Cottagecore: How to Get the Stand-Out Aesthetic of 2020
By Julia Wohlers, Brand of People Magazine
The tumult and chaos of the past months have many of us yearning for simpler times. From a pandemic to a recession to the U.S. presidential election, 2020 will go down in the books as a demanding year; it’s no wonder that an entire aesthetic sub-culture has risen to the occasion to help us find tranquility in the midst of it all. Enter: cottagecore, a dreamy genre whose soft, nostalgia-inspired vignettes are overtaking social media and fashion editorials.
The cottagecore hashtag jumped over 150% on Tumblr alone from March to April, as popularity surged for its bucolic imagery that offers a comforting, tranquil refuge from the mayhem of the day. Even six months later, this 2020 fashion trend is still the Internet’s hottest rage, spilling over onto the glossy pages of Vogue and showing accelerated growth as we head into the winter season. The good news is there’s still plenty of time to jump on the bandwagon!
What is cottagecore?
If the very name of the trend has you conjuring images of rustic country cottages and vast meadows of wildflowers, you’re not wrong. Inspired by serene and uncomplicated moments, cottagecore is a fashion and lifestyle movement that celebrates a romanticized, idyllic interpretation of rural life. Rather than limiting itself to a strictly defined set of rules, cottagecore encompasses a broad approach to aesthetics, one where vintage vibes receive a reboot and the natural landscape is a central character.
The rise of the trend is further proof that fashion, whimsical though it may be on the runway, always finds its perfect catalyst in practical reality and current events: quarantine and isolation measures sent style mavens reaching for pretty and comfortable pieces reminiscent of brighter, freer days. Lockdowns forcing the entire population to remain on their own “homesteads” prompted many people to turn to safe, productive crafts and pastimes such as gardening or baking bread, knitting and reading. How could we not feel like Laura Ingalls?
Little House on the Prairie and the popular prairie revival aren’t the only sources of inspiration feeding into the cottagecore look. Muses include the protagonists of beloved literary classics like Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Sarah, Plain and Tall and even Beatrix Potter. A cottagecore moodboard might also include expressive elements such as pressed flowers, a postcard from an English country cottage, swatches for a homemade quilt, and heirloom crochet doilies. The movement taps into modern wistfulness for a more rural lifestyle, unspoiled nature, and the satisfaction of accomplishing manual tasks (admittedly difficult to achieve from behind a Zoom screen).
In a sense, the individual elements of cottagecore are not new, but never before have they been combined with such gusto across fashion, accessories, décor, and even daily activities and hobbies to create a comprehensive form with a contemporary twist. For those open to updating their wardrobe, cottagecore fashion is timeless and accessible. So if you’re ready to start exuding country-girl charm, let’s turn up the nostalgia and get the look!
Here’s how to get the cottagecore look
You don’t have to be an avid needlepoint hobbyist or the proud owner of a collection of antique porcelain teacups to join the movement; all it takes is a few cottagecore aesthetic essentials to get the stand-out look of 2020 and beyond. Here is an overview of the fundamentals characterizing the trend:
The cottagecore color palette consists mostly of muted and organic tones. Faded greens and yellows as well as warm whites and creams tend to define the look alongside darker earth tones. Hues obtained from natural dyes are also popular.
Vintage-style prints are central to the cottagecore charm. Think check prints, plaids, gingham, seersucker, patchwork, and a vast plethora of romantic floral motifs across all items of apparel. (Home décor hint: the same prints can be used for wallpaper, bedding, kitchenware, furniture, upholstery, and just about anywhere you want to highlight cottagecore in your household.)
Given its pastoral roots, farm themes – with modern structure and styling – play a central role in cottagecore. Milkmaid necklines, smocked tops and apron dresses have successfully transitioned from agricultural uniform to style statement, whilst overalls and comfy fisherman pullovers occupy the more pragmatic end of the spectrum.
Folklore imagery is strong across this aesthetic, with gusty pieces occupying a crucial place in the assemblage. The airy white summer dress is a seasonal cottagecore 2020 staple that we’ll surely be seeing less of in the cooler months, but there are still plenty of loose silhouette pieces to turn to, such as billowy blouses, versatile maxi dresses, roomy babydoll dresses and tiered ruffle skirts.
Cottagecore is not an opulent aesthetic. Nevertheless, sweet and feminine symmetrical details bring a sense of frontier luxury to the ensemble: ruffles, eyelet, puffy sleeves, lace insets, crochet details, intricate embroidery, ruffles, lace-ups and pretty bow appliqués all find their place within the look.
As a rule of thumb, if you’d take it on a picnic or wear it to an apple orchard, it’s probably cottagecore. Wicker baskets and straw bags are often part of the look (bonus points if the lining features one of the defining prints listed above), while patterned scrunchies, berets, brimmed hats and quaint handkerchief headbands serve a practical purpose without sacrificing style.
Cottagecore hearkens back to an era when women made most of their own clothes by hand, and the trend’s focus on the natural world means organic textures and fabrics like natural linen, tartan wool, hemp fiber textiles, soft cotton and chunky knitwear tend to dominate.
The cottagecore movement may not originate on the high street, and perhaps unintentionally came to represent a way to survive quarantine’s isolation with taste. But the safety and warmth of the aesthetic make it an inviting space during uncertain times, and brands spanning a range of price points are paying attention, offering their own take on the stand-out aesthetic of 2020. There’s plenty to choose from, and plenty to love. In the immortal words of Anne Shirley, “It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.”
Julia Wohlers is a writer and visual designer obsessed with culture, travel and fashion editorial. She created Brand of People Magazine as a space to inspire creatives, entrepreneurs and culture-makers using their gifts to pursue beauty. Originally from Washington, D.C., Julia grew up all over the world, but she particularly loves Milan, where her son was born, and the Balkans, where life is uniquely authentic. You can find her on Instagram at @juliawohlers_ or follow the magazine at @brandofpeoplemag.