Like most of us, my quarantine experience spurred a handful of new hobbies that barely masked my inner turmoil. If you’d asked me back in April if there was a theme to my madness, I probably would have shouted SURVIVAL while shoving a freshly made baked good in your face. It wasn’t until I spotted a random word on Twitter that I realized exactly how my own lockdown meltdown had manifested: through cottagecore.
What Is Cottagecore?
At its heart, the cottagecore aesthetic celebrates homemaking—knitting, baking, gardening, etc.—stylized with lacy floral print dresses and any other romanticized ideas about life in the countryside, even while living in an urban area.
If you’re also new to the concept, cottagecore is an internet aesthetic that can be traced to Tumblr circa 2018 and has been quickly growing in popularity. As a trend, it experienced one of its biggest surges in lockdown—thanks, in large part (and unsurprisingly), to TikTok.
Cottagecore has also most notably been embraced by the queer community, symbolizing an escape in all forms—from heteronormativity and toxic masculinity, and toward safe, welcome spaces. But, of course, anyone can be a part of the cottagecore scene. At its heart, the aesthetic celebrates homemaking and simpler times… it just stylizes it with lace and tiny floral prints and ivy-covered walls.
Cottagecore Is Just... Me
These are all things I’ve long loved, and it’s certainly not my attempt to be on-trend. It’s far more likely that my own cottagecore tendencies are rooted in the cozy, snow-covered scenes of the 1994 version of Little Women. Plus, I’m an American transplant in England—swooning over quaint thatched-roof houses and wildflower gardens has been my pastime since we moved here, six years ago.
But the lockdown gave me the time to face my deepest dreams of domestic life head-on. Pre-virus, my days mostly involved school runs and playdates and occasionally typing away in my favorite cafe. Within the confines of the virus, time felt suddenly stretched out and needlessly long, full of loungewear and Pinterest-inspired crafts. Everything flipped upside down, with coffee and intermittent writing the only constants.
The Beginning of My Cottagecore Infatuation
As with anything, this appreciation for styled domesticity started small and harmless. In the beginning, my motives were steeped in logic.
“If this is where we’re spending our summer, we’ll want the garden to look nice,” I convinced myself just as much as I convinced my husband. When three baby tomato plants appeared at our door via contact-free delivery from our local garden center, we each pretended that tomatoes were part of the design.
No words were spoken when I became obsessed with planting a windowsill herb garden. I also planted cucumber seeds, and long bamboo stakes arrived before the seedlings were more than an inch high. An unseemly amount of lavender appeared one day, begging to be planted in a wooden planter nailed together from salvaged wood. No eyes were batted.
When my daughter claimed boredom one day, I brought out two tiny wooden birdhouses and a box of something called “earth paints”—small bags of brightly colored, non-toxic powders that you mix with water. My husband filled the newly painted houses with seeds, only mentioning once that this seemed like a pigeon-attractor more than anything else.
My Attempt at Growing Vegetables
It wasn’t until he passed my computer while I googled “urban greenhouses” that he started to ask questions.
“I don’t know,” I said. “With all these grocery shortages, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just grow our own vegetables?” In hindsight, his response was much more gracious than mine would have been had the roles been reversed.
Impatient for my tiny seedlings to become fully grown and fruit-bearing (and nervous about the lack of grocery delivery slots), I did what any good millennial would do and turned back to the internet. It might be months before my organic tomatoes appeared on their vines, but surely, I could still order some.
Cooking and Baking... Everything
Soon, mystery boxes of produce arrived at our door every week. The first brought an influx of lemons and pears that we could not have used if we tried… until I found a recipe for lemon and pear bread. Problem solved! I mean, sort of. The bread was fine.
After another delivery, we were overwhelmed with three bushels of bananas. I waited for them to turn brown, chopped a bar of dark chocolate into chunks, and climbed aboard the banana bread bandwagon. A decided improvement!
