When I first learned about #cottagecore, I was a little angry. Every generation of teens has experimented with twee farmhouse aesthetics — does Gen Z really think it invented teacups and toadstools and moss balls? Didn't we see all of this on Tumblr five years ago?
But the more you delve into the hashtag — especially on TikTok, where frilled dresses and picnic baskets have become inescapable in recent months — the more you realize this is something new. Cottagecore may be fueled by a bizarre, somewhat fantastical nostalgia for pastoral life, but the 21st century never feels too far away. Flower pressing tutorials are filmed on iPhones, crops are tended to on Animal Crossing and facial features are rendered more elf-like using augmented reality apps. The politics of cottagecore are thoughtfully prelapsarian: what if we could go back to a time before the planet was ravaged by industry, except with added protections for marginalized queer communities? What if we all lived like tradwives, minus the husbands?
Below, we asked five popular cottagecore TikTokers to delve deeper into the trend.
Sumaiyah, 20, North Carolina
How did you get into cottagecore?
Well honestly, I just learned that there was like, a name for this subculture. I had no idea that this was a thing and personally, I use the name because I know that's what other people identify it as. But for me, I just like the idea of romanticizing the little things in life, kind of simplifying everything. Finding the sweet moments like baking, cooking, just the traditional way of living that a lot of us kind of miss out on as we grow up in modern times.
I grew up with my mom watching Little House on the Prairie all the time. Like, all the time. So I think that kind of had an influence on it, because I remember not really caring for the show, but I think it kind of programmed into my brain now that I wanna wear like, linen dresses and sit in a field of flowers, I guess. I enjoy being really feminine and enjoying those really feminine things about life. Anyone can enjoy it, but I think that the rules for women, we grew up thinking we needed to be wearing pretty dresses and wearing pink because it was cool to be a tomboy. That's how I was, I would go to school and people would be like "What's your favorite color?" and I would be like "uh... blue?"
It does seem like mainly women are taking up the trend, but theoretically anyone can participate.
Yes. Also, you know, I am a Muslim woman and I'm also Black, so I noticed there's not a lot of Black or Muslim women who are in this subculture. So I kind of wanted to show that, you know, being a hijabi woman of color can also be delicate and feminine.
Have you found that the community has been receptive to that?
It has been really nice, people have written nice comments. It's my choice to wear a hijab, but I do see women, specifically white girls you know, with long, flowy hair, doing those braided crowns. Like those really pretty hairstyles, and they look like full-on princesses. And I'm always like, "Uh, I wish I could do that!" So I was like, let me just make my own little head wrap style. So that other people who don't show their hair could still feel that princess-y, Disney princess vibe.
You originally started your account to showcase your painting and art.
I am a painter, and I make jewelry as well. I paint a lot of floral things, a lot of fairies. That's one of my most popular things, my fairy of color that I started painting when I was 17. It's just kind of my take on, you know, being able to represent women of color in a more fairytale way.
Fairy books in general, I used to read a lot of. And you know, all of the fairies were white. I just never saw representation, and so now that's what I paint. I just paint a lot of women of color as fairies. When I first began painting them when I was 17, I would see a lot of Black women being painted, but they were always painted in a specific way. They always had big hips, small waist, big hair. And it was always same skin tone, and it was always sexualized in a way. So I kind of wanted to bring a way to view Black women other than that. We don't always have to be fierce and, you know, all of that. We can be delicate and dainty and soft and gentle and kind and soft-spoken, like we can be seen like that.
Do you live in a rural area?
So, I live in a small city in North Carolina. If I could describe it, it's like the "soccer moms who go to TJ Maxx"-kind of area. So we have like, a lot of parks. North Carolina has a lot of parks, a lot of country area where you see a bunch of horses and cows and goats and whatnot. But it's crazy how at the moment, if you want to live the simple life, you kind of have to be very, very financially free. I live in a little apartment and I kind of just recreate the feeling that I want to feel one day on my patio. I garden very often, I bake in my kitchen very often, I spend a lot of time with my cat. I try to kind of recreate that feeling, but I would love to one day live in a cottage. I mean, you could ask anyone in my family, they will probably tell you that they are tired of me talking about the cottage, living in a small little cottage.
