If you're on social media platforms like TikTok, Tumblr and Pinterest, you've likely noticed the "cottagecore" trend that's getting popular with queer women and femmes. All at once, everyone seems to want to quit their jobs and run off to upstate Vermont to pick apples, raise chickens, and live their best woman-loving-woman life.
It's caught on so much that the The New York Times published a feature about it in March 2020. "Take modern escapist fantasies like tiny homes, voluntary simplicity, forest bathing and screen-free childhoods, then place them inside a delicate, moss-filled terrarium, and the result will look a lot like cottagecore," says writer Isabel Slone.
Here's a quick primer on the cottagecore aesthetic, where it came from, and how it's rooted in real-world issues like climate change, the global pandemic, and safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people.
Photos via Shutterstock
Essentially, the cottagecore aesthetic is images of idealized life on a Western farm — cozy 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.
If you're into nostalgia, books, baking, teacups, prairie dresses, flower crowns, picnic baskets, knitting/embroidery, Hozier, ceramic frogs for some reason, and strolling through farmers' markets, cottagecore might be the movement for you.
For all its fantasies of ditching intrusive technology and living off the land, cottagecore would not exist without smartphones and social media apps. The NY Times may have captured it best when they quoted a teenager saying "It's like Animal Crossing but in real life."
The idea really took off thanks to a TikTok video from December 2019, posted by user SoraBlu who lives in a tent in the woods and raises chickens. This gave rise to an entire "cottagecore lesbian" trend on TikTok, which spilled over to Pinterest, Tumblr, and other platforms.
Despite being full of traditionally feminine imagery, cottagecore is not to be confused with the ideals of wifely servitude often pushed by conservatives. Many enthusiasts, like Instagram user @cottagecore_faerie, are determined to reject toxic masculinity and include people from all across the LGBTQ+ community. "It's extremely important to welcome people into this community," she told the NY Times. "Queer people are also so heavily objectified and sexualized in media, and this is something where we can just be ourselves."
Writer Katherine Gillespie of Paper Magazine puts it this way: "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 marginalized queer communities? What if we all lived like tradwives, minus the husbands?"
If you really identify with this idea, you can even fly your own Pride flag (presumably in a very small Pride parade through your imaginary rustic village). These often take the form of traditional Pride flags for lesbians, pansexuals, the transgender community, etc., but with the colors muted into soft shades of brown, green, pink and yellow.
Some people even include little symbols of cottages and sheep, just for fun.
Much of the cottagecore movement is actually a response to people being dissatistfied with their hectic, crowded lives in cities or suburbs, and the feelings of burnout that come with it. Tired of the minimalist aesthetic that's dominated interior design in the last ten years, they're decorating their apartments with potted plants and porcelain teacups, and taking comfort in old-fashioned hobbies like arts & crafts and baking.
The NY Times calls it "an aspirational form of nostalgia that praises the benefits of living a slow life in which nothing much happens at all."
Cottagecore took on a new light in recent months, when the global pandemic drove most people to social distance and stay at home as much as possible. As much as we've all joked about sourdough starters and banana bread, these rustic hobbies have done a lot to boost people's mental health during a time of overwhelming stress and uncertainty. And with the LGBTQ+ community disproportionately affected, we'll take all the help we can get.
Climate change is another driving force behind this longing for a simpler time. In the face of constant, traumatizing headlines about rising temperatures and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, the idea of sustainable farming in the woods looks more appealing by the day.
In a recent article from i-D, an Australian woman named Lola said, "I am frustrated with the lack of any real, tangible action here, and fatigued by the endless dryness and heat. I would love nothing more than to live in a place where I can actually water my plants, which is green and where I can light an open fire. I really miss rain too."
Any cottagecore fan seriously considering ditching everything to buy a farm in the country should keep in mind that real, functioning farms don't work like that. It's less about sipping hot cocoa in bed on misty mornings, and more about getting up at 4 a.m. and trudging through mud to feed chickens and milk cows.
That being said, most people in this movement aren't really planning to buy land anytime soon (if they could even afford it), and cottagecore is simply a method of escapism and self-care.
Like any online movement, cottagecore has its share of controversy and discourse. Some people argue that it romanticizes Western agriculture that, historically speaking, has involved throwing Indigenous people off their land and exploiting immigrants and minorities. Others have compared it to gentrification in cities, where well-off white people take over minority communities "for the aesthetic" and drive up rent prices.
Within the LGBTQ+ community, trans, nonbinary, and masculine-presenting people have been known to struggle with cottagecore's traditionally feminine imagery, and look for ways to make it more androgynous and inclusive — for example, this TikTok video from user lady.elaine.