Cottagecore is the aesthetic buzzword of 2020, and cottagecore lesbians are in abundance. It’s rooted in many things, and is currently taking many forms, but it’s the link to lesbian culture and lesbian modes of dressing that I want to discuss here. There are links between cottagecore and so many manifestations of lesbian existence – the lesbian commune and the notion of separatism (as in running-away-from-heterosexist-society, not transphobia), lesbians wearing dungarees and Doc Martens, anti-capitalism and craft.
There have already been discussions around why cottagecore is so gay. One that I’d recommend watching is Rowan Ellis’ video ‘why is cottagecore so gay?’ Here, she says that “For queer and sapphic women, [cottagecore] allows them to imagine a space without homophobia, fear and judgement, that doesn’t feel like a banishment but instead a specifically curated paradise.”1 I would argue that this “curation” of paradise is through actions and aesthetics that connect to the natural and claim the natural as lesbian. In doing this, ‘cottagecore lesbians’ are embracing the possibility of a lesbian life ethos. This is to say, though lesbianism is of course rooted in loving women, other principles also exist at the forefront of a political lesbian existence: connecting with nature, hand-making and growing, craft, equality.
These principles often manifest in clothing and aesthetics. Since cottagecore is such an aesthetically-driven phenomenon, it makes this especially evident. Though often cottagecore fashion involves flowing dresses and flower crowns, I want to also consider cottagecore fashion as natural, crafted and hands-on, clothing that is practical and earthy and holding a unique beauty. Assertion: dungarees are beautiful, and so are knitted cardigans!
Figure 1: Dorothy Shmitz, photograph of two women. C. 1920. Gay & Lesbian Atlanta. Accessed via Riese, ‘Epic Gallery: 150 Years of Lesbians and Other Lady-Loving-Ladies,’ 19th Sept. 2012, Autostraddle.
Crafting and the hand-made have been prominent in feminist and queer spaces for a long time. This is because there is a historic hierarchy where (fine) art is positioned over craft – art forms such as embroidery or woodwork – because these crafts have traditionally been done by women or the working class. The labour and skill put into these craft forms too often goes unacknowledged, much like the people who partake in them. Because of this, craft is ripe as a tool for subversive exploration.2 In an article on the online journal Decorating Dissidence, artist LJ Roberts says that “I find that issues of marginality I encounter as a queer, gender non-conforming and non-binary person often mirror the position(s) of textile and craft within visual culture. The margins that queerness and craft inhabit are often mutually reflective.”3 The solidarity between craft and queer identity means that when crafted items are prominent in the lives of queer people, or in the dress of lesbians, their queer existence is made prominent – given space – in the things around them and the clothes they wear.
The hand-made and hand-cultivated features of cottagecore may be littered all around the aesthetic, but it has a particular importance in clothing. This is due to the closeness of clothing to the body and the self. I believe that the clothes we wear are an outward representation of our Self; when people first meet us, after all, they see our clothing as part of us. We become “the woman in the dungarees” or “the person wearing the embroidered linen shirt.” Our values are at their most accessible when displayed in our dress.
Figure 2: Amanda Jasnowski Pascual, Photograph of Carmen Goodyear and her wife Laurie York, 2017. Rebecca Bengal, ‘Country Women,’ Vogue, 25th June 2017.
The values of lesbian cottagecore are not new. In fact, they are very visible in the lesbian past. The present link between cottagecore and lesbianism echoes that between ecofeminism and landdykes of the 1970s and 80s. Landdyke settlements, or rural lesbian communes (similar, though not always interchangeable concepts), revolved around the ideas of creating and maintaining lesbian space, but having a symbiotic relationship with that space – in other words, to give back to the land. In Sine Anahita’s article ‘Nestled into Niches: Prefigurative Communities on Lesbian Land,’ she writes about the correlation between landdykes and ecofeminism. She argues that because “the oppressive exploitation of nature and women become embedded in daily practices, ecofeminist resistance and transformation must also become embedded in daily practices.”4 Here, she is talking of landdyke settlements, but I think that a similar argument can be made for cottagecore. Later on in the article, Anahita writes that “Lesbian feminism as articulated by the landdyke movement encourages the development of alternative and liberating ideals such as female self-sufficiency, bodily strength, autonomy from men and patriarchal systems, and the development of lesbian-centered community.”5 Are these not similar goals to the dreams of the cottagecore lesbian?
Landdykes actually lived and worked on the land – some still do, though the movement is definitely no longer at its peak. The ideals never left, though. As Anahita argues, the landdyke – and now, the cottagecore – movement is built out of daily practices. Even if cottagecore lesbians are living in city apartments, a far cry from cultivating their own patch of land, the daily practices that they engage in embody the same ideals. Craft, as I mentioned earlier, is one of these ways. Dressing is another. Caring for plants or animals or friends is another still. All of these are about carving out a space for the political-yet-escapist lesbian life that they crave. I argue that this is a search for a kind of utopia, but that the search itself is part of utopia’s creation, no matter how far away it may seem.
Cottagecore lesbians are not really living the life they blog or talk or dream about, but a blog or a conversation or a dream is still a way to make space. As in the quote from Rowan Ellis at the beginning of this post, it is to “imagine a space.” As in an article on Vice, it is a “yearning.”6 It is an acknowledgement that we could live in a better world. I think a lot about a piece of writing by lesbian activist Elana Dykewomon called ‘Walking on the Moon.’ She talks of a lesbian utopia. She knows that it does not currently exist, but that it could exist by means of working and imagining. She writes:
Can we make utopias? Wherever we can think, wherever we can listen. We must continue the attempt.
Because the alternative is to accept being trapped here, where Israeli commandos slaughter peace activists on boats bringing humanitarian aid, where oil companies and governments collude to look the other way whenever a profit can be made, where prisons are the biggest economic enterprise of California.
We have to imagine ourselves out of this place. We have to reach for the moon.7
Imagination is one of the first steps towards change. To anyone involved in cottagecore, I say to continue. Keep knitting, keep planting herbs on your windowsill, keep wearing that straw hat or those dungarees. You’re part of history – let’s keep the story going.
1: Rowan Ellis, ‘why is cottagecore so gay?’ 30th July 2020, YouTube, 10:40.
2: Rozsika Parker, “‘The Creation of Femininity’ from The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine,” The Craft Reader, Glenn Adamson, ed, (New York: Berg, 2010) 494.
3: Daniel Fountain and LJ Roberts, ‘LJ Roberts’ Queer Epics,’ Decorating Dissidence 8 (2020), decoratingdissidence.com
4: Sine Anahita, ‘Nestled into Niches: Prefigurative Communities on Lesbian Land,’ The Journal of Homosexuality 56.6 (2009), 721.
5: Anahita, ‘Nestled into Niches,’ 729.
6: Sarah Woolley, ‘Cottagecore is the pastoral fantasy aesthetic taking over TikTok,’ 12th Feb. 2020, i-D, Vice, i-d.vice.com
7: Elana Dykewomon, ‘Walking on the Moon,’ Trivia: Voices of Feminism 11 (2010), Conversation III, triviavoices.com