When I was eighteen years old, I moved to London to go to university. It had been a strategic move on my part, as I knew it would expose me to all the opportunities and experiences that come with living in a major city. What I didn’t factor in was just how big a culture shock it would be to my system.
Growing up in rural Shropshire, I had lived a somewhat sheltered life where the buses stopped running at 5pm and the nearest high street shops and cinema were over thirty miles away. It took a while to get used to the constant noise of ambulance sirens going by and foxes screaming outside my window at 2am, as well as the blanket of anonymity that comes with living in the city.
For the last twelve years, I have straddled a duality in my identity - in who I perceive myself to be and how I choose to live my life. There is one side of myself who gets a kick out of seeing myself as some kind of city slicker, who thrives on accessibility and convenience, and who has become far too metropolitanised to be let back out into the wild. But as much as I may hate to admit it, I will always be a country girl at heart.
I blame my Nan for this. I spent a lot of my time as a child staying at my grandparents’ house which was basically located in the middle of nowhere, with no central heating, signal or internet. But it didn’t matter – my days were spent building dens in the woods, having picnics with my cousins, playing in the brook, dressing up in my Nan’s old clothes or reading books on the lawn.
The best part was always the food though. In Nan’s kitchen, there is always something baking or cooking in the Rayburn, whether it’s the smell of fresh bread and cakes wafting throughout the house or one of her notorious Sunday dinners. Even at 81 years old, she still makes her own jams and Damson gin from stuff she’s foraged from God knows where.
As I became older, my Nan’s house became more of a haven, a retreat to escape to on the weekends, away from everything that was going on at school and at home at the time. It still is to a degree – when my mental health is in the gutter, I find that returning to my roots and being out in nature leaves me feeling far more nourished and like my old self again. I think that’s why I love The Secret Garden so much – I can truly relate to the book’s theme of being revitalised by nature.
It was only once I discovered TikTok in 2020 that I was able to put a name to this sense of yearning I would experience to pack it all in and move out to a cottage deep in the woods. During this period, videos of a certain trend were making the rounds on the social media platform; that is, Cottagecore.
Cottagecore refers to a lifestyle or fashion aesthetic that romanticises Western agricultural living, particularly that of the English countryside, and embraces the idea of simple living, sustainability and being in harmony with nature. Picture images of frolicking in wildflower meadows, knitting by the fire, baking pies from foraged goods and a home full of vintage crockery, and you’ve pretty much got the idea.
The word ‘Cottagecore’ was first coined by the Tumblr community in 2017 as a type of subculture for Millenials and Generation Z, but it reached global recognition in 2019 once influencers began promoting the term on TikTok. Although the concept may sound like a new phenomenon, it actually has its roots in Romanticism and the Victorian period. The Romanticists idealised the past, nature and the senses and emotions, and the art movement was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution sweeping the nation at the time; akin to how Cottagecore is an antidote to late-stage capitalism and what is deemed as ‘Hustle Culture’.
The COVID-19 pandemic played a major role in the boom in Cottagecore’s recent popularity – being plunged into numerous lockdowns meant many of us were forced to stay at home and find pleasure in the simple things that were still permissible such as going out for a walk in the park, baking banana bread (remember when that was a thing?) and hobbies such as gardening or crafting. A lot of us also got a taste of how life could be without the daily office commute, regular access to shops, restaurants and entertainment, or all the things we take for granted when living in a town or a city.
Others turned to Cottagecore during the pandemic as a source of comfort during what was a highly stressful and uncertain time. The peacefulness and nostalgia that Cottagecore evokes was a welcome escape from the isolation of quarantining and the precariousness of a situation we knew very little about.
Megan Howlett started her TikTok account, ‘The Garden Cottage’ at the beginning of 2021, after moving to the South Downs with her fiancée just weeks before Covid hit UK shores. As a child, she had spent holidays with her grandparents in rural Wales, where she had learnt how to forage wild food and plants. During her daily lockdown walks, she decided to take up the practice once again.
"As soon as I realised how much peace and joy I was getting out of living more naturally, I started doing it more and more," she says.
She turned to TikTok for inspiration on what to forage but couldn’t find any UK-based creators. She decided to post a video titled, 'What to forage in January' which quickly amassed over 60,000 views and she soon realised that there was an audience out there who also wanted to learn about foraging. She now has nearly 200,000 followers and has a built-up a community of viewers who turn to her videos for advice on how to identify and use wild plants.