Noella, 17, Pennsylvania
What drew you to cottagecore?
I actually have grown up living in the middle of the woods and living a nature-centered life. As I grew up I really struggled with my identity and finding a group to fit in. I bounced around from subculture to subculture when I was in school. When I was 15 I ended up leaving public education and switched to a home-based education instead. That was about when I started to be my fullest self and delved into my interest in a traditional and natural self-sustaining lifestyle, and it brought me a lot of joy. After that I found the cottage core community and realized how well it fit with my style, I've just gone from there. I think that the community and appreciation for the little things in life is what really appeals to me. People just caring about flowers, trees and baking pies, and the simplicity of the lifestyle. It's really calming compared to how chaotic life can be.
How did you learn some of those more traditional skills like flower pressing?
I've been pressing flowers since I was a child actually — my mother taught me a lot of traditional and older skills like bread making and flower pressing so I grew up thinking it was a common practice. Anything I wasn't taught first hand I found in books or researched on the internet.
You have a '70s-influenced hippie aesthetic — bandanas, sunglasses alongside more traditional cottagecore clothes. Can you explain your style a bit more?
The hippie movement had a lot of great views and I've always been very passionate about it and that period in history a lot of the style went against the norms of the time and was extremely beautiful too. I don't try to fully immerse myself with one aesthetic, and enjoy bringing my different interests together. Cottage core is really about mixing traditional lifestyle with modern views. Mixing in my other style interests is a nice touch to the way I dress and it just makes me happy. Really dressing in ways that make you happy and comfortable with yourself should always be a main goal.
Is cottagecore about nostalgia to you? Why do you think so many teenagers are feeling nostalgic for farming traditions?
I think it's because of how chaotic and complicated the world can be now. Looking at the community you can see it's dominated by a lot of LGBTQ people and people whose lives aren't fully accepted. I think it can totally be a form of escapism but it's also because a lot of teenagers are realizing that life doesn't need to be so complex and that a simple farm and self-sustaining lifestyle would be good for not only themselves but the planet as well.
If you could go back in time, would you?
As much as I would love to be a simple bread maker in the 1700s I would definitely not go back in time. The lifestyle is beautiful but the times also had a lot of problems and discrimination that I would never want to be a part of. A lot of the cottagecore community can get lumped in with the tradlife/tradwife community because of this. We want to bring back the simple life of making jellies and living in the country but don't want to go back to the times of bigotry like racism, classism, or sexism that people have worked so hard to get us out of.
I noticed you mention grandmas a few times in your videos. Are you in touch with your own grandma and getting cottagecore tips from her?
Yes of course, she taught me a lot about baking and gardening that I wasn't taught by my mother. I was also given access to older recipe books and journals of older family members like my great grandmother and aunts. Those really piqued my interest in learning about foraging and baking from nature.
How can beginners get into cottagecore?
There's lots of ways to begin, just find a part of the community that interests you, baking, crafting, farming, botany, or sewing and the style. Find your niche in the community and build up from there, doing and learning the things that make you happy.
Lillie, 21, Oregon
When did you first start identifying with cottagecore?
So I've always been interested in baking and the vintage aesthetic, but I lived in the city of Portland up until recently. Earlier this year I moved to my grandmother's farm property in rural Oregon to be closer to my family, and started to play around with filming little pieces of nature and me baking. I've always loved to bake and create recipes and I thought it would be fun to just film them for myself. Then I saw that on TikTok there's a really lovely community of people who enjoy the same things I do, so I posted my videos there. I would say that I'm very new to the actual aesthetic and culture of cottagecore, and I just recently really started to identify with it and explore it.
I'm also really fortunate to be living in a home that my great grandmother used to live in! She has passed away now, but all of her vintage pans, dishes and tea sets are all here and they have been a huge source of inspiration for me as well.
