It’s the birthright of every generation to rebel against its forebears. So how can young people today define themselves as different from their phone-obsessed, digital-native parents? By donning Little House on the Prairie dresses, baking pies and cavorting with fairies. The cottagecore aesthetic has become popular with Gen Z, but what many don’t realize is how this trend actually finds its roots in sustainability.

According to the Urban Dictionary, cottagecore is “a niche aesthetic based around the visual culture of an idealized life on a Western farm. Common themes include sustainability, gardens, farm animals, rural living and nature.” That makes this trend a good way to embrace an eco-lifestyle, learn some new skills, breathe fresh air and have fun.

Related: What is cottagecore?

“During the worldwide pandemic and long periods of stay-at-home orders, the movement accelerated rapidly as people looked for an escape from our dark reality,” said Amelia Ansink, accessories editor for Fashion Snoops, as reported by Today. “Cottagecore unintentionally represents the ideal quarantine life, where isolation in nature is strived for and everything we need can be produced at home and by our own hands.”

person in embroidered cotton dress sitting in a forest

Cottagecore apparel

When the world is in lockdown and people are working from home (if at all), choosing clothes can feel like a game of dress-up. Who are we dressing for right now? Mostly ourselves. So if you’ve ever yearned to dress like a Holly Hobbie doll, this is your fashion moment.

Whether you’re baking muffins, embroidering on the porch swing or picnicking in a field, prairie-inspired dresses of seersucker, faded denim, cotton and linen fit the aesthetic. Think ruffles and soft colors, paired with straw hats, jute bags and a wicker picnic basket. Gingham checks and floral prints are top choices. Hair is worn long and natural, topped with flower crowns or wrapped in a bandana. If you’re doing something a little dirtier — say, cleaning up after the chickens — striped overalls may be a better wardrobe option.

Courtney Fox, 27, runs the cottagecore Instagram account @thefoxandtheivy. “I grew up in rolling farmland in rural Pennsylvania, not too far from Lancaster County, which has a large population of Amish, so this landscape and way of living helped to inspire me,” she said, as reported in Today. Her fashion role models include literary heroines like Anne of Green Gables and the characters in Little Women. The trend has helped Fox live in a more eco-friendly manner. “For me, cottagecore has meant trying to reduce my waste production and purchase things more sustainably, including my clothing,” she said. “There was a time when I was buying fast fashion, but I realized it didn’t really align with my values.”

While cottagecore fashion tends to be femme, anyone can join in. Flat caps, tweed, knitted sweaters and walking sticks all help you dress the part. Bonus points if you take up beekeeping and baking.

green and pink bedroom with vintage furnishings

Your cottagecore home

Because cottagecore makes the old new again, that means upcyling, thrifting, garage sales and flea markets are all part of the lifestyle. No need to contribute to the manufacturing of new goods and the accompanying emissions. If you picture a stereotypical grandmother’s cottage — lace curtains, floral tablecloths, vintage baskets and antique vases — you’ve got the right idea.

Related: Unpacking the cottagecore home decor trend

You may be able to tweak existing household accessories for the cottagecore look. Tone down brightly colored wood furniture with white chalk paint, which gives a rustic, shabby-chic feel, or use other muted paint colors like cream, light pink, yellow or green.

If you’re lucky enough to live close to your mother or grandmother, raid their garage or attic — with their permission, of course — for cottagecore finds. They’ll probably be thrilled you can use something that’s just gathering dust and taking up space.

Your cottagecore home needs a soundtrack. The Irish artist Hozier is at the top of the playlist, with Bon Iver, Florence and the Machine and any kind of romantic dark folk rock right behind. Taylor Swift has even joined in on the act with her new albums folklore and evermore.

partially finished embroidery

Cottagecore hobbies

Cottagecore is about more than the way you and your house look. It also involves reviving wholesome hobbies of yesteryear. Gardening has become very popular during the pandemic and is directly tied in to other sustainable activities like baking and canning. Nothing beats growing your own rhubarb then serving it in a pie.

Lockdown is the ideal time to improve your needle skills by sewing or embroidering. Top embroidery subjects are natural things like mushrooms, foxes and woodland fairies.

Then there’s gaming. Cottagecore aficionados who can’t give up their technology can play rural- and nature-inspired games like Animal Crossing and Farmville.

Everybody needs a break from the pandemic right now. Of cottagecore, popular British Instagrammer Keri-Anne Pink who runs @gingerlillytea says, “I think it gives people a little bit of escapism from their own world and busy life.”

Images via Bertrand Bouchez, Lê Tân, James DeMers and Lexi T