Eventually, something wholly shocking arrived: mini cucumbers. I immediately googled pickling methods and fell into a whole, new world. I perused my options and quickly learned that traditional canning is extremely time-intensive. Yes, I suddenly had more time than I knew what to do with, but I did not have an increase in patience to match. Enter: refrigerator pickles.
I sliced, I diced, I made a brine that made our whole kitchen smell like vinegar. I added so much garlic to the first jar that we felt, for the first time in months, genuinely grateful we weren’t going to be too close to anyone. Right when I found the perfect balance of garlic, red pepper flakes, and dill, I tired of the entire thing and haven’t thought to make them again since.
(Safe) Outdoor Activities
When we felt comfortable spreading back out into our neighborhood, our project options expanded, too. In the wake of my 2-year-old and my 4-year-old, we used our one hour of government-allotted exercise to pick flowers and collect sticks in the park.
Once home, we turned the sticks into tiny bows and arrows and pressed the flowers in between the pages of The Joy of Cooking. With a copy of Smitten Kitchen on top, we slid the stack under my nightstand to patiently wait for the petals to dry, before going back outside to stretch our arrows against our bows and send them flying across the garden.
A week later, we sealed the dried, flat flowers in between two circles of parchment paper. Held together with washi tape, we hung our homemade suncatchers in the window. I hammered two large, brass nails into the wall at toddler height, connected them with a piece of twine, and encouraged my kids to hang their paintings and drawings from this homemade “art string.” Now our collective creativity or our collective boredom was on constant display—a true matter of perspective.
The Cottagecore Outfit
I did this all, by the way, while donning the most cottagecore thing of all: a Hill House Home nap dress. This was an early-2020 splurge that paid off in spades, because if you’re wondering what one would wear amid a manic cottagecore episode, I have the answer for that, too.
I’ve long been a follower of Nell Diamond and her Hill House Home brand, and in the before times, when my husband was stateside, I begged him to stop in their Bleeker Street store and bring home a coveted nap dress.
Did I know that this would be the cottagecore trend to rise above all other cottagecore trends? I’d like to think so, even though that’s patently insane. I can, however, say that I watched the brand explode this summer and felt a sense of pride for this woman I don’t know. Dressed in my own swiss dotted version (the Ellie), barefoot in my garden, I begged the squirrels to stop eating the tiny green lemons off my lemon tree.
(Oh, right, I bought a lemon tree).
My Peak Cottagecore Project
It didn’t stop here, in a nubby nightgown with freshly baked bread in the oven and a homemade brine simmering on the stove. My most cottagecore moment of all came when I spotted a wreath-making kit on Instagram. And by spotted, I mean they targeted me because Instagram ads know me better than I know myself.
I ordered it immediately, and a beautiful bunch of dried greenery arrived… with nothing else apparently required for the project. NO MATTER. Back online I went, ordering gold craft rings and floral tape and wire and scissors and a garland of faux eucalyptus because you know what, why not? Of all the projects, this is probably the one I enjoyed most, and long after cottagecore has gone out of style, I’d like to think my wreath will be here.
And cottagecore’s name will change, but it will never go out of style. Just look at the overlap with previous trends like grandmillennial and hygge and maximalism.
The Next Phase: Autumnal Cottagecore
So, six months on and where has this left me? Well, with not nearly as many tomatoes or cucumbers as the March version of myself imagined. Now, my autumn cottagecore has manifested into scented candles and roasted vegetables. It’s also too cold for my nap dress, but it’s the perfect temp for oversized cardigans and cozy socks.
School runs are also back on, and my local café is open again but, of course, everything has changed. After all those months of staying home and making our space—a stark and modern London flat—feel cozy and warm, I’ve realized something. We might not live in a stone cottage in the countryside, but I like it here.
More About Cottagecore
If you’re interested in learning more about Cottagecore as a community and lifestyle, @cottagecoreee, @cottagecoreblackfolks, and @cottagecore.aesthetic are a great place to start on Instagram, or try #cottagecore on TikTok.