Those long months spent indoors with our tech gadgets as our companion and sole escape from reality shaped trends and our vision of fashion and goods. HONOR asked WGSN to investigate further.
When your only association with secluded pastoral life is mud and dust then think again, this aesthetic has been stylised to such popularity that youngsters want to ditch the city life altogether!
Comparable to Romanticism in the late 18th century, something new but on a closer look quite alike has been proliferating throughout 2020 and 2021, the British Cottagecore aesthetic.
Ramona Jones aka @monalogue pictured in front of a cosy thatched roofed cottage. She and her husband @aaron.etc give their loyal followers breathtakingly beautiful glimpes into life from their holistic English countryside cottage.
Ph. Aaron Gibson
A Brief Look Into The Past
Let us take a short historical recap and look back to its probable predecessor to grasp this trend’s roots and overlapping aspects. Romanticism was a reaction against the preceding Neoclassicism, as well as the emerging Enlightenment and Rationalism movement brought about by the French Revolution’s key concepts and later inspired nationalist movements throughout Europe. Romanticism encompassed a strong rejection of the view that reasoning itself is a source of knowledge or proof, further scientific progress, urbanisation, the Industrial Revolution, and its growing focus on materialism at that time. Huge factories did not only destroy major parts of natural landscape, but unimaginably long hours of monotonous toil quickly unveiled various negative consequences on society and people’s psyche. Urbanization eventually forced them to flood the cities for employment. Romantics contrasted these watershed events by shifting their focus back to the individual, harmony, the emotional, the transcendental, and a renewed interest for retreat into nature. In short, it culminated in a profound shift in sensibility (Austen’s romance novel ‘Sense and Sensibility’ perfectly encapsulates the movement’s key agenda in its title). Hence, extreme assertion of the self, alongside a heightened value of the individual experience dominated their works.
Similar characteristics can now, over 200 years later be seen in the Cottagecore aesthetic, which is currently filling our Instagram, Pinterest, and Tic Toc feeds like nothing else.
So, how can it be that similar aspects apply to this youth lead aesthetic despite evolving under completely different circumstances? We will dive into that question later on!
What The Hell Is Cottagecore Even About?
Ramona buys lots of her gorgeous, floaty vintage dresses pre loved in alignment with her sustainability values. The couple frequently shares their travel adventures across the UK, alongside mindful baking receipts, photography, personal thoughts, and lifestyle. All those gorgeous historical buildings, natural landscape, and retro fashion content will inspire you to head out and discover its beauty firsthand.
Ph. Aaron Gibson
First things first, what exactly is the Cottagecore aesthetic?
In a nutshell Cottagecore celebrates a highly idealised rural life and nostalgia for the countryside, emphasising overall simplicity and reclusive activities like gardening, baking, sewing, reading poetry, painting etc. Already present on Tumblr in the 2010s (the blueprint for so many trends at the moment) it underwent a huge resurgence most prominently due to the rapid growth in popularity of social media platform Tic Toc, later tripling down to the likes of Instagram and Pinterest. This in itself can be traced back to teenagers and young adults all around the world being stuck at home, facing lock down after lock down, and as the saying goes “boredom sparks creativity “. However, there is also a much deeper psychological reason for this. The pandemic promptly took away our fast-paced life routines forcing us into a collective isolation. We have all had to adopt to a slower pace of life after all. Cottagecore indeed champions exactly this notion of solitary retreat and approaching things with an eased and calm mindset. A return to simpler times if you want so, living in appreciation and harmony with nature, basically an archetypical antithesis to modern hectic and technology-based life.
Ph. Aaaron Gibson
We all remember when taking a walk outside literally became the highlight of a day, right? That is precisely when we learned to appreciate the little things. Aesthetic trends are usually a result of cultural events happening around us and therefore can be traced back to impactful historical events, be they stretched out over a longer time period or a single event. With Cottagecore quarantine suddenly became romantic, even fun, instead of tremendously terrifying and the epitome of uncertainty and loss of control.