There are a lot of spells and witchcraft on your account. How does that intersect with cottagecore?
I've always practiced light witchcraft for myself personally, and when I first started exploring TikTok I saw that others were doing the same. I thought it would be fun to share some of my personal rituals with others. I found that a lot of folks who participate in the cottagecore culture also like witchy things, so they seemed to go hand in hand. Obviously not every cottagecore account posts witchcraft, but it's a big part of who I am so I wanted to include it.
Some of the videos on your channel, like the POV ones, have an ASMR-like quality.
I feel like at the beginning that wasn't my intention, but now it's something I try and create. When comments started rolling in a lot of people were saying "this is so relaxing" or "I needed this right now" so it's become a new goal of mine to create calming content.
What tips do you have for anyone wanting to enter the world of cottagecore themselves?
You don't need a whole farm and a thousand dollars worth of vintage dishes to do it. You can be cottagecore in an apartment in the middle of a city. It's different for everyone, but I would advise just finding the aspects of it that you love and implementing that into your life. Learn how to bake from scratch, start a little herb garden in your kitchen, or learn a cute new hobby. That's the best way to start.
Can you recommend a spell for anxious PAPER readers during these trying times?
Yeah! Get a little jar and fill it with chamomile, lavender, cinnamon and sage. I would also add thyme because it means courage and bravery which everyone needs a little of that right now. Mix it up in a jar and breathe a little of it in whenever you feel anxious or stressed.
Rachel, 19, California
What's your cottagecore journey?
I've always had sort of a "fairy" aesthetic and loved to put on fun clothes and makeup and run in the grass just because it made me feel like a fairy. But I started seeing the tag on Instagram first I think because I have a really big love for animals. Especially animals that live in the trash, so raccoons, possums, rats (I have two rats named Teacup and Saucer), or whatever. Looking at these pictures started leading me down this wormhole of farm animals to snails to frogs which somehow are like the animal mascots of cottagecore. I also fell in love with the beautiful scenery and aesthetics of my pictures because they reminded me of paintings and the art I make.
Do you live in a rural, cottagecore-esque area?
I try my best to find places I can make my cottagecore world. I've been going to Rancho Santa Fe a lot recently where a lot of rich people have beautiful orchards and fields, or there are empty lots of just meadows. So... sometimes trespassing.
How do you personally define "cottagecore"?
I define it as an aesthetic as well as a lifestyle. It's like an escape to another time or a fantasy world where things aren't as complicated, and it's just you and the bugs and the breeze and your pretty dress. It's a way to find new friends, find new things to cook, new crafts and new looks. It's ultimately the dream of running away to a cottage and having a garden. I also think Miss Honey from Matilda is absolutely the mother of cottagecore.
Speaking of gay icons, your account handle is "faythegayy" — what's the relationship between queerness and cottagecore?
Well I am a femme lesbian and a lot of the times for femme lesbians or bi women we don't get seen as queer unless we look it, say it, or wear it. Even though my name is faythegayy and I have the rainbow flag in my bio, countless men harass me on my live, come in my comments or dms, anything. They're blind to it if I look feminine enough. But this cottagecore culture has somehow become a staple of lesbian culture. Also frogs, we have somehow claimed the entirety of frogs as gay. But it's a signal to other queer people and I think it's obviously not only for queer people, it's for people who want to live in a painting, who want to be in touch and appreciate nature. It crosses off gender and everything — if you want to live in a cottage, you're in.
You've helped popularize a unique cottagecore beauty trend where you put blush on your nose. Can you explain the concept behind that?
Absolutely. I did it once and I never stopped. I think it played into the fantasy more — where I'm not even real, I'm a fairy or a cartoon. I think it's definitely more on the fairy side. As my account grows I start to get more hate, one of the things I get hate about is my blushed nose, that I look like a clown or it doesn't go there. But who said that? I hate my nose and I always did and I never felt it was an attractive part of my face, but it makes it that way! I do what I want. There's no reason flowers shouldn't be on my face, my nose shouldn't be pink, I should have glitter everywhere or no makeup at all! Anything goes!
