Cottagecore was a natural fit for a pandemic year. The subculture is all about pretending to live an idyllic life in the woods, and in 2020 was embraced as a sweet attempt to make the best of a bad situation. Teenagers and 20-somethings have been cosplaying online, posting as if solitude and wildflowers and ever-growing piles of homemade bread were enough to live on. By mid-March, cottagecore was more popular on Tumblr than Harry Styles or Marvel. By the summer, it was unavoidable on TikTok—just clip after clip of dressmaking tutorials and muffins with fresh berries. By the end of last year, it was widely considered one of the biggest online phenomena of an extremely online year.
Once cottagecore blew up, it started to mutate. A group of volunteer contributors started tracking its many niches and nooks on Aesthetics Wiki—an online encyclopedia of “visual schema.” The major cottagecore subgenres, the page notes, include “bloomcore” (mostly flowers), “honeycore” (mostly bees), “Southwest cottagecore” (succulents and lizards), and “cottagegore” (the creepy version). There is also a list of cottagecore’s 27 “related aesthetics,” which include “grandparentcore,” “cabincore,” “prariecore,” “warmcore,” and “woodland goth”—not to be confused with “forestpunk.” The same list includes “ravencore” and “crowcore” as separate entries. On Discord, the chat platform popular among online communities, contributors to the Wiki even dreamed up “vaporcottage” as a bit of a joke and added to the page: “what you’d see after ingesting mushroom soup laced with Xanax.”