(Style)

How Black Women Are Reclaiming The Cottagecore Trend

“For me, it is not just an aesthetic, but a way of life.”

By Jada Jackson
@hillhousevintage
Paula Sutton wearing a cottagecore dress

The cottagecore trend has been taking up room in the fashion realm for the last couple of years and there are no signs of it stopping. The look takes its roots and inspiration in the rural and farm life aesthetics. But since its rise to fame, there have been many conversations surrounding its lack of representation of people of color and its roots built on an American colonial fantasy of a bucolic lifestyle. Oftentimes, when you search the term “cottagecore,” the images include a backdrop of swaying wheat fields with rows of flowers and white women frolicking in nature — leading many to see cottagecore as a white-exclusive trend. Despite this, Black women are staking claim to the lifestyle as unapologetically as they can.

Noemie Sérieux, the founder of Cottagecore Black Folks, explains that she made her Instagram page out of frustration that she never was able to fully feel represented by a lifestyle that she adores. “I was tired of never seeing women who looked like me living the life I loved. It made me angry. It felt unfair,” says Sérieux. “As if I was once again being told that the only aesthetic someone of my complexion belonged to was the aesthetics painted with negative Black stereotypes”.

On the Cottagecore Black Folks page, you find various women, men and gender queer Black folks who feel connected to the cottagecore themes of sustainability, minimalism, and love for nature. Since the creation of her Instagram page, Serioux has received countless DM’s from Black followers who applauded her for creating a space for them to be seen in this landscape, and many followers of the page have told her that it gave them the courage to finally buy cottagecore-inspired pieces.

“I wanted to show people of color that they are not limited by the picture someone else paints of them … That they can enjoy all the simplest pleasures of life and not feel as if they are playing a character or "acting white”.

Feeling excluded and sometimes ridiculed for enjoying cottagecore is oftentimes a regular occurrence for Black fans of the trend. An incident involving influencer Paula Sutton brought this issue front and center. Back in 2020, the influencer behind the idyllic Hill House Vintage Instagram page was ridiculed by editor Liv Siddall who posted on Twitter that she was leaving Instagram due to a picture that Sutton had posted of herself. The image showed Sutton peacefully sitting in front of her countryside home on a striped picnic blanket. Siddall stated, “deleted Instagram today for the first time ever (eight years!) Don’t know when I’ll be back, but let it be known that this was the image that did it.”

Incidents like these have not deterred Black women such as designer Tayma Martins. Since the launch of her namesake brand in 2018, Martins has been busy creating ‘70s-style prairie dresses inspired by early childhood memories of growing up in Central California on a rural countryside.

“For me, it is not just an aesthetic, but a way of life that feels most natural and familiar to me. My family and I had our own land with pet goats, ducks, rabbits, and a Dalmatian,” says Martins. “My mother was about to get me a pet pig before we moved to Canada. Many afternoons in the country were spent making lemonade from our lemon trees. When I’d go for walks with my mom, some of our neighbors would pass by on horses.”

Though she has for the most part felt the cottagecore community as accepting, she recently shared in an Instagram post (now deleted) the struggles she had with keeping her brand afloat as a Black designer. Some of her experiences as one of a few Black-owned brands in this space entailed being passed up for editorial opportunities in place of white designers.

Currently, all of Martin's dresses are made to fit US sizes XS to 3X, which was a conscious decision to ensure her dresses could fit a variety of body types due to her own struggles of finding vintage clothes she loved that could fit her figure.

“I’ve always been obsessed with vintage clothes, and a few years ago I discovered a particular era of 1970s vintage that took my breath away,'' she expressed. “Filled with soft florals, lace, and ribbons, I knew this was how I wanted to dress. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t fit into any of the gorgeous vintage pieces I found. Most only went to a modern size 6 or 8, impossible for me to squeeze a 40DD chest into.”

This lack of size inclusivity and overall representation of diverse body sizes is something that plus-size cottagecore/vintage fashion influencer Essence Walker is all too familiar with. The Chicago-based plus-size beauty, known for her carefully curated Instagram page, explains that over the last couple of years, representation of different body types in the cottagecore and vintage space has slowly improved.

“There was a time I rarely to never saw myself reflected in the aesthetics I cared about,” Walker explains. “I learned a lot about fat politics and self-love through Tumblr almost a decade ago and just looked at a lot of style imagery that inspired me, with a mind to put myself into it and create the representation I needed to see. I still see so much work that has to be done but a notch moves a little more each day.”

As for why there's an overwhelming whitewashed image of of the cottagecore aesthetic? Walker firmly believes it's rooted in racism: “For some it’s this idea of clinging to a thing they think is white and thus should be gate-kept. For others it’s simply that they have not learned to seek out and advocate for more space for bodies that don’t look like theirs, and instead live in an echo chamber. Including others means doing work and sometimes taking a backseat.”

For many Black followers of the cottagecore lifestyle, they are forced to resonate with the dark past that is intricately woven throughout the lifetime of the aesthetic. One for which is tied to a colonial past where Black people were forced into servitude, while others were redlined from land and farming due to racist policies.

Back in 1920, a reported 949,889 farmers existed. Now, a more recent figure shows that only 1.3 percent of farmers today, or 45,508, are Black. This drop can all be connected to the USDA’s discriminatory treatment of Black farmers, which resulted in several Black farming families losing their farms due to a lack of support by the US government. Incidents like this are among the many times throughout America's past when Black people were systematically disenfranchised from land and the so-called pursuit of the “American Dream.”

Though some may believe that it is the burden of people of color to acknowledge the atrocities tied to the colonial American era from which the cottagecore trend stems from, Sérieux believes the contrary. “It is the job of the oppressor engaging with this aesthetic to acknowledge the sins of their ancestors,” she says, and “To engage with cottagecore and not engage with its painful history is erasure in white hands because the guilt lies with them.”

For Black women, reclaiming our right to exist in a space that has long since excluded us can seem daunting, but as Sérieux points out it's the only sure way we can help “paint a more complete picture” of the tumultuous timeframe from which cottagecore originates. For Sérieux, Sutton, Martins, and Walker, they’ve found a way to achieve this by building a community, creating fashion, and influencing others through social media.