According to The New York Times, it’s “an aspirational form of nostalgia that praises the benefits of living a slow life in which nothing much happens at all.”
The Huffington Post describes it as “an aesthetic based upon a quiet, simple life filled with good, wholesome food, animals to care for, a garden to tend to, clothes that feel whimsical and a deep-rooted appreciation for nature and the natural world.”
And the BBC says it is “a mix of rural self-sufficiency and delicate décor, with a heavy dose of nostalgia.”
I’ve also heard it referred to as “grandmacore” and “grand-millenial.”
We are talking about cottagecore, an aesthetic and way of life that has exploded in popularity since the pandemic began.
Perhaps Callie, who lives in Dundee, OR, and is a member of one of the same Facebook cottagecore groups that I’m in, can describe it best.
“Cottagecore is a way for me to slip outside of the more harsh realities of our society and into a quieter and slower way of living. I actually fell into the style through my passion for sustainability and love of thrifting. About 95% of my decor is antique, vintage, or secondhand, and much of what you can find out there easily fits into the cottagecore aesthetic. Slowly thrifting decor has allowed my partner and me to live a higher quality of life due to the money we save and the quality of our furnishings while also limiting our dependence on big box stores. Granted, this is not within everyone’s ability. We are very fortunate to have reliable transportation for furniture and the time to hunt for it.”
Callie adds that among the items she cherishes the most are “a 1907 treadle sewing machine (works perfectly!), a dental cabinet (It’s so handy for storing art supplies!), and a tiger oak sideboard.”
Perhaps Callie’s description clears up any confusion as to what cottagecore is?
I can relate to much of what enthusiasts say they love about cottagecore. Is there anyone—especially after the horror story that was 2020—who doesn’t entertain fantasies of running away to the country to live a slower, more peaceful, and sustainable life that is more attuned to nature?
And I’ll admit it. The manner and location in which I grew up is pretty darned cottagecore. I grew up in very rural upstate New York on a family dairy farm. My childhood days were spent outside in the garden with my beloved Gramma, catching frogs or picking blueberries with my cousins, or in the barn, where, undoubtedly, my love for animals, both great and small, was fostered.
Of course, all of that lost its appeal once I became a teenager, a time when dreams about living in the big city filled my head with images like those I’d see in the films that populated movie screens in the 1980s.
But now, as an adult who makes her living in a way that can be done from literally anywhere along with a powerful longing to be closer to family (especially the seemingly ever-increasing count of nieces and nephews my siblings are bringing into this world), a yearning to live that quiet, sustainable, homesteading life has gotten the better of me.
So my husband and I bought a little piece of land and are currently building a house in the country, only about a quarter-mile from where I grew up! And my cottagecore dreams are ramping up.
I also hope to add more animals to our current menagerie of two dogs, one cat, and seven fish. Maybe another cat and a dog. And I’d love to have a goat or two. My husband, however, draws the line at chickens.
And I’ve already started collecting a few bits and pieces for the house—dishes and such that I love madly and bought for cheap through Facebook Marketplace. But if I’m going to go all-in on creating a home that demonstrates a vision of domestic bliss steeped with self-care, wholesome living, and a sincere appreciation for nature and all her gifts, I’m going to have to up my game.
Callie mentioned that almost everything in her home is “antique, vintage, or secondhand.” This appeals greatly to me.
After a bit of research, I am happy to share with you a handful of items that are practically necessary to the cottagecore lifestyle. Fortunately, one can find these items easily, and they are very affordable. Check out flea markets and yard sales, thrift stores and antique shops, eBay and Facebook Marketplace, and of course, research the prices on WorthPoint.com.
Cottagecore style extends to fashion. Have you noticed a lot of flowy, somewhat modest long dresses both in advertising and the real world last summer? You have cottagecore to thank for that. Cottagecore fashion really hit the big time a few months ago when such items, especially in floral prints and ginghams, started showing up in stores as diverse as Anthropology and Target. (Google the #targetdresschallenge to see various takes on the trend.)
If you’re looking for something more authentic, you could seek out something like this dress:
Or maybe this one, if you’d prefer a floral print:
Along with such pretty dresses, if you will be spending as much time in nature as you should, you’ll need a hat. Cottagecore icons from such sources as Anne of Green Gables suggest that a fashionable straw hat is the way to go.
For more cottagecore fashion inspiration, check out the following movies: The Secret Garden, Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Moonrise Kingdom.
Of course, you’ll need art for the walls of your cottagecore retreat, and I see three distinct trends as suitable, easy to procure, and affordable: vintage paint-by-numbers, hand-embroidered art (if you can find a vintage hand-embroidered pillow you like, all the better!), and pressed flower art. You can, should you be so inclined, make any of these yourself. But if you’d like something with a bit of historical interest, you can consider pieces like this:
And you will also need some practical items, like kitchenware and gardening tools. But just because they are practical doesn’t mean they can’t be cottagey and cute.
Do you know what SCREAMS cottagecore? These canisters shown below! Didn’t everyone’s mom have these in the 1970s? Mine did, but they are also one item of my childhood that I’m not eager to revisit as an adult. If you are, though, you should know they are fairly widely available and inexpensive.
And when you have your equally cottagecore-obsessed, sustainably-minded friends over for a visit, you will be enjoying a spot of tea together, so you’ll need a tea kettle. I’m kind of partial to this enamel one shown below.
If you will be cooking any of the aforementioned vegetables or fruits (or baking bread; my goodness, we can’t forget the bread!), you’ll need kitchenware. Fortunately, there are many, many pieces of vintage cookware that have stood the test of time and that are as fit and functional today as they were 50+ years ago. Options include cast iron (the gold standard in cookware, as far as I am concerned), aluminum, tin, enamel, china, Fire King, and the one that everyone covets: Pyrex.
Cottagecore isn’t the be-all and end-all to all of our pandemic-induced anxieties. Furthermore, it has its detractors and can be problematic in the grand scheme of fantasy versus reality. But for many, it’s making a difference—in our mental health, the health of our relationships, and the health of this planet.
I think my friend Ben sums it up nicely:
“To me, it’s about having at least two of these: a congruence with nature, a blurring of the line between indoors and outdoors, and a sense of coziness where everything is within reach.”
Kristin Conlin prefers to live with a wabi-sabi aesthetic, honoring and appreciating that which is old, imperfect, and often overlooked. She enjoys restoring and upcycling everything from vintage glass and clothing to antique furniture. You’ll often find her at antique and flea markets on the weekends or trolling thrift stores for hidden treasures. Kristin splits her time between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Upstate New York and resides with her husband and a small menagerie of beloved pets.
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