Aesthetics is a set of principles or ideas attached to the experience, nature, and appreciation of beauty. While aesthetic themes are explored as far back as Ancient Greece, specific modern aesthetics have become their own unique subcultures. For example, particular aesthetics such as Dark Academia or Cottagecore.
People who love these genres of aesthetics often adopt them as an immersive experience or lifestyle. For example, a preoccupation with Cottagecore could include decorating one’s house in the frontier cottage style of the old. Or gardening, wearing long-flowing hyper-feminine dresses, cooking, fireplaces, and old-fashioned teapots whistling on stovetops.
Moreover, Cottagecore encourages a return to traditional skills and living. This means baking bread, preserving your own fruit and vegetables, or learning to sew and mend clothes. This newly emerging trend of aligning oneself consciously with a particular aesthetic means adopting its hobbies. This could include music, activities, fashion, and literature that allow for a complete aesthetic experience.
Or perhaps if you have a fixation with the aesthetic of Dark Academia. You might have a love of libraries, literature, and academic fashion like tweed and brogues. Hobbies might include decorating your house with candles and Gothic-inspired furniture.
So, if you feel drawn to an aesthetic, we have compiled a guide to some of the most popular movements.
The Cottagecore and Romantic Country Aesthetic
Cottagecore is very similar to Farmcore or Countrycore. It is a romantic re-imagining of western agricultural life. Aesthetically speaking, Cottagecore is all about the European countryside. It romanticizes Victorian and Romantic-era fashion and sensibilities. At its center, cottagecore is about living a simple life in harmony with nature. Further, it seeks to reject the fast-paced and complex reliance on dependence on technology in a capitalist system.
Cottagecore is truly about the coziness and romance of self-sufficiency, baking, and caring for people. The aesthetic has been hugely popularized on social media like Instagram and TikTok. However, the community originated on Tumblr. While this sub-culture has taken off on the internet, it has roots in decorative, literary, and historical trends.
Cottagecore has an emphasis on nature and a love of the natural world. Associated with this is a slow and simple lifestyle that requires getting back in touch with simple pleasures. For example, the joy of making one’s own jam. Some lovers of this aesthetic have so much dedication to Cottagecore they will uproot their lives and move to the countryside. Hobbies might include learning to weave baskets or make dresses.
Cottagecore is very popular with the lesbian community, WLW (woman-loving-woman), and non-binary groups. Despite this, Cottagecore itself is not defined by queer elements. However, due to Cottagore’s values of tradition and self-sufficiency, it is popular with a movement called Tradwives. Tradwives are a traditional and right-wing identifying sub-culture of women who promote traditional, homemaking roles for women. This has seen some pushback from the queer and liberal lovers of Cottagecore.
Dark Naturalism as an Aesthetic
Aesthetically speaking, Dark Naturalism is a preoccupation with the natural world and its darker elements. This creates a feeling of moodiness and mystery. Think deep, dark, foggy woods with overgrown moss and silver, overcast lighting. Dark Naturalism is very closely tied with Dark Academia. It also has a slight preoccupation with the mystical or mysterious. For example, the idea of cryptids, or as yet undiscovered creatures that might be lingering in the dark woods.
It has an emphasis on the love of nature. However, it is about the moodiness and sense of lonely contemplation nature can inspire. A lack of sunshine, dark grey clouds, mist, and gentle light is key to this aesthetic. Things such as dampness, raindrops on spiderwebs, mossy stones, and shadowy trees define the specific appearance.
Certain music and musicians capture the sound of Dark Naturalism. In addition, some of them even adopt an aesthetic as well. For example, Florence and the Machine, Birdy, Bon Iver, Hozier, Coldplay’s gloomier songs, and Mumford & Sons.
The fashion associated with Dark Naturalism is closely tied to Dark Academia. Generally, it will be earthy colors such as brown, green, or morone. Also, corduroy pants, linen shirts, oversized jumpers, and dresses worn with boots or sneakers.
Again, a significant aspect of this aesthetic is the mystery that it inspires. Many who have a preoccupation with Dark Naturalism have a vague belief in the supernatural elements of the woods. For example, leaving offerings for the fae or a belief in forest creatures.
Naturecore is Cottagecore and Dark Naturalism’s relative. It is a celebration of nature and all things natural. Naturecore, unsurprisingly, has an emphasis on natural imagery and romanticizing the natural world. Sometimes this can include philosophical ideas about the cycle of life, death and rebirth, and animals’ natural instincts.
Fashion in this genre will promote sustainability. Naturecore folk are lovers of natural, ethical fibers like linen and cotton. They support small businesses that make jewelry from things such as acorns or ethically sourced crystals.
A devotee of Naturecore will like to spend time in the natural world picking flowers. Or reading about botany and sketching the landscape. This aesthetic is truly for nature and animal lovers who are not drawn to the gloominess of Dark Naturalism.
The Dark Academia Fashion Aesthetic
Dark Academia is a popular academic aesthetic that revolves around classic literature, the pursuit of self-discovery, and a general passion for knowledge and learning. Visually, Dark Academia is preoccupied with 19th-century European cultures, such as Gothicism and American Prep. Academia during this cultural period emphasized education in Latin, Greek, history, classical literature, and poetry.
Unfortunately, these topics are not always relevant or necessary today. However, for Dark Academia, this is a lot of the appeal. It is a throwback to a time that valued things that are now considered esoteric or obscure. While today’s education system emphasizes ‘practical’ skills and ‘real-world’ learning, 19th-century academia celebrated intellectual knowledge for its own sake. It reminds us of a time when a thirst for knowledge and an emphasis on culture and the arts were desired. An enormous part of the aesthetic is romanticizing the university experience.