Naturally this also transcends into architecture, home interior, music (Taylor Swifts indie rock album Folklore is praised as the ultimate Cottagecore record) and above all fashion. Think wide flowy white and crème toned dresses, peasant style blouses, billowing skirts, and of course the infamous prairie dress with all its ruffle hems, statement collars, frills, and puff sleeves, preferably paired with minimalist make up (yes, I am referring to the renowned no make-up make-up look) and either long open, -or braided hair. Straw hats are a must, for all those picknicks in the sun, so are rich retro embroidery, floral prints, solid earthy colour schemes and lots of knitwear pieces, ideally handcrafted.
Melody Cardoso aka @thebunnyboudoir frequently presents muted colours in her unique take on Cottagecore. She sucessfully transmits a somber vintage witch vibe, partly leaning into dark academia aspects. Reading classical literature is an equally praised activity in both communities.
Ph. Courtesy of Melody Cardoso
As the style is very much linked to- as well as rooted in by gone eras you can dress the part by thrifting clothes and buying 2nd hand, resisting the temptation to buy fast fashion knock offs which merely imitate the real deal. If going down this road, the aesthetic is actually quite accessible when it comes to fashion at least. Other aesthetics like the hype beast, where a vast amount of designer pieces is a strict prerequisite to partake, are financially more high maintenance in comparison.
The Queen Of Style Already Did It Prior To The French Revolution
The infamous 1783 portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun shows Marie Antoinette in a Chemise dress. This painting was removed from the Salon shortly after its publication and due to its bad reception was promptly replaced by a new one, featuring the same position, but a different, more "appropiate" dress.
Romanticising pastoral life and all that is associated with it to unreal heights has been a trend several times throughout past decades, this is definitely not the first time and will not be the last either. Marie Antoinette, histories ultimate fashion icon was gifted the Petit Trianon close to the main palace of Versailles by king Louis XVI as a private get away from the gossiping and strictly protocoled court. Her robe of choice, or more the dress code she likewise imposed upon visitors there closely resembled a chemise, the simple undergarment dress which build the base for the various layers women wore at the time, merely preceeded by stays and a petticoat. Hence, wearing it on the outside was an extremely radical and unconventional thing to do. When Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun published a commissioned painting of her wearing this attire paired merely with a wide-brimmed straw hat and no jewelry at all, public outcry was unavoidable. It was a national scandal, causing immense damaged to an already unpopular monarchy. People thought her immodest (basically wearing what was underwear for all to see since the portrait was exhibited at an openly accessible salon) and not dressing in accordance with her rank and status, whilst condemning her for lavishness if she did otherwise. Aristocrats deducted the queen wearing such an inexpensive textile as cotton emblematic of a breakdown of barriers between the classes which they were obviously more than keen on upholding for their own benefits. It was made of several layers of very fine cotton muslin, with cotton also being the material used for underwear this specific choice of textile further showcased the informality of the dress in its context. Additionally, it was an imported fabric, making it very expensive, leading to accusations of Marie being responsible for ruining the French silk industry, as what she wore naturally became the height of fashion for everyone else. Keeping something spot clean white was also substantially laborious and time consuming, accordingly reflecting the privileged status of the wearer. Lastly, the aspect of class transgression must have been deeply offensive. What we see is a queen’s idea of what a peasant or shepherdess might dress like, quite patronizing for those who didn’t play dress up but had to work for livestock and survival.
This fairy esque, etheral white dress could very much be interpreted as a modern day take on the Chemise. The lightweigth feel transmitted by this breathtaking shot is probably what Marie Antoinette must have felt like at the Petit Trianon in a style of dress giving her the symbolical freedom she gernerally urged for in her life.
Ph. Aaron Gibson
A dive into fashion history nevertheless discloses that she was simply ahead of her time as the chemise became a popular garment shortly after with many aristocratic, even prominent women within France as well as abroad like Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire having their portrait taken in embellished versions.
