You’re a young person in 2021 browsing through your TikTok ‘for you’ page. Perhaps it isn’t your ideal time-eater, yet the visuals generate a sense of awe unmatched by your daily life. You notice the kids dressed as a mall-goth or a woodland sprite and scratch your head, wondering how the internet generates so many microtrends at once. What once was Dark Academia has split into light and dark, and Cottagecore can be regal or rustic. Perhaps you’re confused as to why someone goes out of their way to dress like Elizabeth Bennet or a 1980s suburbanite. But as your eyes trail towards your wardrobe, thinking about the day ahead, you wonder how this self-artistry influences people’s daily lives, people like you.
The internet has seen a boom in visual aesthetics which have translated into online fashion movements. Using the suffix ‘-core’ to denote an aestheticised vision emerged from the 1930s term “hard core”, meaning a core unyielding to those which surround it. Now, I know this is not true with my personal taste – my experience with internet aesthetics is that I like to mix and match my ‘core’” to create an idiosyncratic style. Embarking on this journey has improved my confidence, broadened my knowledge, and has led to opportunities writing on this passion.
What I enjoy is a combination of cottagecore, regencycore, y2k, and 1970s style. One look at my Pinterest and you will find someone appearing to have been ‘born in the wrong generation’ or ‘with their head in the clouds’. Despite these negative connotations, I believe that this exploration can be a cause for good.
Artistic experimentation is vital for young creatives. It is wrapped up in our identity: the way we journal, the way we wear our eyeliner, and especially the way we dress. Commentary videos on fashionable films such as Clueless (1995), Marie Antionette (2006) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006) have highlighted the importance of ‘iconic’ influences in our media. These analysis-based commentaries have allowed myself and many others to reclaim this feminine mode of expression, once deemed frivolous, into something artistic and a subject of study.
Despite its benefits, I do believe that when engaging in a hobby with an online presence, you need to be wary of comparing yourself to others. You start to ask if they do a ‘better’ job than you, with ‘better’ resources and lifestyles. Inevitably, this leads people to turn to over-consumption as a way to compensate.
With this exposure to aesthetics evoking lavishness, whimsy, and edge, you begin to wonder if buying more and more will redeem your boring day-to-day life. On the internet, inspirations are limitless. You may have a beautiful prom dress from four years ago or a unique item from another country, but you still feel as though you’re missing out on Shein hauls and Depop bundles. There comes a point where you need to ask yourself, am I attempting to recreate something unachievable?
But then, I tried styling my old clothes with my new ones and came up with iterations of outfits that had never been replicated. From then on, I realised that it is how I styled things, and not the items that I owned that made me, well, me. I learned that a lot of ‘aesthetics’ can be traced to their silhouettes. For example, a plain white maxi dress is a perfect canvas for all sorts of Cottagecore looks. You can make it witchy with a long black cardigan and gothic accessories, or add a gingham headscarf for a light, rural look.
From this cycle of being disappointed time and time again, I’ve learned that you should buy for the purpose of longevity. Consider whether you will love this item in a year’s time. That does not mean I’ll be abandoning my love for thrifting and obtaining unique pieces, however. Conventional minimalism has never called to me, and that is okay. This hobby and passion is a valuable creative exercise that gets me thinking outside the box. It makes me think about themes, lifestyles, fashion cycles, fantasy worlds, and cinema. It is historical, it is political, and it is me. You cannot own everything, but the things you do own, you can make work like nobody else.