Dried flowers tucked into old books. Glass terrariums stuffed with moss and miniature gnomes. Cottagecore is a feel-good movement that has younger generations foraging its charm. Case in point: Taylor Swift’s latest album, folklore, embraces rituals and the woods. Animal Crossing, the wholesome video game where characters live amongst anthropomorphic bears, has topped 10 million downloads. And on Tumblr, the #cottagecore hashtag jumped 153% between the months of March and April this year.
The proof is in the matcha pudding. Modern-day cottagecore has been undeniably ignited by the coronavirus outbreak. But it’s just the latest wave of a trend that’s existed for centuries. During the reign of Louis XVI, nobles brought their simplistic fantasies to life with rustic villages and idealized farms built on their lands. Marie Antoinette had her Hameau de la Reine at Versailles to escape the pressures of royalty. There, she donned a peasant dress while engaging in farming activities, returning to a bucolic life.
Walt Disney created the definitive visions of cottagecore during the Great Depression, lightening the mood with singing bluebird seamstresses in Cinderella. In the late sixties, Whole Earth Catalog offered how-tos for organic gardening, building tensile structures and spinning yarn from sheep’s wool. And in the nineties, Martha Stewart made it chic to be cozy by baking pies, growing vegetables and repurposing antiques.
The common cause for centuries of cottagecore? Control. We keep coming back to it again and again because it promotes an idealized version of country living that offers frazzled societies an imaginative refuge to escape the stress of the unknown.
“When the future collapses, people suddenly look for comfort and certainty — and the past is always that,” says Hamline University anthropology professor David Davies. “The one thing that this pandemic has done is take away control. Culture grabs onto things it needs to enable human adaptability. And cottagecore could be adaptive in a sense that it’s a place of certainty, comfort and refuge.”
Cottagecore has become a digital dollhouse of sorts, a delectable safe space where users can control the narrative. “People like things that they can inhabit with their imaginations: dollhouses, souvenirs, things that you can hold in your hand,” Davies explains. “They like small, intimate spaces like tents, cottages and hammocks. People enjoy things they can control, manage and keep safe.”
And with cottagecore, less is more manageable. “Folks are interested in baking bread and making things from scratch,” adds University of Minnesota anthropology professor Karen Ho. “In a sense, it’s an attempt to resist hyper-consumption. It could be thought about as the new ethics of consumption.”
You know what they say: When life gives you a pandemic, bake pie and fantasize about tending to your organic garden while donning a peasant dress. Until things get easier, at least.