top of page

Cottagecore: An Idyllic Escape from Reality

Marie Antoinette in a Muslin Dress

The idea that modern life can be too much, and the search for an escape to something simpler, calmer, more innocent, is nothing new. Escapism, in one form or another, has always been present - a fantasy that helps people to retreat from the stresses, responsibilities, and obligations of everyday life. An interesting aspect of such escapism is how this wish to run away gets expressed and what human desire it tries to fulfill. This can be analyzed through the type of escapist fantasy that becomes popular in a given moment in popular culture - whether it is exploring space in a fantastical airship, running away to a deserted island, or turning to an aesthetic and way of life like "cottagecore". It is this third form of escapism that will be discussed in this paper - the cottagecore aesthetic that rose to popularity through 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In The Washington Post (September 10, 2020), Danielle Braff stated that on a popular website like Pinterest, the searches for "cottagecore fashion" rose by about 80% from June 2019 to June 2020. In the same vein, on Tumblr, searches and likes for cottagecore content rose by 153% and 550% respectively between March and April of 2020. But, what is cottagecore, exactly? Isabel Slone defined it in the following way:"Take modern escapist fantasies like tiny homes, voluntary simplicity, forest bathing and screen-free childhoods, then place them inside a delicate, moss-filled terrarium, and the result will look a lot like cottagecore." (2020)

This desire to run away to a more simplistic time, where one has time to bake pies, take strolls in luscious woods, and learn how to make (and then actually stitch) a quilt by hand, is not completely new. Marie Antoinette was the Queen of France between 1774 and 1791. History enthusiasts and trivia lovers might know that in the latter part of her reign, she was known to enjoy a form of escapism that involved masquerading as a shepherd and living in a happy, small, cosy pastoral community. This community was modelled on a utopian, vaguely Hellenistic-shepherd way of living, something that could have been seen in Virgil’s Bucolics. Obviously, however, the social norms of the 18th century still applied. Within this community, there were no misunderstandings about social roles: nobody would have spoken to the Queen as one would speak to a shepherd.

Children on a Path Outside a Thatched Cottage

Likewise, the possibility of actually doing the grueling work of a real-life shepherd in 18th-century France, or even in an idealised Hellenistic past, was out of the question. But even if enthusiasts see Marie Antoinette as