Howlett credits social media platforms such as TikTok with this current resurgence in simple living. "It's a way of going back to basics with modern knowledge and technology but using all the things that you find in nature," she explains.
Of course, like anything, Cottagecore has its detractors. It is often criticised for its depiction of an idyllic rural life without acknowledging the realities that come with maintaining that lifestyle – it ignores the gruelling labour that farming involves as well as the problems associated with living out in the country such as a lack of roads, internet and facilities, as well as frequent flooding. It is also slated for predominantly portraying images of Eurocentric farming life and slim white women, but Cottagecore is increasingly being embraced by marginalised communities such as LGBTQ+ and nonbinary people. This is because the movement offers an idealised world in which they are free to reject heteronormative gender roles and to openly express themselves safely, in contrast to the homophobia, transphobia and discrimination that they may face in some conservative rural areas.
As much as we may want to sometimes, it would be inconceivable to completely turn our backs on civilisation. The great news is you don’t have to. Cottagecore is an ideal, a means of aspiring to live a simpler, more bucolic existence, and to savour the best of both modern and pastoral life.
Read on to discover how you can incorporate a touch of good country living with your urban existence.
Add some whimsy to your wardrobe
First and foremost, Cottagecore is an aesthetic, and this is reflected in the quaint hyper-feminine fashion associated with it. Think Jane Austen meets your grandma’s closet meets Laura Ashley and you’re pretty much there. The style is all about full skirts, floaty prairie dresses, and Edwardian blouses in soft pastels, adorned with plenty of tulle, ruffles, and lace. The clothes are usually purchased second-hand and are often made from natural fabrics such as cotton and wool.
Here are the key pieces you should be looking for the next time you’re thrifting to add to your Cottagecore collection:
Clothing in naturally occurring or faded colours, including brown, baby pink, olive green, ivory, maroon, beige, ochre, dusty rose pink, light yellow, and baby blue.
Patterned clothing (e.g. stripes, paisley, faded floral, and gingham)
Embroidered detailing (e.g. plants, animals, and insects)
Floral Calico Printed Dresses
Long, loose-fitting clothing
Laced corsets and bodices
Housework wear and aprons from the 1900s-50s.
Straw and raffia accessories (e.g. French basket bags)
Dresses with milkmaid necklines
Dresses with puff sleeves
Shabby chic your space
Just like the fashion, the décor of a Cottagecore home should reflect a cosy and carefree style, reminiscent of another time. Picture farmhouse-style fittings and linens, display cabinets full of vintage tea sets and worn furniture covered in vases and trinkets scavenged from the local charity shop. Although most of us may not be able to buy our very own cottage, we can still cultivate the same warm comforting ambience in the space that we do have available, even if it’s just our bedroom.
Here are a few touches you can add to your lodging to give it rustic feel:
Decorate with common Cottagecore motifs (e.g. strawberries, mushrooms and flowers)
Furnish your home with natural materials (e.g. wood, straw, stone, cotton)
Emulate Grandma and adorn your space with doily cloths, decorative figurines, quilts, heirlooms and ceramics.
Aim for a cluttered and mismatched look rather than perfection
Buy vintage, antique or second-hand furniture
Scour flea markets and car boot sales for unique adornments and homeware pieces that give off an old-fashioned vibe (e.g. drawer knobs, brass kettle)
Stick to a colour palette of light, breezy pastels and earth tones
Reconnect with nature
Living in the city often means dealing with a lack of garden space or very little chance to lose ourselves in a forest landscape, but that doesn’t mean that we city dwellers can’t stay in touch with our surroundings.
As Howlett explains, "You can find pieces of Cottagecore and foraging lifestyle everywhere, even if it's just bringing in a plant into your home and tending to it or a little herb garden on your windowsill. It's little pieces of nature that bring you peace and joy rather than having to aspire to a cottage in the woods."
Here are a few tips on how you can bring yourself closer to Mother Nature:
Bring the Garden Inside. Decorate your home with indoor house plants and succulents, freshly picked flowers, or start a herb garden in your kitchen window.