The aesthetic is defined by a love of literature and all things classically intellectual. Perhaps the best example might be the libraries and schools of Edinburgh. Gothic architecture, moody weather, great libraries with leather-bound books, and old-world style encapsulate the aesthetic.
Dark Academia, as we know now, has its origins in Tumbler in 2015. However, it has truly taken off on other platforms like Instagram and Tiktok. Much like many of these aesthetic movements, the online community and presence are where it truly resides. However, Dark Academia is a continuation of a very old preoccupation with these looks and values.
Witchcore is another of the most popular aesthetics right now. It’s emergence is partly due to the overall popularity of witchcraft within the mainstream, particularly online. Witchcore has similar elements to Naturecore and even Cottagecore. However, its central appearance and theme are all things witchy and witchcraft-related.
Fashion-wise, the Witchcore look will involve dark colors and black. It also has a combination of Gothic, vintage, and boho-hippie themes. Interior decorating wise, it involves glass bottles, dried flowers, herbs, crystals, tarot cards, vintage prints of fungi. It also includes pagan imagery on things, candles, incense, tapestries, and old books. Essentially, it is a love of nature with an emphasis on the occult. Therefore, imagery of or use of nature will include its magical or symbolic qualities.
Someone in Witchcore may spend their days wandering nature barefoot, collecting herbs, reading tarot, reading books, or cooking. One does not necessarily have to be a practicing witch to be in Witchcore. However, a belief in the powers of magic or the significance of witchcraft is also central.
The Traumacore Subculture
Not all aesthetics and subcultures are various celebrations of naturalism, art, and books. Perhaps the most problematic and controversial of all the most current aesthetics is Traumacore. This subculture has a fixation with capturing the imagery of abuse and its subsequent trauma. It will focus on imagery and themes of child abuse or sexual trauma. However, it is accompanied by ‘cutsie’ or even childlike aesthetics to capture a bittersweet element. Traumacore deals with childhood trauma, and less frequently, adult trauma.
Due to its content, it isn’t considered ok for those who have not experienced trauma to participate in this aesthetic. An enormous theme in Traumacore is mental and emotional abuse and its impact on the spirit. It may involve images of pill bottles or things used for self-harm next to love heart or crying face emojis. It may also apply emo-type captions like ‘im so alone.’ Think teddy bears and allusions to substance abuse or abandonment.
Criticism of Traumacore
Some in the Traumacore say it is less of an aesthetic and more of a form of art-therapy. However, many people in the community describe it as an aesthetic and call it such. Visually speaking, Traumacore involves a lot of pastel colors and kid-like animation. The use of gray tones or black and white imagery will also create contrast.
The imagery in Traumacore is symbolic. For example, it will incorporate imagery of dolls, toys, and soft colors to represent innocence and childhood. It will also incorporate imagery of corpses, bugs, mould, or rotting things to symbolize violence or loss of imagery.
Activities in Traumacore might include collecting plush toys, kewpie dolls, playing videogames, or other activities that remind one of childhood. Further, it might involve writing sad poetry, creating bleak visuals, or blogging about trauma with an online community.
Traumacore has come under some significant criticism. Some say this type of fixation is not therapeutic but rather romanticizes trauma. Others say it does not help the healing process but rather hinders it.
The Angelcore Aesthetic
There are many aesthetic subcultures that are simply about celebrating a specific image or concept of beauty. Angelcore is one of them.
Angelcore is a contemporary aesthetic inspired by imagery and depictions of angels. This is a very modern aesthetic about depicting the beauty of European or Biblical images of angels. However, some angel aesthetics are also taken from non-Christian cultures or systems. Angelcore is very closely tied to the Cherubcore, Fallen Angel, and Biblical Angel subcultures.
Aesthetically speaking, Angelcore has a highly modern and very femme approach. Visually, it is all about soft filters, pastel colors, glitter, flowers, sheer fabrics, Grecian gowns, clouds, and romantic imagery. And most crucially, angel wings and halos.
This is a celebration of all things femme with religious overtones. However, there is no religious affiliation with Angelcore, just the use of angel imagery. It is an emphasis on unearthly and ethereal fashion.
Angelcore is very much an internet-girl aesthetic. Therefore, its online presence and hobbies are one and the same. An Angelcore girl will dress up in the aesthetic and post photos to Instagram or post videos on Titok.
Interior design-wise, Angelcore borrows from Roccocco styles and features clean white materials, sheer white curtains, and four-poster beds. It also looks best in a more traditional-style house or apartment. If angel-sitting-on-a-cloud was a design idea, Angelcore captures it.
The Theory of Aesthetic History and Culture
The exploration of aesthetics is not a new thing. However, the intersection of aesthetics and internet subcultures is. The aesthetics of these internet worlds that carry on into the offline world incorporate traditional approaches to aesthetics. For example, both natural and artificial inspirations or sources of aesthetic experience.
This can range from nature, art, reading, fashion, the environment, or visual media. Aesthetics raises interesting questions about why particular art forms or imagery will appeal to some and not to others. This also raises why this aesthetic or imagery is popular and what possible values that subculture extends or represents. In the modern art world, aesthetics can also refer to underlying principles or ideas that are found in art movements.
The word aesthetic is derived from the Ancient Greek aisthētikós, which means “perceptive, sensitive, or about sensory perception.” The subcultures surrounding aesthetic movements are about transporting oneself into a sensory world or experience. It creates an artistic narrative in which to be in the world or present yourself aesthetically in the world.
Many aesthetic movements would not have their popularity without an online presence. There could be many reasons for this. As these aesthetics are not mainstream, the online presence creates a larger community for people in those aesthetic movements.
All aesthetic subcultures have elements of romanticization, fetishizing, or exaggeration involved. In many ways, they are a meditation on the past or a yearning for times gone.