Sharoky Suarez’s life in the Dominican Republic is fairly simple. When the 24-year-old is not working as a cashier in a store, she’s dreaming about a life in the mountains as a mother of two cats. But while this dream remains out of reach, she finds solace on her “cottagecore” Instagram account.
What’s cottagecore, you ask? It is an ‘aesthetic,’ a form of escapism that soared to popularity on the internet as the pandemic raged across the world last year. Think lavender tea, blueberry pies with lattice crusts, wildflowers and meadows, picnic spreads on gingham sheets and anything that looks like it time-traveled from a 19th century mansion in the English countryside. Simply put, cottagecore is a nostalgia for the past; a yearning to return to a pastoral utopia untainted by late-stage capitalism.
As the pandemic deepened the mental health crisis across the globe and avenues for distractions and support were restricted, we had no choice but to look inward and find comfort in our sourdough starters and houseplants. It makes sense, then, that the cottagecore trend, which had been around for a while, achieved mainstream popularity at a time when we were all cooped up in our brick-and-mortar cages.
On Instagram, there are a plethora of cottagecore influencers posting soft, nostalgic images of women clad in flowy vintage dresses, lost in an alternative reality, where there are no deadlines, no Zoom calls and nothing modern. But life isn’t all that different for these influencers who look like they’ve stepped out of a fairy tale.
For Lola, an advertising apprentice from the Swiss countryside, it’s a coping tool. “I’m just at work and school, like everybody else. But I try to stay in that mindset when I leave my house, because it helps me dream and escape when days are hard,” she told Re:Set, asking that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons. “It’s like I romanticize the little things in my life, and it makes it more bearable.”
Rishika, who works in a multinational corporation in India and asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, is reminded of her childhood adventures during summers in the countryside of India’s Northeast state of Assam when she thinks of cottagecore. She moved to her ancestral house in Guwahati when the pandemic hit, and after having lived in big cities all her life, she found the change in pace to be refreshing. “It was greener, there were lots of flowers, there were less people around,” she said, adding that her hectic, technology-dependent work schedule poses a striking contrast to her peaceful surroundings.
However, as you delve into the trend, you notice that the visual aesthetics of this escape are predominantly Eurocentric and white. “The ideal cottagecore life of cute houses with slanted roofs and vegetable gardens is very Eurocentric. The Indian equivalent would ideally be small villages, and Indian villages are never idealized,” Rishika told Re:Set.
Moreover, the nostalgia of cottagecore is for a past that has been intensely painful for BIPOC communities across the world. This modern day renaissance of the idyllic pastoral life whitewashes the history of racism and colonialism that went hand-in-hand with a quiet life in the European countryside. What would a decolonized nostalgia for the past look like, then?
Influencers like Lauren, who goes by @enchanted_noir on Instagram, are trying to envision just that. In a post on teaching sustainability to her kids, she talks about the history of oppression of Black farmers in America and racial discrimination in agriculture. Noemie Sérieux, founder of the Instagram account @cottagecoreblackfolks, told Architectural Digest how she seeks to expand the traditional definitions of cottagecore beyond its glaringly white, colonial-era, European aesthetic. “When I typed ‘cottagecore black girls’ into any social media, literally nothing would come up,” she said, adding that, “I knew what it was like to never see people who looked like me living the life I desired, and I didn’t want anyone else to feel like that.”
Nevertheless, cottagecore continues to be the perfect escape from the drudgery of pandemic life for many. Dalia is a paediatrician who lives in Bucharest, Romania. She spends her days working in a hospital, far away from the sprawling meadows that dominate her Instagram. “My days are actually not very cottagecore,” Dalia told Re:Set. She tries to offset her hectic schedule by “preparing desserts, making time to read, visiting gardens and parks during the weekends to recharge my ‘nature-batteries.'”
Echoing this, Sriram, an India-based lawyer with an unforgiving work schedule said, “There is much joy to be had in the simple things in life, where the ambience depends on nature, and the local wildlife without manicured intervention. So to me, the appeal of cottagecore lies in the mindfulness and deliberate enjoyment that is required to fully appreciate it.”
That is really where the appeal of cottagecore comes from. It is a rejection of the notion that hustling is the only way to a happy life, and a reminder that we mustn’t forget to stop and smell the roses once in a while. As our mental health crumbles under hustle culture and urban life grows more unsustainable, perhaps the principles of cottagecore and its emphasis on a return to nature, might just be the self-care we need.