If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor space, cultivate a variety of flora that attracts insects and promotes biodiversity. Typical flowers associated with the Cottagecore aesthetic include roses, peonies, hollyhocks, and daffodils.
Grow your own food. This could be anything from a mini vegetable planter in the windowsill to planting leftover seeds in a designated garden bed. Some of the easiest produce to grow for beginners include tomatoes, beans, salad leaves, beetroot, peas, radishes, chillies, potatoes, and strawberries.
Try to get outdoors for at least twenty minutes per day, particularly in the late morning or midday when sun exposure is at its optimum for Vitamin D production.
Volunteer for local community projects such as helping to maintain an urban garden, litter picking or lending a hand at a city farm.
Learn how to forage. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to live in the countryside to find wild food or produce. "I say to people who say they can't forage because they live in a town, let me show you," says Howlett. "Look in the local park, look at this grass verge; there's twelve things growing here that you can eat. It's surprising how if you look for it, you can find things everywhere."
Embrace the seasons and what each one brings, whether it’s visiting a PYO fruit farm, taking a brisk walk amongst the autumn foliage or making a winter wreath from pinecones and evergreen leaves that you’ve found in the park.
Enjoy the Earth’s rich bounty
Finding joy in food is an important element of the Cottagecore lifestyle, not only in the eating but also in its preparation.
"I have an onion allergy which is a nightmare, but it means I really enjoy baking and cooking things from scratch because I have to do it," Howlett explains. "It's peaceful and meditative to sit and bake cakes and bread. It is a really lovely way of taking time for yourself and putting yourself into your food."
Here are some tips on how to bring some rustic flavour to your tastebuds:
Fill your kitchen shelves with classic comfort foods such as loaves of bread, fruit pies, jars of honey and Victoria sponges.
Try your hand at making homemade jams and preserves from the fruit you have picked.
Buy locally sourced food from farmers' markets and artisan vendors.
Cook hearty homemade meals from scratch when you can.
Eat seasonally. Make the most of the fresh produce that each season brings with it (e.g. strawberries in the summer and pumpkins and squashes in the autumn)
Become more self-sufficient
If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t always rely on supply chains or other people’s services to get things done around the home. The subsequent lockdowns that followed forced us to adopt a make-do-and-mend attitude, reminiscent of that taken up by previous generations during WWII. Learning traditional skills such as upcycling, sewing, gardening, DIY or growing your own produce can give you a real sense of accomplishment and pride.
"There is quite a boom for learning how to not rely heavily on capitalist means," says Howlett. "With all the uncertainty going on, it's a little bit of stability in which you can find a tiny drop of peace."
Embrace slow living
Living in the city means we too often acquire the very worst in capitalist values: living on a constant treadmill, taking pride in overworking and burning ourselves out, neglecting our relationships and hobbies and overexposing ourselves to technology and electronic gadgets. Material success, career advancement and status often take precedent, and any downtime that we do have is spent catching up on sleep or watching Netflix. Slowing our hectic lives down by blocking out regular digital detoxes and substantial leisure time in our busy diaries means that we can consciously focus on more positive values including our mental wellbeing, fulfilment, and happiness.
Why not try your hand at one of these Cottagecore-inspired activities during your free time?
Weaving Flower Crowns
Writing a handwritten letter or poem
Going for a picnic
Building a birdhouse
Painting a scenic picture
Swimming in freshwater (e.g. a river or a lake)
If all else fails, turn to some classic Cottagecore entertainment for some inspiration:
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Books by Beatrix Potter
Winnie the Pooh (1924-present)
Little House on The Prairie (1974-1983)
When Calls the Heart (2014-present)
Anne with an E (2017-2019)
Downton Abbey (2010-2015)
The Great British Bake Off (2010- present)
The Great British Sewing Bee (2013-present)
Programmes with Kirstie Allsopp (e.g. Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas series)
FairyTale: A True Story (1997)
Goodnight Mr Tom (1998)
The Railway Children (1970)
The Secret Garden (1993)
The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971)
This Beautiful Fantastic (2016)
Tuck Everlasting (2002)
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
The Hobbit (2012)
The Folklore and Evermore albums by Taylor Swift
Simon & Garfunkel
Pre-created playlists on Spotify of cottagecore music, soft music or folk music
Will you be focusing on more cottagecore aesthetic in your life? Let us know in the comments!