When I first joined TikTok, I got bombarded with all sorts of strange, funny, and sometimes downright bizarre videos while the algorithm tried to figure out what I like and want to see on the app. After a while, I noticed that besides a strong tendency towards skin care content (go figure), I tended to be shown videos with peaceful, almost ethereal nature shots and people doing simple but aesthetically pleasing craftwork, either outdoors or in warmly-lit, earth-toned rooms filled with plants and cozy decorations. There was also an abundance of soothingly lit farmhouse kitchens overflowing with baked goods and women dressed in old-timey linen dresses cooking comfort foods with freshly harvested or foraged produce. These super relaxing, oddly addictive videos were also almost exclusively female-centric, and many had a slightly “witchy” vibe—think crystals, pentagrams, and tastefully decorated altars or moss-covered “fairy houses.”
When the hashtag #cottagecore frequently appeared under those videos, I started to get curious: What exactly was this strange, unearthly, and yet also addictively homey phenomenon that TikTok apparently felt was exactly what I needed?
Peaceful, almost ethereal nature shots and people doing simple but aesthetically pleasing craftwork: What was this addictively homey phenomenon that TikTok felt I needed?
What Is Cottagecore?
The “Cottagecore” aesthetic is actually quite a complicated beast, with a dizzying array of offshoots such as “Witchcore,” “Farmcore,” or “Grandmacore,” and varying explanations as to its origin. As a German, I am strongly reminded of the 19th century Romantic Movement, which started as a sort of counter-reaction to all sorts of intense political and cultural upheavals, a yearning for the splendors (and sometimes terrors) of the “sublime” found in the beauty of mountains, flowers, and stunning natural scenery.
Another often cited inspiration for cottagecore is Marie Antoinette and her faux rustic Hameau de la Reine at Versailles, “The Queen’s Hamlet,” a fake rural village that was built for the unhappy queen to let her live out fantasies of a simpler life, complete with “commoner” cottages, a watermill, and livestock such as sheep and chicken.
Cottagecore has existed for a few years now as a sort of underground lifestyle niche, but 2020 is undoubtedly the breakthrough year for this trend. With people worldwide trapped in tiny apartments and unable to travel anywhere, the aesthetics of a simple, idealized rural life are becoming more and more appealing. The release of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons right around the time many countries went into full or partial lockdown certainly played a part in this as well, as this cute farming simulation game is basically a virtual Cottagecore dream come true. Taylor Swift’s Folklore album cover also follows the same aesthetics of otherworldly, sublime escapism to nature, and it became the soundtrack of many a self-quarantine while kneading that first attempt at homemade bread dough.
People have also pointed out the connection to the LGBT movement, with Lesbian Cottagecore in particular a major sub-niche. No doubt about it, Cottagecore is predominantly an aesthetic made by women, for women, which celebrates the beauty of solitude, nature-based living, and being at peace with your body and nature.
Now, some critics point towards the artificiality of this sanitary version of true country living, and of course escapism is always in danger of turning into apathy—something we as a planet cannot afford in these dire times. However, I think that the glorification of nature and self-sustainability, of slow living and even slower food prep is in fact anything but apolitical or apathetic. Cottagecore is classic Gen Z: idealistic yet realistic, playful but with a clear tongue-in-cheek anti-capitalist message, a strong commitment to sustainability and minimalism.
Cottagecore is classic Gen Z: idealistic yet realistic, playful but with a clear tongue-in-cheek anti-capitalist message, a strong commitment to sustainability and minimalism.
So, get your flour and yeast out, warm up the oven, put on that linen vintage dress that’s been hanging in the back of your closet for too long, and explore these Cottagecore resources!
Terrace House, Netflix
This Japanese reality TV show has been a phenomenon for much longer than Cottagecore has existed, but to me, this is certainly a precursor to the trend. I would describe Terrace House as “Big Brother but without the drama.” The “Opening New Doors” series, set in the beautiful mountain town of Karuizawa, far away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, is especially a true soul-soother. Featuring a group of young hopefuls living communally in the style of The Real World, Terrace House is everything American reality TV isn’t: calm, slow, and with minimal drama despite being a show about blossoming relationships between strangers.
With its long, often almost entirely silent scenes of people cooking, eating, or simply sitting together, contemplating how to express their complicated emotions, this is slow TV at its finest, a balm in times of flashy content and over-the-top drama. And just like all good Japanese variety shows, Terrace House also features a panel of comedians watching the show alongside the viewers, giving their hilarious commentary on the drama-that-isn’t-really drama.
Li Ziqi is a Chinese Weibo and YouTube sensation that predates cottagecore by many years, yet she is basically the ultimate personification of the trend. This magical (and extremely business-savvy!) young woman lives in a remote village in Sichuan province with her grandmother and has dedicated her life’s work to promoting traditional Chinese crafts, arts, and foods to the world.
Her stunningly gorgeous videos feature tranquil scenes of village life in rural China and show her painstakingly creating something complex from simple raw materials, with the viewer seeing every tiny step of the long and arduous process. For instance, one of her most watched videos shows her creating Changbai Mountain ginseng honey by harvesting fresh honeycomb straight from the hive, without any protective gear, bees just merrily swirling around her. She is basically as close as it gets to a real-life Disney princess!
Fairyland Cottage, YouTube
The aptly named Fairyland Cottage is a charming view of rural life in County Wicklow, Ireland, and a great resource for anyone interested in a zero-waste, minimalist lifestyle. Niamh, the creative mind behind the YouTube channel and connected blog, gives useful cooking and crafting tips and offers city dwellers peaceful glimpses of what living in nature can look (and sound) like.
The eponymous cottage truly looks like it comes straight out of a fairytale, quirky and with a tasteful, comfy vintage décor. Niamh also shares a number of great DIY body care and cleaning product recipes, all of them vegan and eco-conscious.
A mix of DIY, witchcraft, and, at least for me, very welcomed cat content, Lillie really lives and breathes the Witchcore life. Her short video snippets are sometimes spooky, sometimes sweet, but always pleasing to weary eyes and worn-out minds. Whether it’s casting spells, cake baking, or simply showing glorious nature shots, the romantic witchy-vintage vibe of this channel is just perfect for cozy autumn afternoons.
Lillie also offers daily tarot card readings for her followers, which sometimes can get almost eerily accurate! For anyone curious about Witchcore and spell casting, this is a good place to start.
@lillies.apothecaryA little cottagecore thrift haul ✨ ##aesthetic ##cottagecore ##witchtok ##cottagecoreaesthetic ##HealthyHabits6Step♬ Exploration . Coraline – 🍀 Shawn 🍀
Nabela Noor is a beauty blogger and YouTuber who at first glance doesn’t necessarily fit the Cottagecore niche. However, her “pockets of peace” videos are beautifully relaxing snapshots of positivity and aesthetically pleasing coziness, which to me is exactly what Cottagecore is all about.
These short video summaries of all the positive moments of the day, described by Nabela as “moments of goodness,” are a wonderful little boost of happiness when your day is stressful, lonely, or difficult. I also adore the earthy, warm color palette of these videos, and the ASMR-style sounds from clinking cold brew coffee glasses or pots gently put on the stove, which mix with Nabela’s calm, warm voiceover narration.
@nabelasweet potato casserole is a holiday staple 💫💕 11.18.20 ##POPmas ##pocketsofpeace ##HolidaysOurWay ##holidaycountdown ##foodtiktok♬ Up Beat (Married Life) – Kenyi