Cottagecore: The nostalgia trend that's spreading online, and how the local enthusiast might look

Cottagecore is one of the latest social media aesthetics to trend. Photos by Getty Images. Collage by Phelokazi Mbude/W24
Cottagecore is one of the latest social media aesthetics to trend. Photos by Getty Images. Collage by Phelokazi Mbude/W24
  • Cottagecore is defined as a social media aesthetic that romanticises the countryside life.
  • Films exhibiting the aesthetic include Call Me By Your Name, The Secret Life of Bees, Little Women and Midsommar.
  • The US and UK have created localised versions of this trend - here's what the South African cottagecore individual may look like.

Cottagecore is one of the latest social media trends to permeate the internet. Having gained popularity on Pinterest, Tik Tok and surprisingly Tumblr, this trend has made its way to Instagram and beyond.

By definition, cottagecore is a social media aesthetic that romanticises life in the countryside – a simpler time. Enthusiasts maintain this aesthetic is not new, but has simply evolved in its imagery and medium of expression. 

READ MORE: Ever wondered how you can get your Instagram pictures to look like your favourite influencers'?

In its cottagecore aesthetic definition, Advocate.com includes "cosy little houses surrounded by gardens, fields of wildflowers, forest glades, and cute farm animals. Occasionally you'll find fantasy elements like fairies and goblins thrown in".

According to the New York Times, things that do not exist in the cottagecore universe include frostbite, jobs and toxic masculinity. "This aesthetic offers a vision of the world where men are not consciously excluded; they are simply an afterthought,” the New York Times says. 

It's also defined through music and film with popular films like Call Me By Your Name, The Secret Life of Bees, Little Women, Midsommar exhibiting the aesthetic. In music, artist such as Tracy Chapman, Brittany Howard, Sufjan Stevens, Hozier, Lilly Allen and the like can be seen to complement the cottagecore aesthetic.

READ MORE: 8 women filmmakers who've given us stories and roles that have never been seen before 

Buzzfeed has a quiz to measure your cottagecore-ness for people interested in this aesthetic and perhaps the community it brings. The list of questions features selecting your favourite movie and music genre, the kind of area you’d like to live in, your home decor and personal style, hobbies and how often you dream about ditching your life and fleeing to the woods. 

Having immediately identified with this aesthetic and finally, save for the fairies, gnomes and elves, I’m glad to have the language to describe my affinities. The quiz rates my cottagecore-ness 66%, describing my choices as:

"You're pretty dang cottagecore. You're a dreamer and love to surround yourself with all the incredible things nature has to offer. You might not physically be in a cabin in the woods, but that's not gonna stop you from making your life feel like something straight out of a fairy tale!"

The remaining 34% is possible due to not dreaming about living in an actual forest with fairies flying around. Safe to say, I enjoy some sort of modernity, including cell service and smart mobile devices, which this trend so heavily relies on.

Silhouette of beautiful african woman with bike us

Ride a bicycle to pick flowers in the fields, but don't forget to get a snap of the Instagrammable moment. Photo: GettyImages

I would concur that the cottagecore label describes a spectrum of identity and preference, as opposed to being one set thing. Of course, if you go on the previously mentioned social media platforms the overwhelming imagery of a cottagecore girl is fair-skinned, has long hair, is petite and has is hyper-feminine. However, this certainly does not have to be the case. 

Much like how most definitions, the cottagecore label includes a westerness but I wouldn’t say that is a strict requirement of the easthetic. Having grown up in the Eastern Cape, I’ve seen plenty of vast fields, secret lakes and fresh waters, hidden hiking trails, homes overlooking vast greenery, dreamy picnic spots and plenty of fresh air. 

READ MORE: Out of touch: How the pandemic has us missing ordinary activities that made us feel good 

It was inevitable that this trend, though an attempt at escapism, would attract socially political questions because of how prescriptive the modern world we live in tends to be. For one, Advocate.com brings attention to the relationship between cottagecore and queerness:

"Despite being full of traditionally feminine imagery, cottagecore is not to be confused with the ideals of wifely servitude often pushed by conservatives."

With Paper magazine posing the following: 

"The politics of cottagecore are thoughtfully prelapsarian: what if we could go back to a time before the planet was ravaged by industry, except with added protections for marginalised queer communities? What if we all lived like tradwives, minus the husbands?"

Chrissy Rutherford, who recently announced a consulting agency guiding brands on diversity and inclusivity with fellow seasoned fashion practitioner Danielle Prescod, highlighted Blackness within the cottagecore trend.

"Throughout my years working in fashion, I’ve often noticed how certain style references used by brands attempt to exclude Black women from the narrative... beachy, bohemian, Prairie chic or even French style … Black women are rarely allowed to be seen as delicate, feminine, soft, free spirited," Chrissy writes on her Instagram post.

This trend is broad and far-reaching, and – I’d like to think – more inclusive than most. You may be living in style in the countryside like Instagram sensation Paula Sutton aka @hillhousevintage or pickling anything edible like chef and wellness advocate Sophia Roe or anything in between.

READ MORE: #LockdownDiaries: 4 South African women take us through their emotions during lockdown

The US and the UK have created their own localised versions of the cottagecore trend. While I’m not certain the trend will pick up in the same way in this part of the world, I have started to wonder what a South African, or even an African, cottagecore individual looks like. This is what I’ve come up with.

Fashion

When it comes to personal style, the cottagecore individual goes for muted colours, floral prints, breathable fabrics, checkered prints and the like. So, in South Africa, your wardrobe is dominated by linens and cottons. Perhaps like the following Instagrammers:

If we had to associate designers friendly to this aesthetic, it would probably include Sindiso Khumalo, House of Lucent, MATSHIDISO, Superella, Ilundi and the like.

Home décor

When it comes to your house, you probably have natural wooden furniture, have plenty of candles, growing an indoor jungle, have crystals laying around, fresh flowers like proteas or dried plants such as Pampas grass. 

Accompanying your home is probably a gravel driveway, a pet dog and – depending on your cottagecore level – you might be raising some chicken or herding cattle. 

Food 

When it comes to food, you probably bake sourdough bread, steam dumplings and enjoy roosterbrood accompanied by tripe, a beef stew, hot body or simply butter. On warm days, perhaps you make umphokoqo/phuthu with amasi. Koeksisters and milk tart possibly feature in your culinary repertoire. 

You may also have a small vegetable garden going, some peaches, perhaps a citrus tree as well. Maybe you make your own chutney and jam. If you do shop for food, you probably visit a traditional farmer’s market or shop at a store like Nanaga (Ncanarha) near Port Elizabeth. Picnics are also not a foreign concept to you.

Music

When it comes to your music library, you’ll probably have musicians such as Lira, Bongeziwe Mabandla, Freshlyground and The Soil in your playlist. Maybe you create your own music with the Marimba, a guitar, the Uhadi or drums. 

In South Africa – if you’re lucky enough - you can always escape the city and visit your hometown rural home, or even a beach house to recharge every now and then.

Are you a cottagecore girl? Share your pictures with us here.

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