Cottagecore is real country.
Cottagecore and two of its siblings, princesscore and angelcore, are a cosplaying response to that hard edge of modernity that we Black people occupy in the global imagination, that space referred to as “Black cool” that so many non-Black folks imitate out of appreciation and/or, more often, exploitative clout. It is an embodiment of “ain’t I a woman” that clothes some Black women in a diaphanous femininity consisting of flora and flowing tresses and dresses or Meghan Markle contemporary-royalty style. It’s a presentation based on a heightened past where Black people did indeed exist and spiritually do exist which invites a stickier understanding of freedom, beauty, divinity and mundanity regarding African diasporic history under European slavery and colonization.
Some critics have said that cottagecore can’t be historically accurate–especially for Black women in the United States–because the cottages most of our ancestors lived in were slave quarters on Southern plant; there was nothing diaphanously lovely about those times. Furthermore, these critics state, to think–let alone dress–otherwise disrespects our enslaved forebearers.
However, as the Black, particularly African American, cottagecore aficionados approach the history and the aesthetics, they’re also idealizing both a more common yet underappreciated aspect of Black life: the country.
In AAVE, being “country” is an insult. That “bama”—shortened from Alabama–is the cutting synonym of “country” speaks of the linguistic running away from the South, from the “country” where so many of our ancestors were forced to labor. Award-winning author, historian and reclaimer of the word “country” Dr. Cynthia Greenlee said in a New York Times article about the resurgence of Black foragers:
Black American history is also a series of profound land-related ruptures, starting with enslavement and forced agricultural labor on territory inhabited by — and taken from — Native peoples…
Sharecropping and land loss — by physical and legal violence — followed. By the early 20th century, more Southern rural Black people were migrating to cities around the nation. Some swore never to look back or till the land again.
The Great Migrants went “up North” and assimilated by shedding their “country” ways of dressing for rural and rural-adjacent work, even if/as they retained some of their food and other folkways.
However, the North’s false promise of “being less racist”–and the granting of a semblance of freedom to breathe, if not self-actualize–than the South redirected thousands of Black people back to the lands of quite a few of our ancestors. Some of them are resettling in the metropolises of Atlanta and New Orleans; some gravitate to towns like Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And some are founding new pro-Black towns reminiscent of the “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One sistah, Jewel Pearson–the doyenne in the Black tiny-house movement–is connecting southern Black farmers with Black tiny house dwellers in a collaboration of safety and growing cooperative wealth.
Tied in with the pick-your-poison choice of dealing with the South’s direct racism versus the North’s more microaggressive version, quite a few Black people say they long for the South’s “slowness,” the art of “speaks ” along with the fresher air and walking down streets lined with mimosa and magnolia trees. They’ve made peace with the “country,” where they don’t have to hustle to keep up with the latest trend or tchotchke to signify one’s Black “cool.” Their Blackness can breathe the air, appreciate–if not cultivate–the land and look up at the very night sky that guided quite a few of our enslaved ancestors to freedom.
Lauren Foster, one of the leading Black cottagecore influencers under her social-media moniker @enchanted_noir, wants to cultivate her own cottage and land—and is making it a reality. She and her family are in the process of buying a two-acre homestead in the rural Northeast—and she is teaching other people, especially people of color, how to access grants and other money to own a home with “acres of land and put down zero percent” using the Federal Housing Administration program.
“A lot of people think that you have to have some sort of money in order to live [the cottagecore life] because it’s expensive to own land. But it is feasible for people.”
Foster also has a series of videos that resituates cottage living in a global perspective, not only showing different periods but different cultures, from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa. Her pursuit of the bucolic life ties back to the history of Black land ownership and surviving off the land itself.
“For my family and me, we focus on the fact that Black people in the United States, particularly in the 1900s, were farmers who then had their land taken away for a myriad of reasons,” said Foster. “[That history] was lost in our community. My husband, who is not Black, and I want to instill in our kids–who are half-Black because of me—that history, how to work the land, and grow crops so that they can be self-sufficient if they ever needed to be.”
Porsha Hall, Foster’s cohort and a prominent influencer in the princesscore and cottagecore movements who is a Kent State University fashion school alumna, a model, and the newly crowned Miss Supranational Ohio 2022, further explains how cottagecore ties into—and is not connected with–land, luxury, and the current Black-women-in-luxury movement.
“The definition of luxury is very different for most women, but we are very luxurious in the princesscore and cottagecore communities. Our priority [in cottagecore] is to connect people back to nature, slow living, [being] eco-friendly as in a plant-based diet, lifestyle, and thrifting. With Black [women] in luxury, they also love thrifting, but it’s more about high-end and designer items–which is completely fine. But for us [in cottagecore], we want to go back to the simple and the patient–more suburban but also rural lifestyle–the bucolic.”
Revisiting the criticism of cottagecore not being historically realistic because it elides slavery, Hall states, “First of all, not all slaves dressed the same. And it’s important that we are creating an open space and an open mind. There has to be a reason why we’re drawn to these certain aesthetics.”
Dance scholar, author, consultant and “unrepentant Anglophile” Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin, owner of the academic success consulting company Black Girl Brilliance LLC, suggests that the attraction to the movement, regardless of where we literally and figuratively land, is indeed very Black–and tied to our enslaved progenitors.
“I understand how cottagecore is read as white, but it’s not–especially if we know who kept those homes clean and well-appointed and kept their own homes [the same way].
“So, I think some of that connection that some Black girls are feeling to cottagecore isn’t foreign to us at all. It’s embedded in the art–and I do think it’s an art–of knowing how to have that warm, luxurious, comfortable, beautiful, well-appointed home that you can not only welcome people into but that you yourself want to be in,” Dr. Amin says.
Hall observes the trends of cottagecore and princesscore remaining popular with fairycore and angelcore becoming more popular this year, especially on the runway. Foster, who says she doesn’t associate with a particular ‘core (“this is me; if you want to put me in a ‘core, you can”) agrees.
As for women who are curious about getting into cottagecore but are squeamish about the historical implications—especially with shows like Bridgerton creating a buzz within some Black communities–Foster and Hall understand.
“If there is any aspect of [the aesthetic] that makes you feel uncomfortable as a Black person,” Foster advises, “you don’t have to incorporate it. Make it entirely your own.”
And, as we do, quite a few sistahs have made the historically bucolic—along with princesscore, angelcore, and other alterna-retro aesthetics—into their own. Musician/fine artist Nadine Feller is not only a cottagecore enthusiast, she’s an entrepreneur. Feller started her sustainable, slow-fashion Etsy shop during the midst of the pandemic in 2020 with handsewn items like scrunchies and cloth handbags. She expanded her inventory with handcrafted corsets, christened her venture A Few Decades Away, and, with her husband, became an official online shop in 2021.
Of course, we sistahs also challenge the notion of the waiflike white girl body type as the normative while we’re dressing like we own the whole scene. Burlesquer and artist Essence, who calls herself the “Saint of beauty, ornament, whimsy, + cottage vibes,” has an Instagram where she rocks a gamut of looks that can give her entrance to The Gilded Age set as they can evoke a stroll along the waterside after a garden party or a raucous time at a Renaissance-era soirée.
“Black women and girls are making the worlds we want to inhabit,” Dr. Amin concludes. “Folks can hate on that from outside the club, decide that’s bad, and critique all of it, but [that worldbuilding is] what I see happening–and I think it’s beautiful.”