Inca Fry explains the rejuvenating, calming and liberating effects of escaping into the world of cottagecore.
At the beginning of lockdown, I, like so many others, turned to the comforting world of cottagecore. But what, I hear you ask, is cottagecore? And what exactly is so attractive about it?
Cottagecore encapsulates an idyllic form of rural domestic life from some undefined time in the past – it evokes peace, and safety, and contentment. We all remember when people started baking en masse and discovering a new passion for crafts in their efforts to make the pandemic a bit less shit and terrifying. This is very much within the aesthetic of cottagecore – soothing, unpressured activities. The sheer amount of stress and frustration you can take out kneading a loaf of bread is unparalleled in the list of ‘things you can do while trapped inside’.
Cottagecore is an internet aesthetic, and as such access to it is reliant on social media, which is somewhat paradoxical to its focus on a lifestyle without modern technology. It is a digital experience for many rather than one they can actually live out, but that is part of the need for it. It is a fantasy at heart – escapism into a world lived at a leisurely pace, without concerns about money or society, at one with nature. Despite this, it is an aesthetic that is easy to bring into your life in small, manageable ways for those stuck inside in urban areas, and this brings people a taste of a different life. It’s a softening force in a harsh environment.
For me, engagement with cottagecore took the form of arts and crafts like knitting and painting, arranging flowers in my room, buying a flowy dress, and just sitting in nature contemplating the trees. Me and one of my best friends made elaborate plans for our future life in the imaginary cottage we were going to move into once lockdown was over, even posting each other paintings of it, to get us through the spring. Cottagecore’s real strength is that it is expressed in such pure, wholesome, and innocent ways that engaging with it often involves some form of self-care. It rejuvenates you and encourages healthy coping strategies – makes you spend time doing things just for yourself. Even if your particular way of engaging with it is more online based, the videos and posts themselves on places like TikTok and Instagram are designed to be calming, slow paced, full of beautiful nature imagery. The whole vibe is the antithesis of anxiety. This is catering to a strong need in the world right now for some anxiety-relief, reacting against certain phenomena we are experiencing.
It’s not just lockdown and urbanisation that cottagecore’s abundant good vibes are reacting against, however. In many ways it can be seen as combating (or attempting to) the pressures and effects of our late-stage capitalist world.
The capitalist machine ensures that everyone has to comply to the rules of its game or face starvation and homelessness. Once having entered the working world, a person spends the vast majority of their life adhering to a strict timetabled regime, where what they’re allowed to do and who they’re allowed to be is heavily controlled. Developing personal passions and doing activities at a leisurely pace becomes difficult to fit around all the other necessities of living, especially as during leisure time people are drained from their time at work. This is not to say that the necessity to do some sort of labour in order to survive is a new phenomenon to the human condition, even without capitalism or any society people would have to work hard every day to continue existing, but the highly regimented and artificially constructed world of work that dominate lives today wears on the natural desires and inclinations of a person, and inspires them to imagine a form of life where this isn’t the case.
Cottagecore is in many ways an aesthetic that offers a non-capitalist world to inhabit. There’s no concept of jobs in cottagecore; only notions of self-sustainability and living off the land. It encourages foraging, home baking, keeping chickens and bees, making baskets, sewing clothes, and a whole host of other activities that make you feel self-sufficient. The decline of essentially doing/making things yourself in the home – how people largely lived until recently – has stripped the individual of some of their independence and autonomy. The capitalist system encourages reliance on the work of others because this feeds the system – by simultaneously creating more consumers and a greater personal need to acquire money. The more people work for money, the less time they have for their personal needs, so they outsource more, and the system is perpetuated. It could also be argued that the capitalist system is built on the assumption that the work of the home is being done by a wife who has no other choice and lives in a state of marital slavery, but as of the 21st century women are also allowed to have jobs and get to experience capitalism from a whole new perspective (while often still continuing to be expected to do everything they did before). Cottagecore reclaims independence from commerce by encouraging and celebrating people’s personal abilities to create these things for themselves. Not considering how you afforded the cottage or the chickens or the beautiful flowy dresses is a key part of the joy and fun of it. Cottagecore does not ask you to fit your dreams into the capitalist system, cottagecore liberates you from the necessity of contemplating it. The world of cottagecore is a world of infinite leisure time and freedom from commitments.
This is not to say that cottagecore is solely an anti-capitalist highly left-wing subculture. The emphasis on traditional ways of living and domestic activities means that it has been picked up by ‘tradwives’; women who believe in traditional gender roles within marriage, and tend to be conservative Americans. Contrastly cottagecore is also very popular within the queer community, because it allows them to envision a space free from heteronormative societal constructs and prejudices – no need to deal with the patriarchy in this here cottage. Engagement does not by any means demand a particular political ideology. The one consensus that arises across the spectrum is that you get to be left the hell alone by other people, and their opinions on what you should be doing with your life. So perhaps, with further lockdown looming, you too, gentle reader, will find solace in cottagecore.
Artwork by Anna-Beth Brogan.