The off-grid-but-make-it-cute trend began in 2018, grew on Tumblr, and blossomed like a daisy flower crown on TikTok this year. The cottagecore hashtag has garnered more than 3.9 billion views (and counting) on TikTok and there has been a 541 per cent increase in likes of cottagecore content on Tumblr since the beginning of COVID. But it really hit the mainstream in late July when Taylor Swift dropped her folklore album, which saw her frolicking in the woods cosy in an oversized knit and au naturel curly fringe. Overnight, she was crowned the “Cottagecore Queen”. Always up for a challenge, I decided to have a crack at the title.
Away from the ring lights of TikTok, I set out to discover the true meaning of cottagecore. Spoiler alert: the reality involves more bird shit, dirt and frustrated swearing at knitting needles than social media would have you believe. I asked cottagecore pioneer Jesca Her, who has more than 250,000 followers and four million likes on TikTok, to explain the trend to me in layman’s terms and she defined it as: “Living peacefully, taking things slow and curating a cosy space of your own where you can relax, drink a cup of tea, knit yourself some socks and bake your own bread.”
While Her was an early adopter, she has witnessed the trend explode this year. “Cottagecore has taken off - there seems to be an increasing appreciation in living a slower lifestyle, growing your own herbs, learning to knit and embroider and keeping a sourdough starter.”
Fellow cottagecore-er Rebecca – better known as @aclotheshorse on TikTok, where she has 370,000 followers – draws parallels between the rise of the movement and the current state of the world. “It makes sense that cottagecore is growing right now because so many of us have been forced to slow down. We can’t afford to spend as much or go on trips we planned, so in that void we have time to think about our priorities and shift our focuses,” she says, recognising the collective dream of ditching the bright lights (and cluster hot spots) of the big city for the simple life.
When my editor asked me to channel my inner Alley Mae (my cottagecore alter ego), I was forced to admit that – despite growing up in a small rural town and loving Kasey Chambers – I wasn’t the outdoorsy, country gal I’d led everyone to believe. My dream weekend is getting off the couch only to look out the window at a dog walking down my street. My idea of baking is buying a $2.50 packet of choc chip cookies from Woolies. My only hobby is watching back-toback episodes of Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. Nevertheless, I persisted.
I dragged myself off the couch and headed to Springfield Farm in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales for its homegrown permaculture retreat: a weekend of worm farms, chicken coops and cottage goodness. Driving into the tree-lined property surrounded by rolling hills, I felt like a real life Anne of Green Gables. I certainly looked the part wearing my Alice McCall gingham shirt with a Lee Mathews pinafore dress and a pair of trusty R.M. Williams boots (not to mention my new Tay-Tay-inspired fringe).
Within minutes of embarking on a tour of the farm, a quail promptly shat down my pinafore dress, which I took as a sign of good luck for the rest of the weekend. The next day, I woke up to the farm’s three cows (named Superman, Batman and Spiderman) staring at me outside my cabin window in the morning frost. I snapped a photo and posted it on TikTok with the caption “Good Moo-rning.” After a hearty breakfast of fresh eggs and avocado on sourdough toast, it was a full day of learning about composting, worms, crop rotation, seed harvesting, pickling and fermenting. I found myself humming the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s song “seven” as I foraged for organic cape gooseberries in the orchard. I imagine this is the exact scene Swift pictured when she wrote the lyrics, “please picture me in the weeds”.
Before embarking on my cottagecore escape, I asked Rebecca for her advice. “To put it really simply, I’d say: ‘Stop and smell the roses.’ Embracing cottagecore is all about appreciating little moments and moving through life a bit slower,” she explained. I thought of her as I smelled a handful of fresh compost with rich notes of hay and kitchen scraps.
