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Cottagecore: a modern twist on a traditional feminine aesthetic

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Cottagecore has recently seen an explosion in popularity on TikTok, but biochemistry freshman Olivia Starks said she first came across the trend on Pinterest almost two years ago.

Cottagecore’s aesthetic reminded her of berries and fairy tales, and she described it as “the type of style you dress up in with nowhere to go.”

When dressing in cottagecore, some common themes are earthy tones, sturdy fabrics and loose-fitting clothing, like what you’d see worn in a cottage or on a farm in past decades.

More modern takes have been made on the trend, keeping the colors but adding things like overalls instead of long skirts and thrifted items.

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The style grew on Starks because she likes that it is feminine without relying on typical pink and sparkly girly looks, she said. It’s a stronger, more utilitarian take on femininity.

On her Instagram, Starks can be seen outside in long, vintage florals and accessorized with butterflies, flowers and a ukulele.

There’s generally two halves to cottagecore: the aesthetic — organizing outfits and taking pictures — and the lifestyle, where people commonly make things with their hands and desire to live off the grid.

Right now, Starks falls more in the first half. As a college student, it’s hard to fully achieve the second half, she said, as she lives on campus and doesn’t plan to quit her education for the cottagecore life.

But every time she’s been able to visit more rural areas, she’s enjoyed her time, and she thinks that someday she’d like to invite that kind of change into her life more permanently.

“It really appeals to me more for the type of simplistic lifestyle I want to live, where it’s not hectic and what I’m used to,” Starks said.

Performance freshman Emmie Ambrose speculated that the trend may have recently taken off on TikTok due to the state of the world amid COVID-19. There’s an inherent escapism to watching people live a simple life and not worry about the outside world.

This is a point sociology associate professor David Arditi agrees with, as history has seen examples of people wanting to reconnect with nature, from hippies moving to Appalachia in the 60s to the Amish living off the grid. Cottagecore may be a reflection of this desire to move away from capitalism and things you can’t control, Arditi said.

“We no longer feel like ourselves, so we’re looking for ways to connect back with that humanness,” Arditi said.

It’s that human simplicity that Starks enjoys. Although she can’t drop everything and live in the woods, she does what she can to bring the simple life to her dorm.

She said part of why cottagecore appealed to her was because it reminded her of favorite childhood fairy tales, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

The idea of being warmed by a fire or surrounded by chirping birds and deer was her favorite fantasy, and Disney movies were the only place she could go to feel like that, she said.

“So Disney definitely had a big role in me sort of taking this on as something I really want for my life,” Starks said.

Ambrose also grew up in the suburbs but prefers the more country or rural areas. She grew up visiting her grandparents in their home in the countryside, she said, where she had up-close experiences with animals and nature.

“It sounds stupid, but I keep pecans in my backpack just in case I see a squirrel so I could give them a little pecan because that’s what we did at my grandparents’ house,” Ambrose said. “It’s just like, you know, feeling connected with nature.”

To connect to that feeling, Ambrose used cottagecore as part of her dorm decor inspiration this semester as well. From a peach-covered duvet (a soft, feather-filled quilt) to handmade wall hangings featuring “Timothy the dwarf mouse,” Ambrose brought her favorite elements of the trend to her room.

At the same time, she’s taken on baking, another cottagecore element that both she and Starks enjoy. Ambrose said she bakes goods like banana bread as a calming hobby.

Starks said she cooks with simple ingredients, favoring “old-school recipes with a soft touch.”

She finds her recipes from cookbooks in thrift stores or antique shops as well, so she knows her cupcakes and banana puddings are connected to an older time period.

Wanting to connect to homemade items is a natural part of being human, Arditi said, and sometimes when working in modern-day factories or as “a small part in a big machine,” we’re deprived of that.

All of these elements boil down to enjoying simple things in life — even if they’re quaint or outdated. Many of these elements are simply a new spin on activities that women have traditionally been forced to oversee.

Ambrose said it was the idea of “taking back the power” that initially drew her in and kept her captivated, because an older lifestyle is appealing but women were historically looked down upon as housemaids.

“I just like the idea of taking something that was very traditional and then taking it back in my own kind of way,” she said.


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