycore”) certainly would, even if they’re blissfully unaware of what it really takes to raise sheep or other livestock, not to mention the hard work involved in realizing other cottagecore tropes in real life, like enjoying fresh-baked bread or straight-out-of-the-churn cream and butter.

Cottagecore
Living a sweet pastoral life is an aspect of cottagecore.

What is Cottagecore?

To understand cottagecore, you have to understand its biggest group of followers and participants, namely Gen Z. These are the youngsters (I’m 48) who have grown up learning the internet during their adolescence.

They’re concerned with their performance in school; they want good grades. They’re well-behaved. They respect rules and look down upon their peers who step outside the lines.

Many or most are on the track of achievement to get a job, if they don’t already go to one, that makes the best out of their skills and capabilities. They rarely use or overuse drugs and alcohol.

But they’re also plagued with more allergies and anxieties than their parent’s generation. Remember, these are the kids who created “safe zones” on college campuses to provide sanctuary from the rough outside life of harsh language and rudeness.

Many Gen Z’ers were put on behavioral medicine by concerned parents who only wanted the best for their children but inadvertently got them used to taking pills to calm themselves.

What does all this have to do with cottagecore? Consider, especially in 2020 and beyond, that the outdoors itself is a sort of taboo. Americans and people around the world have been encouraged, if not commanded, to stay inside in isolation and to do their interactions over Zoom or other screen-meeting tools.

So, in acts that are both rebellious against those edicts and also romantic in their view of pastoral life as one big bowl of peaches and cream, followers of cottagecore have fetishized things like sewing one’s own clothes, baking one’s own bread and pies, picking wildflowers, dancing with loved ones, all the things that were the intermittent rewards for the hard existence of life off the grid (both before and after there was a “grid”).

Why is Cottagecore Popular Now?

The key concept in understanding cottagecore is nostalgia, albeit a nostalgia for a time cottagecore’s adherents never experienced.

Guided by movies like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women from the 90s and books like the children’s series Pettson and Findus, the movement of cottagecore is not only toward these idyllic portrayals of rural existence, but also away from modern life. More specifically, away from capitalism, industrialization, and heteronormativity.

Cottagecore
carrottards.tumblr.com

In an article for The Guardian, writer Amelia Hall indicates that youth aesthetics like cottagecore come from a place of exploring taboos, and in this case, “being outside is the ultimate taboo.”

Hall compares cottagecore to the original punk music movement in the 70s, saying that just as figures like Johnny Rotten explored the taboo of chaos in the face of the norms of the time as Margaret Thatcher bought into trickle-down economics and fervid capitalism, so does cottagecore delve into the opposite of today’s emphasis on being alone indoors. In her words, today’s taboo is simply “the outside world.”

Hall also points out the irony in the fact that, even though cottagecore romanticizes a time when people were not plugged into the world-shrinking technology we have today, the aesthetic and resulting movement rely completely on the ability of the internet to disseminate the relevant images and information.

Is Cottagecore Related to the Pandemic?

The general idea is that now, when being outdoors is seen as a mortal threat. There’s a certain illicit thrill attached to scrolling through pictures of idealized Victorian women cuddling with bunnies in the forest or hanging their wash on the line on a sunny morning outside their – you guessed it – cottage.

cottagecore gen z girl

And don’t underestimate the correlation between 2020’s quarantining and the popularity of this yearning, wistful aesthetic. Quoted on Vox, Tumblr trend expert Amanda Brennan said, “Every time there’s been a spike in [Covid] cases, there’s a spike in cottagecore right along with it.”

The more dangerous the outdoors becomes, the more alluring the idea of a fairy-tale existence gets. The same article cites the change in cottagecore-related internet posts according to the season of the year. In winter, it’s making dainty pastries and reading poetry to your cat; in summer, it’s two girls kissing in the forest and another chasing baby goats around the yard.

It’s a sort of wistful longing for someone else’s life, for someone else’s past, that’s at the heart of cottagecore, along with a soft-focus, rosy view of what life actually used to be like, for example, in medieval times.

You see none of the brutal work conditions, spread of disease, the brevity of life, or general hardship. But you do see, in cottagecore, a lot of cute. A lot of gauzy, diaphanous, gossamer, and light. A sort of jump down the rabbit-hole, minus the menace of the Red Queen.

What Are the Politics of Cottagecore?

The trend’s politics, based on the desire to get away from modernity, are dichotomous. On the one hand, you have the young, progressive, often queer fans – the phrase “cottagecore lesbian” has been adopted by some – whose political leanings are certainly toward the left. For example, social accounts that feature a cottagecore page often also have a Black Lives Matter page.

In short, cottagecore speaks to the hearts of young people who want not just to escape the strictures of being technologically leashed to the mainstream but also to squeeze out from under the right-wing fervor of rallies and rudeness that marked news-making events and trends between 2016 and 2020.

That makes it especially surprising what other group has adopted cottagecore as its own, on the other side of the dichotomy. The far-right TradWives movement, like cottagecore’s devoted youth, is also frustrated with modern life and imagines going back to a time when things were simpler, more natural, more organic.

But for a vastly different reason. In the TradWives version of the aesthetic, one of the big draws is that, if the clock were to be set back, women would once again be in subservient, subordinate roles below their powerful husbands.

Cottagecore
“Just kiddin’ around.”

No matter who appropriates it, though, the essence of cottagecore rests within a certain soft-focus nostalgia for a time that never was, among its hallmarks puffy sleeves, aprons, baby animals, handiwork, and barnyard and meadow scenes.

Cottagecore Sites and Pages to Follow

Instagram:

  • Jessie“: She’s not a huge leader in sheer number of fans and followers, but, as Krnl Magazine’s Amber Harris describes, Jessie’s “content is too sweet and totally fits the cottagecore vibes along with the shabby chic image that the majority of people go for.”
  • Matilda Djerf: Mistress of the dainty dessert that takes hours to prepare, which isn’t a problem in a land of idyllic fantasy, Djerf’s home décor and accessories also embody the aesthetic’s ideals.
  • Olivia and Alice: These two London sisters take the lead when it comes to making your own pastel, paisley, and floral Victorian garments, perfect to wear to that fantasy picnic.

Pinterest:

  • Grace Kelley“: Among her other boards, this influencer has ideas for art, exotic animals, and DIY earring ideas, but it’s her cottagecore board that really takes the cake. Everything from poetry to fantastic pastoral scenes to lazy cats.
  • Kawabobewa, a.k.a. “your mom“: A sprawling suite of photos ranging from wildflowers to calves at play to cozy shots of actual cottages and landscapes is what you’ll find on “your mom’s” cottagecore board.

Tumblr:

  • blackthornfaery: In the description of her blog, Beyond the Glade, this Tumblr veteran expresses the wish to live in one of her books. Her photographic representations of the aesthetic are spot-on, many posed and arranged specifically under the cottagecore hashtag.
  • cottagefairee: Another account specifically devoted to cottagecore, this one is full of baby bunnies, girls in gauzy dresses tiptoeing through the forest, and other images and videos in the genre. Not one to miss.

Final Thoughts

As a homesteader, you are most likely living a life that’s close to the fantasy life of cottagecore fans, at least in your moments of rest in between bouts of tough work. How do you see this trending aesthetic? Are you resentful? Amused? Taken aback?

Especially if you have a cottagecore story about yourself or someone you know, give us a shout in the comments section below. And keep those cute baby goats in their pen!