After failing to take any “cute” photos of the worm farm, I posted a video of myself frolicking under a tree on TikTok with the caption “Am I doing it right? #cottagecore”. The post got 307 views and a comment saying “Love the vibes.” Look, it’s not quite Rebecca’s million- plus views, but when I sent the video to my mum, she told me I looked like a country music star, so I considered my mission a success. At the end of the retreat, I felt totally uplifted, oh so wholesome and utterly exhausted. Cottagecoring is hard work, you guys.
Back on my couch in Sydney, I tried to keep the cottagecore magic alive, tending to my new tomato plant seedling (named Tommy Toe) every day. I took an at-home pottery class with Maker’s Loft and spent a sunny morning in my lounge room kneading clay into something that vaguely resembled a pinch pot. It felt good to get my hands dirty. At Springfield, I learnt that when you eat a vegetable you picked from the garden, the chi stays with you for weeks. I felt the chi in my clay-covered hands, until a car slammed on its brakes and aggressively beeped its horn outside my window. Cottagecore is a lot less serene in the city.
Undeterred, I entered completely unknown territory – my kitchen – and made a fermented chilli sauce with a recipe from the chef at Springfield and my boyfriend’s balcony-grown chillies. While they fermented in brine in my pantry, I settled in for a crafternoon in the office, thinking I could knock over a We Are Knitters sweater kit in a couple of hours because it was rated “easy” and everyone on TikTok was doing it. The team at We Are Knitters told me their kits are in hot demand, explaining, “The lockdown has been a revelation to many people. Not being able to go out has created the need for us to find indoor activities – like knitting.” If knitting is so popular, how hard can it be?
After watching the first-stitch video tutorial 24 times and still failing miserably at “casting on”, I had an intense flashback to my high school home economics class where I accidently sewed both ends of my pillowcase together and failed the assessment. I gave up on my sweater in a blaze of swear words and posted a plea for help on TikTok. Someone commented “fyp.” Feel your pain.
With my balls of wool discarded in the corner, I ended my week by taking a “What Per Cent Cottagecore Are You?” Buzzfeed quiz. Somehow, despite being a failed knitter, I scored a perfect 100 per cent. “You are meant for cottagecore and cottagecore is meant for you. You most definitely have an interest in gardens, sheep, picnics, or flowers. You’ve probably dreamed of living in a cottage in the middle of nowhere,” the quiz confirmed. Look out, Taylor, there’s a new Cottagecore Queen in town (sans a knitted sweater).
Reflecting on the cottagecore week that was, my lasting memory is of walking through the paddocks at Springfield Farm from my cabin to the fire pit at dusk. The cool Southern Highlands wind kissed my cheeks as I inhaled the fresh country air and took in the burnt orange sunset on the horizon. The cows watched me as I walked along their fence line. “Lucky bastards,” I thought, shaking my head with envy at their picturesque home and carefree lives.
Later, I kicked myself for leaving my phone in my cabin and missing out on a ripper sunset shot for my six TikTok followers. I couldn’t help but wonder (in my Carrie Bradshaw voiced monologue), if a cottagecore moment happens in the woods and no-one posts about it on TikTok, did it really happen at all?
The Cottagecore Starter Kit
Get among the TikTok trend – in four easy steps
It’s all about the puff sleeves, prairie dresses and paisley prints. Nail the cottagecore aesthetic with pieces from Alice McCall’s new collection (which is actually called Folklore), vintage smocks and handmade sweaters.
Fringe-expert Barney Martin says natural, raw and untamed hair is all the rage this year, thanks in part to Tay-Tay’s new look (and forgetting how to use our hair straighteners in lockdown). Feel free to take this story to your hairdresser for #inspo.
Challenge yourself and your fine-motor skills with a knitting/crochet/petit point/hand-dyeing kit from We Are Knitters. Then reward yourself with a slice of homemade banana bread and organic butter.
Escape to the country for Springfield Farm’s next Homegrown retreat on February 12-14 to live the cottagecore dream in a cabin surrounded by farmland and two alpacas called Muffin and Coriole.
This article originally appeared in the November issue of marie claire.