'Coastal Grandmother' Is the Style Comforting TikTok
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'Coastal Grandmother' Is the Style Comforting TikTok

Picture yourself in Montauk, sitting in an adirondack chair outside of your seaside cottage. It’s a little chilly today, on the cusp between fall and winter, so you’ve swaddled yourself in a chunky knit blanket, with chardonnay in one hand and an Elizabeth Gilbert novel in the other. Except when you open your eyes, you’re not actually looking at white-capped waves, wearing an Eileen Fisher seafoam pants or even holding a wine glass. It was all a fantasy, one in which you have a view of a lighthouse and a collection of floral porcelain cups. A dream where you are finally able to call yourself a bonafide "Coastal Grandmother."

Back in January, TikToker Lex Nicoleta started making videos about the "Coastal Grandmother" aesthetic. However, the term ended up going viral in late March after the 26-year-old posted a video outlining the lifestyle, which is for people who love "coastal vibes, recipes and cooking, Ina Garten, cozy interiors and more." Basically, think breezy linens, secret ingredients for the family apple pie, sunhats, Williams Sonoma cookware, and lots and lots of wicker.

Since then, the label has spread like wildfire, garnering millions of posts and co-signs from celebrities like Anne Hathaway. It’s even gotten the seal of approval from Something’s Gotta Give actress Diane Keaton and the film’s director Nancy Meyers, which is a big deal considering the 2003 rom-com is the main inspiration behind the "Coastal Grandmother" lifestyle.

At least that’s the case for Nicoleta, who said she’s been describing herself as a "Coastal Grandmother" for quite some time now. But contrary to what the word "grandmother" implies, Nicoleta said it’s not necessarily about being a retired older woman on the beach. Rather, it’s more about "focusing on slowing down and enjoying the things in your life," which she said could be a reaction to the realization that everything pre-pandemic was "so fast-paced" that "life was flying by."

"Whereas 'Coastal Grandmother' is really about taking little moments for yourself," Nicoleta said, before adding that it’s all about "relishing" the experiences you already have and doing "little things that make your day feel more elevated," such as "trying a new syrup in your coffee."

The trend also speaks to that type of “cozy, familiar feeling” you get "when you’re visiting a relative at the beach," she continued, "So you can bring elements of this aspirational lifestyle into your own life."

Echoing this is 23-year-old Carly Van Dyke, who recently went viral for posting a TikTok about the difference between "Coastal Grandmother” and "Coastal Granddaughter," which she described as an "untucked version” of the former, geared towards a younger person who wants to put their own stamp on the style.

In her case, this meant combining the "clean, cool girl aesthetic" with some "Coastal Grandmother" elements, mostly inspired by her "own coastal grandmother."

“I feel like most of my life I’ve observed that type of style, and really loved it and made it my own,” Van Dyke said. “So I saw [‘Coastal Grandmother’] on TikTok and was like, ‘Oh, like, I feel like I understand this. I relate to this.’”

And it’s anecdotes like this that prove the "nostalgia effect is real," according to Dr. Lorynn Divita, an associate professor of apparel merchandising at Baylor University.

"It taps into all those happy memories with our own grandmothers, other people's grandmothers or just the older, nurturing women we've known," she said. "We all have these warm, happy memories of our childhood with our grandma, who made us feel so safe and comfortable."

Even so, Dr. Divita awent on to say that "Coastal Grandmother” is more of a stylistic "evolution" than it is a "revolution." After all, it shares a lot of the same elements of hygge, or the Scandinavian word for a mood of coziness, contentment, connection and comfort, which peaked in the US around 2016. The only thing is that hygge is harder to market to Americans, but "if you say ‘Coastal Grandmother’ to an American... they know what it is."

"So 'Coastal Grandmother' is perfect [as a term that conveys] being cozy, comforting and comfortable, and we just all understand that,” Dr. Divita said, "Because in a chaotic world, what could be more comforting than a grandmother?"

However, she did acknowledge that “Coastal Grandmother” does carry some less savory connotations as a lifestyle most closely associated with East Coast WASPs, with big enough retirement funds to afford a beach home.

“And we are not in exclusionary times right now,” Dr. Divita said, before noting that the "Coastal Grandmother" concept "isn’t intersectional at this point." Meaning that it’ll have to broaden its appeal in order to go from a niche "fad" to an actual "trend" with widespread appeal to all racial and socioeconomic groups, she said.

From Nicoleta’s viewpoint though, the "Coastal Grandmother" lifestyle is extremely accessible. It’s something "every single person is welcome to enjoy,” she said, especially as an "aspirational" ideal that’s all about stopping to smell the prize-winning roses.

"I don't think you have to be in a certain tax bracket to enjoy this life, because, like I said before, it’s really about focusing on enjoying what you do have," she said. "So I think you can be any race, any gender and any income."

Nicoleta added, "Do you have to be a grandmother? Do you have to live by the coast? No. It's really just embodying [it and doing] these little things throughout your day to kind of create that life."

As for Van Dyke, she explained that it’s more a reflection of her personal taste, though she’s definitely thought about the issue and understands why the concept "can seem elitist." But she also thinks it’s important to do thrift hauls "to show that this style can be accessible to everyone," before adding that Nicoleta and other "Coastal" lifestyle adherents have also "made it clear that it’s not just for old women and people who have a lot of money." And this interests Dr. Divita in the sense that "young people haven’t wanted to look like old people since the 1960s."

"I'm wondering if these young women are like, ‘Hey, these women have it all figured out,’” she said, with Van Dyke corroborating this by saying, "I think a lot of people love it, because it's about a woman who has her life together and is independent, but also chooses this quiet, comfortable life by the sea."

She added, "I think the idea of that kind of life is what’s really attracted people."

Welcome to "Internet Explorer," a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter's finest roasts, "Internet Explorer" is here to keep you up-to-date with the web's current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via Instagram/@lex_nicoleta