From Cottagecore to Light Academia: Your Ultimate Guide to Fashion Aesthetics

Kate Space once said, "Playing dress-up begins at age five and never truly ends." In the midst of playing dress-up, some people have stumbled upon a certain “look” or “aesthetic” that suits them. An aesthetic is “a particular theory or conception of beauty or art; a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. Fashion aesthetics have always been around but the digital age has increased our ability to connect with aesthetics we’ve never seen before, expand their definitions, and even create communities out of them. Here are five aesthetics to love (or to hate):

  1. 1. Cottagecore

    Are you into simple living, sustainability, and self-sufficiency? If you answered yes, then Cottagecore is right up your alley. As the name suggests, it is “centered around what you would imagine living in a cottage in the countryside would be like — gardening, greenery, floral prints, flowy dresses, and animals. You want to feel like you would fit in on a farm” (HuffPost). Fandom.com says that activities associated with this aesthetic include “pressing flowers, baking, gardening, handwriting letters, picking fruit, and cross stitch or embroidery.” This soft aesthetic focuses on “naturally occurring or faded colors” like brown, baby pink, light yellow, and baby blue in patterns like “stripes, paisley, faded floral, and gingham.”

     

    While some see Cottagecore as faded overalls, handmade baskets, and strawberry printed dresses, others see it as a revolutionary way of life. Writer at The Good Trade Courtney Jay Higgins explains it like this: “Even for those who live in urban settings, cottagecore nudges us to be gentle with ourselves and do the best we can in our homes and for the earth—the same way we would tend to an herb garden (if we had one).” I don’t know about you but that sounds pleasing to my ear. 

    But I have to admit that when I first started researching this aesthetic, the pastoral vibes rubbed me the wrong way. It reminded me too much of a disgusting colonialist fantasy and I couldn’t imagine partaking in such a questionable “movement.” But if you also thought Black girls weren’t into Cottagecore, think again. Leah Sinclair sheds light on the subject in her article, “Black Women Embrace Cottagecore is an Act of Defiance.” Not only are Black girls relishing in the flowy cotton dresses, but they’re making it a lifestyle. Paula Sutton (@hillhousevintage), a UK influencer and former fashion editor, is among the Black women who eat, sleep, and breathe this look.

    Note: Aesthetics with the "-core" suffix are centered around that particular prefix.

  2. 2. Fairycore

    If you believe that faith, trust, and pixie dust are all you need, you’ll fall in love with this look. At first glance, it’s pretty easy to mistake this aesthetic for the previous one but I assure you, Fairycore is in a league of its own. If Cottagecore made you think “natural,” Fairycore should make you think “magical” or “whimsical.” Those who enjoy this aesthetic prefer pastel colors, glitter or shimmer, hair worn down (or messy styles), and a little bit of mischief according to Fandom.com. These outfits are typically photographed in meadows, streams, or open fields unlike the generally domestic setting of Cottagecore. Do you fall somewhere between the two? Check out this pinterest board for a whimsical mix of both.

  3. 3. Dark/Light Academia

    Aristotle, anyone? Heavily influenced by Greek and Roman Classical Studies, academia aesthetics revolve around the pursuit of knowledge in fields like literature, art, music, and history. Light Academia emphasizes lighter outfits (beige, white, tan, cream) and a positive outlook on life as opposed to Dark Academia which pushes a grey, black, and burgundy color palette to encapsulate the more somber mood. According to Fandom.com, “Dark Academia typically involves intense and emotionally negative themes, including literary tragedy, discussion of the meaning of life, heartbreak, oppression, escapism, and death.” Whichever color palette suits your appetite, you’ll need some sophisticated staples to look the part: turtlenecks, pleated skirts, blazers, trench coats, collared shirts, and sweater vests. Tweed and plaid are pretty popular patterns. This aesthetic is often photographed in museums, cafes, or libraries and “accessorized with stale coffee-cups, novels, or rained-on windows'' according to L’Officielusa.com. 

    While I adore the emphasis on my field of study (#literature), what I find most fascinating about this aesthetic is the controversy surrounding it. Many people criticize Light/Dark Academia for romanticising mental illnesses, encouraging caffeine addiction to improve study habits, and glorifying insomnia. If those aren’t bad enough, other people find fault with the associated privilege that comes with intellectual pursuit, and Eurocentric ideals. Find out more about these issues here. If they’re just clothes to you and you’re still down for the aesthetic, take this Buzzfeed quiz to find out if you should opt for Light Academia or join the dark side. Still can’t get enough? L’Officielusa.com has a “A Comprehensive Guide to the Academia Aesthetic” that you should read.    

  4. 4. E-Girl

    Let’s think of Academia as the serious, Ivy League attending sister of the edgy, fun-loving E-girl. The “E” stands for “electronic,” which makes sense considering that this aesthetic was popularized by TikTok. Though she’s new to the aesthetic scene, the E-girl has deep roots. I think Sarah Spellings describes it best: 

    “[The e-girl] shares the aesthetic nihilism of her foremothers, emo girls, punks, and goths, with the bright, cutesy accents you’d expect to see in cartoons. Death (crosses, guns) and bondage (chokers, fishnets) are running motifs, covered in a bubblegum-pink filter and finished with a hint of blush on the nose, to make her look a little bit sickly.”

    As Sarah emphasizes in her article, hot pink, electric green, or otherwise brightly colored hair is a crucial part of the E-girl aesthetic. Middle school Cassie would have had a field day with this look (shoutout to my side swept bangs and bright blue clip-in streak). 

    These grungy looks were not the sole originators as the E-girl also has cultural roots. She is “heavily influenced by Asian culture, specifically anime and K-pop” as the beloved Fandom.com states. Lastly, you can’t talk about this aesthetic without mentioning the fact that it has a male counterpart called the “E-boy.” This is quite unique considering the fact that most aesthetics do have male equivalents. Get the 411 on both sides in this Vox article.

  5. 5. Artsy

    If you combine the words “groovy,” “sunshine,” and “creative,” the Artsy Aesthetic comes to life. Fandom.com credits Tumblr user “sensitiveblackperson” with creating it primarily for people of color. Today, people worry that it has been whitewashed. This look emphasizes a connection to “nature, painting, and flowers.” Primary colors abound but mustard yellow ultimately embodies this entire aesthetic. Pair a mustard yellow top with denim mom jeans, Converse sneakers, sunflowers in your hair, and you’ve nailed it (extra points for a bright striped shirt like this one).

Now, if you’ve made it to the end of this article thinking, “My style does not fit into any of these categories,” never fear. Neither does mine. The changeable nature of fashion is 90% of what makes it fun so don’t feel the need to choose an aesthetic and stick to it. In fact, I encourage you to mix and match. Dip your toes into every “fashion genre,” if you will. Somewhere along that playful journey, you’ll come across a look that is truly your own. After all, “Fashion is like eating, you shouldn't stick to the same menu” —Kenzo Takada.

Looking for other aesthetics like VSCO girl and Insta Baddie? Stay tuned for another article with five more looks.