Thereafter this type of garment became known as “chemise à la reine”. It consisted of thin white, airy, and loose fabric, usually cinched at the waist with a sheer sash to create some form, (a radical departure and complete contrast to the stiff, sumptuous and extravagant French court gowns the queen would wear to all other occasions, which artificially extenuating an hourglass silhouette by means of extremely tight corsetry and enormous structured Robe à la français hoop skirts.
Why Is It So Popular Right Now?
Melody Cardoso, aka @thebunnyboudoir stuns in a dark forest green retro dress, featuring a retro Peter Pan collar, transporting us back into another era. The cherry on top? An ultra feminine hair bow!
Ph. courtesy of Melody Cardoso
Advancement in technology increased these issues, more than ever we are surrounded by compulsion to be productive 24/7, typing away on our laptops or keeping notes on our mobile whilst on the tube, during dinner, or even late at night in bed. We are just never not working anymore. Being confined home had many people redefine their work life balance and concurrently see the faults in workaholism, leading to a reassessment and evaluation of modern values. This growing rejection of constantly present hustle culture and performative pressure, be it school, Uni, or the workplace, finally counters the shallow stylisation of what is a straight road to burnout, which peaked in the early 2010s.
In response to the financial crisis of 2007-2008, society became blatantly aware of the financial system’s vulnerability. Due to this instability the post-Recession era was marked by over stylised and highly aestheticized representations of toxic performative productivity and hustle culture. An attempt to ensure economic bettering was praised and developed into a desired lifestyle, defining one’s identity, and invading all aspects of life. It was not only about working long hours anymore, you also had to love and brag about it. Therefore, the key aspect of domestic productivity in Cottage Core turns this notion (which still upholds today) upside down. The aesthetic basically forms a counterreaction against the core elements of our capitalist-consumerist society values, encouraging a critical analysis. The belief that solace in the natural world is spiritually nourishing and a potential cure for all anxieties infiltrating our modern life is veritably a timeless notion. Moreover, it forms a fictional place, free of social constructs and boundaries regarding a wide range of fields, almost a kind of Utopia. Prominent examples are religious and spiritual tolerance, green and eco-conscious consumption, nullity of negatively connotated gender stereotypes and categorising. Subsequently, the scene is a safe space for lots of queer people to thrive, feel supported and comfortable, juxtaposing the general notion that experiencing harsh rejection and exclusion is much more prevalent in rural areas and town fringes.
An otherwordly atmosphere can create escapist opportunities to daydream yourself into an otherwise inaccessible surrounding. Content creator @thebunnyboudoir is especially skilled in capturing enchanting shots like this.
Ph. courtesy of Melody Cardoso
The rise of this movement clearly fits into the current worldwide situation. With Gen Z making up a majority of its participants, the positive outlook and aim to preserve nature feeds into this generation's unmatched evironmental consciousness and sustainability efforts entailed by it.
Gen Z' taste for ethically made and second-hand fashion will boost the UK economy. Our economy will receive up to £121.9M boost from students during Fresher’s month, fuelled by a record number of accepted University applicants.
Gen Z is fashion-forward and makes a big slice of the global fashion customer base with its generous $200 billion (more than £147 billion) annual global spend power. A new study by UNiDAYS shed light on the decisional power of the 'zoomers' and their commitment to clean and ethical fashion.
A new report commissioned by UNiDAYS, the world’s largest student affinity network, looked into the approach of Gen Z toward fashion, trends, e-commerce, and more. The result: Gen Z demands ethical fashion out loud.
Nearly seven in ten (68%) of Gen Z members demand that their clothes are manufactured to the highest ethical standards and 57% feel brands championing sustainability, equality and diversity are getting it right. These figures come from the recent report run by UNiDAYS surveying a panel of more than 18k Gen Z students to explore Gen Z’ fashion trends and preferences, their attitudes to retailers, sustainability, pricing and more.
