Discover what cottagecore, Black Fae Day, and Taylor Swift have in common with a look at folklore’s impact on today’s aesthetic trends.
Instagram and TikTok have made one thing clear: folklore is folk style and it is permeating our lives. Cottagecore and its sister aesthetics continue to grow in popularity, and indie brands and creators are rising to meet demand. Meanwhile, even larger brands like Target are beginning to produce clothing and home decor themed around cozy rural life.
So, put on your favorite cardigan and puff-sleeved Selkie dress and go flower picking in the English countryside with us. Just avoid wandering into the fairy rings at the field’s edge while you learn more about the folklore trend.
Clockwise from top left: Liderina, PushAnn, Wallenrock, Martsynenko Miroslava, and Kateryna Mostova.
Pop Culture and Folklore
In 2020, Taylor Swift took a thematic sidestep from her origins in down-home Americana into indie folk music with her appropriately titled Folklore and Evermore album duo. Featuring cozy coats, moss-strewn pianos in deep forests, and simple cotton shifts, her albums and accompanying music videos brought the folklore aesthetic to the top of music charts across a dozen countries.
View this post on InstagramA post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift)
Critics and fans designated the album pair as the quintessential lockdown records. Drawing on traditional folklore and folk music, Swift set her autobiographical songwriting aside and, instead, crafted a new mythology within her albums. She explored escapism and nostalgia through stories of love, grief, infidelity, and community in the lives of her characters.
Following the release of these best-selling albums, Swift stepped up the glam aspect in her folklore-inspired fashion. For her appearance at the 63rd Grammy Awards, she wore a mesh dress covered in intricately embroidered spring and summer flowers (including a matching mask). However, her effortless, braided hairstyle acted as a callback to the simplicity and romance of her albums—which was a fitting homage when she took home Album of the Year.
Images by Jordan Strauss/AP/Shutterstock and Jay L Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock.
Over the course of this summer, woman-owned fashion brand Selkie conquered Instagram with empire waistlines and pastel chiffon poof. Ultra-feminine, ultra-chic, and explicitly dedicated to smashing societal rules about whose bodies are permitted to be fashionable, Selkie deliberately took its name from tragic Celtic folklore about women losing their identity under the crushing weight of a patriarchal system.
In selkie stories, mythical seal women who shed their seal skins to moonbathe on the shore ran the risk of human men stealing their skins and forcing the seal women to become human wives.
Founder Kimberley Gordon found inspiration in selkie stories and in Hans Christen Andersen’s rendering of “The Little Mermaid,” not as tales of sorrow but as the first chapter before a rebirth.
“And I thought, there have to be so many women out there who want to find themselves, or are looking for themselves again, and maybe this company can be a representation of my age group, who are looking for joy later on.”
Kimberley Gordon, Selkie FounderView this post on InstagramA post shared by Selkie
Selkie offers other, more casual styles, but the puff dress tapped into an undercurrent of popular imagination where anyone can be a princess in a fairytale. After the events of the past . . . however long this has been (perhaps we are trapped in a fairy ring after all), sometimes we need a little escapism and adventure.
Larger brands and style mavens are not immune to this stylish call from another realm.
Images by CreativeLab, CreativeLab, FashionStock.com, lev radin, and FashionStock.com.
Lace-festooned gowns and chiffon puff sleeves bring a touch of the fantastic to the runway. However, part of the beauty of this romantic style is its accessibility. Small brands like Selkie and DIYers on Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest carve out space where individuals can explore the nuances of where folklore intersects with fashion and, as in the hopes of Kimberley Gordon, find themselves along the way.
Instagram Gets Crafty: Cottagecore
Cottagecore may be one of the biggest (and still growing) folkloric fashions you’ll find on Instagram. Taking cues from 70s bohemian fashion and other feminine alt fashions such as Lolita and Mori Kei, wearers of cottagecore celebrate nature, whimsy, and regional folklore through fashion. Natural fabrics such as linen, cotton, and wool feature heavily in cottagecore clothing.
Cottagecore is far from an only child in the fashion and interior design worlds. It has many offshoots and closely related aesthetics, many of which also pull on folktales for inspiration. Goblincore, fairycore, and TikTok’s favorite, witchcore, all trade elements with cottagecore while maintaining their own unique relationships with folklore.
Tumblr was the one to name it, but cottagecore’s roots actually reach far beyond any one platform. The aesthetic developed throughout the 2010s on Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and through bloggers documenting their lives on modern, often urban homesteads.
