Around the world, clothing sales have plummeted since mid-March, when shops closed their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19 and “slob-chic” became the order of the day. According to one estimate published in early August, US apparel sales could shrink by as much as 50 percent in 2020.
There was one odd, notable exception: a frilly, glittery, hyperfeminine, wholly impractical pink dress, printed all over with red strawberries, that became “a viral sensation,” according to Glamour reporter Adrienne Matei, with sales spiking 1,000 percent between late July and mid-August. Created by a 24-year-old designer from Kosovo with the lyrical name Lirika Matoshi, “the strawberry dress,” as it became known, costs $490 and has inspired TikTok tributes, anime fan art, and, inevitably, cheap knockoffs on Amazon and Etsy. The dress is “a bright spot in a dark year,” Matei writes: a perfect representation of “one of 2020’s most popular trends: the ‘cottagecore’ aesthetic, a sweetly pastoral paean to the countryside popularized by the internet’s young romantics.”
Strawberry-print midi dress by Lirika Matoshi.
Cottagecore—also known as farmcore, grandmacore, faeriecore, countrycore, and warmcore—first appeared around 2018, according to Guardian writer Amelia Hall. In an April 15 article, Hall defined cottagecore as “a visual and lifestyle movement designed to fetishize the wholesome purity of the outdoors, spearheaded by lovely queer teens of TikTok,” and credited pandemic strictures—which turned “the Outside World” into “a mortal threat”—with its rising popularity in 2020.
We’ve seen that -core suffix before: it’s the -gate of style and cultural movements. The Aesthetics Wiki lists 107 -cores, from adventurecore and bunnycore to ravencore, snailcore, and urbancore. (I’ve written about mumblecore , couplecore , lardcore , mid-core , and normcore . And scroll down my July 2020 linkfest for a mention of bardcore.)
They all trace their ancestry to hardcore, which has roots not in movies or fashion but in economics and sociology. When it first appeared, around 1916, it was spelled as two words and referred to “an intractable person, group, or thing.” In the 1920s, its meaning expanded to include “the most active, committed, or doctrinaire members of an organization.” (Both definitions from OED online.) In the late 1960s or early 1970s it began to be used in reference to explicit pornography—softcore followed shortly thereafter—and later in the 1970s it found new life as a descriptor for especially loud or aggressive punk music.
Just before COVID-19 had us sheltering in place and yearning for the outdoor life, and a few months before the strawberry dress became the saccharine antidote to sweatpants, Isabel Stone investigated the cottagecore phenomenon for the New York Times. “Take modern escapist fantasies like tiny homes, voluntary simplicity, forest bathing and screen-free childhoods,” she wrote on March 10, “then place them inside a delicate, moss-filled terrarium, and the result will look a lot like cottagecore”:
In the cottagecore universe, there are no phones pinging constantly with updates, no urgent work emails, no evenings spent responding to the onerous demands of a tyrannical boss. In fact, there is no labor beyond domestic, and workaday tasks are completed with a gauzy sense of fulfillment.
Each pie appears to emerge effortlessly from the oven with immaculate golden brown lattice crust. An obvious backlash to the hustle culture embodied by Fiverr ads, cottagecore attempts to assuage burnout with a languid enjoyment of life’s mundane tasks.
But no fairy tale, it seems, is exempt from the gilt-edged allure of the Mouse Empire. On August 14, according to Adrienne Matei’s Glamour story, strawberry-dress designer Lirika Matoshi “announced her newest endeavor: a collaboration with Disney on the occasion of Cinderella’s 70th anniversary, for which she has released an array of delicate, playful gowns—no berries but plenty of bows and tulle.”