Do you go about everyday life in full cottagecore dress, or mainly on social media?
I actually hate not being dressed up. Being in leggings just... triggers my depression. I don't necessarily wear a full gown everywhere but absolutely I think my entire closet has some fairy/cottage influence so it never really stops. I've definitely been getting more into actually frolicking in fields during quarantine because nobody is around to stop me and what else do I have to do? I have to be careful because I have a disability, though I'm working on getting a service dog. I am prone to fainting for extended periods of time and have chronic pain and joint problems. So going out alone can be dangerous, especially right now. So I should probably stay home, but it doesn't stop me from dressing like I do.
What tips do you have for anyone wanting to enter the world of cottagecore themselves?
There's so many different things to do depending on what you like! If you love arts and crafts, try taking up knitting, sewing, embroidery, or painting outside! It's a wonderful way to personalize or make your own clothes or get creative! Take walks! It's good for you and you can start to notice the little things, go looking for little critters! I only see a few types of mushrooms where I live but you can go mushroom hunting or collect flowers to dry for later crafts. Try baking, for you and or your family. Dress up! However you want and take pictures outside in the sunlight, it'll make you feel better. Lastly, just browse photos online for inspiration if you can't find your own, there's plenty to do. You can also watch movies like Sense and Sensibility and that's a perfect way to get in the mindset.
Jess, 25, Florida
When did you first start identifying with cottagecore?
I had used Instagram for years to post little snapshots of the things that make me happy. When I found it difficult to fully express myself and connect with others on the photo-oriented platform, I began posting lifestyle videos on YouTube about my interests such as plants, cooking, thrifting, and crafting. When I came across the term cottagecore on TikTok, I identified with it immediately because I had already been incorporating elements of the aesthetic into my daily life for years without realizing it.
How do you define "cottagecore"?
To me, cottagecore evokes a more general notion about simple living, being in touch with nature, and making do with what one has, rather than a picture-perfect image of an idyllic countryside pasture. I think that it's about making the most out of your own unique situation and appreciating the little things that bring joy to your life.
How do you create your cottagecore aesthetic? I noticed you use a lot of cool filters and specific music.
I really like warm colors because they are cozy and welcoming. I like relaxing songs that help viewers feel at ease, instead of distracting songs that could take away from the visuals.
Do you live in a rural area?
Nope! I live in a small suburb of Orlando near the University of Central Florida.
Is it possible to be cottagecore in the city?
Of course! I think one of the allures of cottagecore is that it encompasses such a wide variety of simple and affordable activities and interests. Whether it's tending an herb garden on your windowsill, baking a loaf of bread, knitting a hat for your friend, or birdwatching, there's something in it for eveyone.
Are you cottagecore full time, or mainly on social media?
I would definitely say that I'm cottagecore full time. I enjoy making my own bread on a weekly basis and spend most of my free time gardening or cooking. The snippets I post on social media are part of my every day life and I really enjoy having others feel like they are right there with me.
You're a big animal crossing fan — do you see parallels between the game and cottagecore?
In many ways cottagecore seems nostalgic for a pre-tech time, but it's interesting how platforms like Twitch and Nintendo seem really compatible with it.
I think a lot of people are currently self-quarantined at home and really crave the escape that animal crossing offers. You can fish, catch bugs, and craft your own perfect home and island filled with adorable animal neighbors. It's the perfect escape for an imperfect world!
I noticed you did a video in Trader Joe's — is Trader Joe's the most cottagecore supermarket?
I was just sharing what I was doing that day, which happened to be grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. If had had to pick, I'd say that the most cottagecore place to grocery shop would be at your local farmer's market.
Where do you see the cottagecore trend going from here?I've seen a lot of people inspired to bake bread for the first time and it warms my heart. I get messages from people daily who have decided to try baking for the first time, or that they started an herb garden with their mother. I truly hope that it has lasting impacts on people rather than being a short-lived fashion trend.
Photos via TikTok