Ph. Rodnae Production, Pexels
UNiDAYS Gen Z Fashion Report – Clean Fashion And Gendered Clothing
UNiDAYS asked a panel of their 20m+ verified student members for their opinions on all things fashion, in a series of surveys and polls. Over 18k Gen Z students provided insights about their relationships with their devices, platforms, fashion favourites and retail habits. The polls revealed passionate feelings towards clean-washing, conversation commerce, brand intrusion, third gender marketing and lack of trust when shopping through new social media checkout features.
As the role of real-world fashion adapts, fluid and device-driven business models must emerge for the fashion industry to serve the world’s first, and largest, generation of digital natives.
With global digital ad spend on social platforms predicted to hit $517 billion by 2023 (more than £380 billion), insight into the world’s biggest consumer demographic will support the bricks-and-mortar survivors and define the establishment of new fashion brands rising through the metaverse, all with Gen Z at their core.
Meet Gen Z
Born between 1996–2012, Gen Z is the most hyper-informed, hyper-connected and demanding generation of consumers in history. At 40% of total consumers, 'zoomers' are the biggest generation globally with a $3 trillion indirect annual spending power.
Zoomers expect customised, personalised products and services plus value, across every device and every platform all with free delivery. Their real-world and digital existence are basically one and the same, with nuanced values that can seem contradictory on the surface: they love filters but resent retouching, they live and breathe social media, instant messaging, video games and live-streaming often all at the same time.
Gen Z' attention span is 8 seconds. Compared to 12 seconds for Millenials.
Their unwavering style, ethics and thrift make Gen Z the ultimate Apex Consumer. Brands must urgently connect with this high-potential, savvy, digital-native generation that is reshaping social commerce. Both start-ups and legacy brands could find this new world order daunting, but it represents great possibility.
- 2 BN direct annual global spending power
- 92% use discount codes
- 40% of total consumers in the UK, US, Europe & BRIC
- 90% say looking good is important to them
- 96% say fabulous clothes make them feel confident
- 93% love how great clothes make them feel
- 80% enjoy a mix of styles
- 87% say great clothes make them feel sexy
- 56% say they do not follow fashion trends
GEN Z members are full-on fashionistas, their style, habits and ethics drive and dominate the trends and patterns are seen through social media and the surrounding generations today. 87% of zoomers agree that great clothes make them feel sexy, 96% say fabulous clothes make them feel confident and 79% state sustainable fashion is important to them. But they never pay full price. For anything.
If Gen Z Is Not Your Core Consumer Now, They Soon Will Be...
Gen Z maintains its own personal brands physically and across their platforms, with defined standards and values that dictate the brands they associate with. The average Gen Z spends 10.6 hours a day online (Adobe), 93% love great clothes, and 85% of them research everything online before buying. Zoomers' appetite for social is huge and brands have been quick to embrace the fun and engagement that quality content generates. But with 75% of Gen Z stating they do not trust shopping on social media, there is a disconnect between entertainment and commerce which brands must fast address. Gen Z is consuming culture and marketing in a fundamentally different way than Millennials or Gen X (the over the forties).
Of those surveyed, 87% of Gen Z mostly communicate with their friends through instant messaging, just 13% call them direct, and only 14% would try a new fashion retailer based on seeing a TV ad. Fashion brands must get creative to establish and nurture these new relationships to ensure they stand the test of time.
Viviane Paxinos, global GM at UNiDAYS, states: 'We found that, for Gen Z, TikTok is the place to be on social, followed by Instagram. Given that fashion purchases made by 49% of those we spoke to were influenced by brands they saw on social media, platforms like TikTok and Instagram are a growth opportunity for fashion retail marketers looking to drive brand awareness and social commerce. Another important factor stems from TikTok's early guidance to marketers: don’t make ads. Make TikTok's.'
