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How the #cottagecore aesthetic dovetails with pandemic travel

The swimming hole at the Beaver Dam Swimming Club, in operation since the 1930s in Baltimore County, Md., saw plenty of visitors this summer despite the coronavirus pandemic.

BECCA MILFELD/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

By DANIELLE BRAFF | Special to The Washington Post | Published: September 18, 2020

First, there was the sourdough bread phase. Next, you moved on to growing your own vegetables. You may have even started knitting. Now you’re dreaming of quaint cottages with doorways framed by climbing roses, dresses dotted with strawberries, and picnics in shady gardens surrounded by woodland creatures and babbling brooks.

There’s a hashtag for that.

You’re dabbling in #cottagecore -- also known as #farmcore and #countrycore and sometimes even #grannycore -- a nostalgic, romantic Internet aesthetic that is rapidly gaining popularity. The hashtag began appearing in 2018, but the pandemic has supercharged its popularity. Cottagecore content on Tumblr increased by 153 percent between March and April, and "likes" for that content increased by about 550 percent during the same time. On Pinterest, there were 80% more searches for cottagecore fashion this June than there were last June. Videos associated with the cottagecore hashtag have been viewed 3.7 billion times on TikTok as of Aug. 31.

Applied to vacationing, #cottagecore is a perfect fit for the times. During the pandemic, travel has naturally drifted toward more intimate, socially distant pursuits, as the popularity of RV road trips and camping attests. Cottagecore takes this retreat one dainty step further by harking back to a time before the advent of fast-paced modern life and its stresses -- at least visually. Adherents are planning and posting about getaways to picturesque cottages in the middle of the woods, replete with songbirds, wildflowers and plenty of sun-dried linens.

You’ve heard of comfort food? These are comfort vacations.

Though defined by its yearning for a picturesque past, #cottagecore is very much a 21st-century phenomenon. It is, after all, a visual trend that has disseminated via social media. If it wasn’t photographed and shared, did you actually experience #cottagecore? There are common themes that pop up in the photos of cottagecore holidays, and they all seem to derive from an idealized vision of an old-fashioned place and time.

For example, on Instagram, the @cottage.friend account likes to share pictures of old hardcover books, willow trees, fawns and beds shrouded in quilts. For @liskin_dol, it’s all about foraging mushrooms and berries, and wearing loose, lace dresses and aprons.

"The return to nature, the revalorization of a simpler style of life and the romanticization of looking toward the past all came together to create cottagecore," says Joe Flanagan, the founder of 90s Fashion World, a blog about fashion, entertainment and culture. "Travelers are looking for safety in isolation, reconnecting with nature and a return to simpler times."

It’s all about an escape from modern reality, winding back the clock to when things felt slower, relaxed and safe -- even if you weren’t necessarily alive during those rustic, cottage-y times, says Casey Halloran, co-founder and chief executive of Costa Rican Vacations. Halloran designs custom, high-end trips to Costa Rica -- and recently, he says, he’s been fielding more requests for hotels with free-standing cottages and cabins in the jungle, on the beach or in the mountains.

"Cottagecore is the made-for-TV version of America," says Daniel Levine, a trends expert and director of the Avant-Guide Institute, a trend business consultancy. "It is a subset of a bigger trend that also includes a rise in carhop dining, drive-in movie theaters, traditional motels and even dad bods," he says. "Cottagecore is capturing the zeitgeist of a public captivated by a fantasy of simpler times."

Much of that captivated public is young and female; those who post about cottagecore and cottagecore-themed travel are most often women. And possibly because the trend is largely perpetuated by Instagram influencers and TikTokers, they are usually younger than 30. Men may very well dream of vacations filled with flower crowns, afternoon picnics and forest walks, but they’re keeping mum about it on social media.

If the tropes of cottagecore look familiar, it may be because you have seen those split-rail fences and macrame shawls in places like the Anthropologie catalogue. Sharon Geltner, chief executive of Froogle PR in Palm Beach, Fla., says cottagecore vacations are all about installing yourself in a quaint dwelling festooned with heritage quilts. Geltner, a travel writer and blogger, has witnessed the trend’s ascendancy firsthand.

When Ella Moore, a travel blogger and cottagecore influencer at Many More Maps, sets out to plan an ideal cottagecore vacation, she tries to find one in an isolated location that has a super comfortable, soft interior and a huge bathtub. This cottage could be located anywhere, from Maine to France to the Cotswolds in England -- as long as it’s cozy.

And while summer has been great for cottage vacationing, she’s looking forward to winter. Remember hygge? What better setting for it than a picturesque cabin in the woods?

"There’s a certain coziness which springs to mind when you picture staying in a cottage, usually in the middle of nowhere, in winter," Moore says. "The image of open fires, long nights and windswept countryside is always appealing to travelers in winter."

But you'll probably have to bring your own embroidered nightgown, hardcover copy of "Pride and Prejudice" and straw picnic basket.