Historical Cottagecore

Cottagecore is really having a moment right now, even infiltrating mainstream fashion brands like Target. It’s a romanticization of a fictional “simple era” filled with soft light and dozy afternoons spent embroidering while your herbs dry in the window and the cat sleeps on a velvet cushion. It’s also a trend that’s surfaced again and again in fashion, literature, and art!

Historically the appeal of pastoral aesthetic circulates during times of political turmoil, perhaps we crave simplicity when things are uncertain and frightening. Marie Antoinette had her Hameau de la Reine operating like a fantasy version of a rural farm at the time. Complete with servants hired to populate it, clean and replace eggs beneath the chickens, and bake bread so it constantly smelled of it. All so she and her friends could pretend to be simple shepherdesses in the perfect setting. As easy as it is to mock Marie and her hobbies she wasn’t the only aristocrat of this era fascinated by a “simpler life”- toy farms and cottages were hugely popular with the wealthy of the time.

In the 18th century it was a trend for the wealthy to build a cottage on their grounds and hire a person to live in it dressed as a druid, they’d be called upon to give sagely advice or just to be viewed as a living diorama, these servants were known as a “garden hermits” (dream job anyone?).

In art you see a bloom of paintings featuring divinely perfect picnics. Ladies in fancy clothing on rope swings, every plant flowering splendidly around them, bathed in golden afternoon light. A return to nature and beauty, a romantic escape from the complexities of court life and politics.

It’s no wonder we’re drawn to a “simpler life” these days, surrounded by strife and pandemic. What cottagecore and pastoral themes overlook is how complicated and dangerous life was for people genuinely living on farms and in rural settings were at the time. I’m sure those people trying to put enough food away for winter would never have called their lives “simple”!

-Tae

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