Good News For Fashions
- 76% are looking forward to partying again
- 64% expect to spend more on outfits for events now
- 78% plan to dress up party now that lockdown has eased
- 54% will spend more on beauty now social occasions are back
Despite 18 months in lockdown, 90% of Gen Z still value looking good. However, 65% expect their fashion purchases not only to be affordable but to be made to the highest ethical standards. Fashion, fast or otherwise, can no longer rely on value alone.
'Audiences go to the likes of TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube for exclusive moments, entertainment, advice, humour, and authenticity in content. Fashion brands need to create content that feels genuine for the environment, or Gen Z consumers will swipe to the next video. Fashion brands should also be looking at social commerce as part of their wider omnichannel retail strategy, driving consumers in-store for brands where bricks and mortar play an important role. 84% of Gen Z are looking forward to returning to shops, and it shouldn’t be underestimated how impactful a shareable, interactive store experience would be in driving positive online endorsement and sales.'
Viviane Paxinos, global GM at UNiDAYS
- 95% always keep an eye out for a bargain or offer
- 75% are used to buying clothes solely online due to lockdowns
- 53% say shopping is a social experience shared with friends
- 85% research online before committing to a purchase
- 82% are loyal to brands that offer regular discounts
- 66% intend to spend more on clothes when they go back to Uni
- 63% spent less on clothes during lockdown while 37% spent more
- 84% are looking forward to returning to shops
Trust And Confidence
- 49% do not mind advertising if it’s relevant to them
- 76% see too many ads on their feeds
- 83% want to cut their time spent on social media
- 75% do not trust shopping directly on social media
- 53% believe social media is bad for society
- 93% say social media promotes unrealistic life and body goals/ beauty standards
- 90% believe that unlabelled, retouched imagery should be illegal for influencers to use when endorsing brands/products
For the majority of Gen Z, online is its preferred way to shop; 85% research online first but 75% do not trust shopping directly on social media. Brands creating Instagram and TikTok content and those collaborating with influencers should be cautious, 90% of Gen Z believe it should be illegal for Influencers to use unlabelled and retouched images, while 93% believe social media promotes unrealistic life and body goals. Despite being the world’s first fully digital native consumer whose digital presence is as real as their physical one, they challenge everything they see.
Gen Z is conflicted: 59% of zoomers consider themselves woke, but one in four do not know where their clothes are manufactured.
Fast fashion serves zoomers' obsession for new and fresh, but grates against their ethical guilty conscience of quality not quantity. The rise of Depop and co. signifies a new dawn for wardrobe resale hacks that do not cost the earth, but where does that leave fast fashion brands? How deep does their culture of sustainability go?
Gen Z’s Earth-friendly attitudes and spending behaviours have triggered fashion to clean up their emissions and exploitation records, so a happy medium is emerging. Sustainability is finally being addressed by brands keen to be on the right side of history and stay relevant. Gen Z has zero tolerance for irresponsible brands, they are the sole demographic with the passion, power and platforms to take sustainability into the corporate boardrooms. Their digital and physical life are one of the same, which ensures their social media posts will continue to elevate those brands that champion change and shame those that blatantly do not.
Sad But True
It takes 3,781 litres of water and 33.4 Kg of carbon emissions to make one pair of jeans. Up to 175,000 tonnes of plastic microfibres are dumped into the ocean each year, equivalent to over 17bn plastic bottles, all from synthetic clothing. Microfibres cannot be easily extracted from water and pollute the marine wildlife food chain.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Gen Z on Clean Clothing
- 26% unsure where their clothes are manufactured
- 79% say sustainable fashion is important to them
- 68% want clothes manufactured to the highest ethical standards
- 59% consider themselves ‘woke’
- 23% feel peer pressure to shop more sustainably
- 39% would buy pre-loved because it is more sustainable
- 33% pick recycled items because they are cheaper
- 67% prefer fashion brands that appeal to their social conscience
- 33% feel that brands who champion sustainability do so in the right way
Gen Z On Clean Beauty
- 86% say clean beauty is important to them
- 33% always read the ingredients label before a purchase
- 88% prefer natural beauty and skincare products
- 78% have returned a product to the shelf because of the ingredient
Who does Gen Z think should be responsible for regulating the beauty industry to ensure they use sustainable and harmless ingredients in their products?
