Cottage Core vs. Reality

This week was a bit interesting, in that I both interviewed someone for MY podcast and was the guest on another. (Look for that on The Homestead Journey in a little while). And, in both cases, the trend of “Cottage Core” came up.

What is “Cottage Core”? you may reasonably ask, gentle reader? I’ll give you a quote here from a piece Good Housekeeping did on the trend:

Cottage on Mackinac
Cottage on Mackinac

There’s no finer example of this feeling — aesthetic, rather — than cottagecore, where the ease of rural life is brought to life with fresh florals, botanical accents and vintage-inspired decor.

Amanda Garrity, Good Housekeeping, April 2021

I’ve spent time on the CottageCore subreddit. Probably the Good Housekeeping description over-romaticizes something that is already an over-romaticization of rural or cottage life. And the emphasis is always, always on the aesthetic. Gamboling about the countryside in diaphanous gowns. Feeding the chickens while wearing an organdy apron and sandals. Posing for the camera with a freshly baked loaf of bread.

Mind, I am not against bread-baking, chicken-feeding, or gamboling of most sorts. What makes this rather cringe-worthy from my perspective is that it’s really all about the aesthetic. The practitioners of Cottage Core claim to be in search of peace and tranquility, slow living in all it’s glories.

What they really are is Marie Antoinette and her ladies playing at being dairymaids, then putting down their buckets at the end of the afternoon so that the real dairymaids could go dump the spoilt milk, milk the cows properly, muck out the stalls, sanitize all the equipment, and generally clean up after their “betters.”

(Historical note: part of the appeal of the dairymaid came from their unblemished complexions in a world still ravaged by smallpox. Spending their days cheek-by-flank with cows inoculated the dairymaids with cowpox, sparing them from smallpox. But all that was really known at the time was that fresh-faced girls were probably dairymaids. So, once again, all about aesthetics)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love shows like BBC’s “Edwardian Farm” as much as the next girl. I’ve seen the (only real) production of “Pride and Prejudice” more times than I can easily count. I bought my mother a subscription to BritBox for Christmas. I get it. I enjoy the aesthetic, and the idea of simplification as much as the next girl.

The thing I find sort of cringe-worthy about the Cottage Core movement is its utter artificiality. (Same gripe I have over the “Farmhouse” decorating aesthetic). Anybody who has actually spend a few harried weeks at lambing time looks at the play-shepherdess in the polyester chiffon dress from H&M and thinks, “Boy, she’s gonna be cold. And the placental stains will never come out of that dress.” While she stands in relative comfort dressed in layers, one or more of which are probably wool, and unattractive but practical coveralls or a canvas smock.

Pete sniffs a lamb

What it really strikes me as, is the Pretty Pretty Princessing of the homestead movement. An attempt to siphon off just the attractive aspects and leave behind the dregs of struggle. There is a world of difference between baking a loaf of bread on your weekend off and setting up your kitchen and your schedule to be able to provide all the bread your family needs for the week. In a family that eats bread because nobody is on a Keto diet.

Likewise, showing off the little capelet you just sewed while binging NetFlix is a different kettle of fish than sewing up the hole in the pocket of the pants that your husband JUST BOUGHT because he forgot to latch his Leatherman completely closed – just to pick a random example. Committing to keeping your family clothed wholly or in part by the work of your hands is a enterprise entirely apart from making a cute little 1-hour skirt from a free internet pattern.

The homestead movement, itself, is not without its issues. Everything from competitive levels of “self-sufficiency” to overly curated feeds that probably led to the development of Cottage Core as a Thing(TM) have plagued various social media devoted to the lifestyle.

That, however, is the key. Homestead is, in fact, a lifestyle. Where Cottage Core is an aesthetic. See the difference? Cottage Core cosplays actual slow living, then goes back to Tic-Toc videos, dresses from H&M, and a trip to Starbucks until it’s time to post the next pretty picture.

I’m going to issue an invitation, gentle readers. I invite you to do things the hard way for a while. Not everything, but a few selected things. I know you can do it – after all, you’ve read this far into this post. Which is currently rating a Frowny Face for “readability,” because the analyzer on my blog software thinks that long sentences and a deep vocabulary are too challenging. I, on the other hand, have faith in you.

If you’ve been around here very long, you’ll be aware that I have a podcast called Vintage Americana, devoted to reviving that lost way of life, rather than play-acting it. We’re going to expand on that theme just a bit. Welcome to Americana Core. Commit yourself to learning a new Old skill, and making it part of your life. One at a time. Learn not just to bake a loaf of sourdough bread, but maintain a starter and bake a loaf once a week or so. Even if you have to give a few loaves away so that you’re not overrun. In fact, consider becoming part of Tie One On Day. The day before Thanksgiving, bake a loaf of bread, wrap it in a handmade apron, and take it to a neighbor as a gift. Hey, look! Making an apron would be another useful skill. And once you start baking more necessities, you may find you need more than one apron…

Do you see how this works?

Post your new skills to Instagram with the hashtag #AmericanaCore, and tag me, too, @brambleberrymeadow. (No, I’m not on FB and don’t intend to go back, but feel free to use the hashtag there, as well).

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