- 20% the government
- 47% the brands themselves
- 29% an independent industry regulator
Increased Desire For Gender Neutrality
'More than ever, mainstream consumers are being challenged to rethink accepted societal norms and structures driven solely by gen z’s passion for post-gender diversity and inclusion.'
Viviane Paxinos, global GM at UNiDAYS
Gen Z embraces gender-neutral products and marketing. Zoomers acceptance has generated a wave of opportunity for fashion and beauty brands to expand into non-binary clothing and product lines. Six years ago, at its height of popularity, Facebook added a third, customisable gender choice that offers 58 identity options such as androgyne, transmale, trans-person and more other brands soon followed.
The beauty industry saw campaigns for cosmetics start to include trans models and cis straight men. Global fashion brands including Farfetch, Missguided, ASOS and Boohoo have all recently launched high profile campaigns featuring diverse and empowering models to promote their inclusive collections.
Generation gender-neutral has the least concern over owning ‘gender appropriate’ clothing, preferring to shop by personal style of self-expression, rather than traditional labels.
- 43% believe that assigned gender does not play a role in choosing clothes
- 23% think gendered language in stores is outdated or offensive
- 79% are not put off buying clothes that are marketed to the opposite gender
- 64% have bought clothing for themselves that is marketed to the opposite gender
Luxury Brands Must Adapt...
'Be aware, brand equity that triggers gen x will not trigger Gen Z. 79% of young consumers agree that sustainable fashion is important to them and 68% want clothes manufactured to the highest ethical standards. Luxury brands must adapt their narrative to apply to the new apex consumer that is gen z. Generic claims of craftsmanship will not cut it with this demanding ethics driven group, they want specifics.' Josh Rathour, found and CEO of UNIDAYS
Luxury brands obviously find engaging with young consumers difficult as 71% of Gen Z feel designer brands are not relevant to them. But by over-focusing on Gen X (the over the forties) and not connecting with a younger audience, aspirational brands risk not only alienating their appeal to Millennials but their future core consumer too. Brands that underestimate Gen Z risk their relevance and label longevity. Gen Z is the most demanding, informed and least loyal consumers in history, if they find a brand irrelevant now, the likelihood is they will never buy into the brand at all. Affinity is seeded in youth. Luxury brands that do not emotionally engage with their future consumer will ultimately fail.
- 32% follow designers
- 47% buy luxury clothing as a treat
- 40% have an eye for limited-editions
- 27% buy luxury clothing for the quality
- 54% describe themselves as loyal to certain fashion brands
- 30% have bought 1-2 pieces of designer clothing this year
- 50% say they have bought more fashion in 2021 than previous years
- 47% name design as their top consideration when buying luxury fashion
- 64% name price as their top consideration when buying luxury fashion
- 54% do not love labels
- 27% believe designer clothes are of higher quality
- 77% say they cannot afford designer brands
- 54% have not bought any luxury fashion this year
- 71% do not feel designer brands are relevant to them
Do Not Survive, Thrive
If Gen Z is not your core consumer now, they soon will be.
Gen Z is defining which fashion brands survive and which brands thrive. Those labels comfortable with Gen X and Millennials must learn what triggers Gen Z and fast. Affinity is seeded in the young, fashion brands that do not bother engaging Gen Z will ultimately fail. But despite being the world’s first fully digital native consumer with defined personal brands, and whose digital presence is as real as their physical one, Gen Z’s relationship with the platforms they populate is guarded at best.
Brands must work hard to win trust in the social space. Gen Z' unwavering standards, ethics and thrift make Gen Z the ultimate Apex Consumer. Brands must urgently connect with this unfamiliar, contrary, digital-native generation who are reshaping social commerce. Fashion start-ups and legacy brands could find this new world order daunting, but it represents great possibility.