Images by Evgeniya Fedorova Dramas, Juan Ramon Ramos, AKaltykova, Svitlana Sokolova, Artem Zatsepilin, Ina ART, and Bee’s Inspired Studio.
Speaking of homesteads, Target accidentally made the internet explode in 2020 with the prairie dress meme. While the dresses were allegedly Target’s attempt to emulate Kate Middleton’s floral designer dresses, the high-necked ruffly result felt more Little House on the Prairie than royal.
The prairie dress isn’t entirely the wrong kind of retro, though. It even made an appearance in the official music video for “Willow” as Taylor Swift walked into a golden sunset, arm-in-arm with her love interest from the video.
Plus, regardless of meme stature, the Target prairie dress was a big step in mainstream brands offering the cottagecore aesthetic to a wider audience. Before mainstream retailers and designers joined the game, most cottagecore fashion came from thrifting and upcycling vintage fashion or from small brands.
Images by Ironika, yanik88, David Tadevosian, Tysovska Nina, Evgeny Haritonov, ju_see, and shudoy 25.
The Lord of the RingsGame of Thrones (no matter what you thought of the ending). The Green KnightThe Witcher, and more. High fantasy and traditional folktales crop up everywhere in popular media. One of the many reasons for fantasy’s enduring popularity—other than the fact that “Toss A Coin To Your Witcher” is the catchiest song ever written—is that it offers a glimpse into magical alternate worlds where the viewer can leave the stress and mundanity of everyday life behind.
Images by ZolotarevsKathySG and Volodymyr TVERDOKHLIB.
Instead of doomscrolling on social media, the viewer can be the princess riding a white horse through the forest, the swordsman in a stormy romance with a sorceress, the queen commanding her dragons.
Even more purely historical shows and movies (think Bridgerton and Little Women) hold sway over audiences with the same sense of escapism. It’s far more enjoyable to be adjacent to fictional royalty than it is to call your dentist.
View this post on InstagramA post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift)
However, folklore fashion inspiration comes from more than tales about princesses. Creatives also pull from classical legends of dryads, nymphs, and gods and goddesses. The selkie is another source, although its popularity is higher in the UK where its story is more familiar.
Traditional European folktales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” are baked into the West’s cultural DNA. So, naturally they inspire modern spins in fiction and fashion alike. Other artists look to mermaids and fairies to give their designs an otherworldly flair.
Images by MillaF, S-F, Lauren Elisabeth, Roman Chazov, Katya Warped, yurakrasil, and Evgeniya Litovchenko.
Fairies were recently the driving inspiration in #blackfaeday, a multi-platform celebration of Black fashionistas and fairytale enthusiasts. This organized online bash aimed to give Black creators greater visibility and to prove once and for all that the realm of fantasy belongs to everyone. In fact, Black Fae Day inspired a series of fantastical fashion hashtags all dedicated to BIPOC fans of the supernatural.
Images by Ironika, Africa Studio, Balkonsky, Bee Bonnet, Stasia04, Ellya, and Roman Chazov.
More Everyday Fantasy
Folklore in fashion isn’t all fairy wings and elaborate ballgowns. In more day-to-day life, you’ll find fresh seasonal flower crowns, breezy peasant dresses, and cozy oversized jackets. Pastels and earth tones reign supreme here, but white is possibly the most ubiquitous color in the folklore color palette.
Images by Milanna Kohn, Steve Lovegrove, Pitchyfoto, Anne Ponomarenko, Bee Bonnet, Rishiken, and theshots.co.
This more casual fashion still takes elements from the same fairytales, but in a more wearable style. Paisley and floral patterns harken back to hippie fashion, and cotton eyelet fabrics evoke summers on the farm. Heirloom and DIY accessories featuring repurposed antiques (silver spoon rings, anyone?) anchor flightier fantastical outfits with a sense of historicity. Meanwhile, fresh flowers, lush textiles, and full skirts bring a dash of magic into the everyday.
Not everyone can make lunch from foraged mushrooms and wildflowers, but that doesn’t preclude them from living the hobbit life.
Images by Ekateryna Zubal, allme, Alena Ozerova, Olga Melnichuk, Maples Images, jennifer_crowder_artist, indira’s work.
Folksy Textures and Patterns
Nod to Royalty
Taylor Swift turned heads in her “Willow” music video wearing a lush velvet cape, and graced the cover of Folklore in delicate, feminine lace. Both fabrics have deep historical roots and carry a long-held association with luxury and royalty . . . and maybe your grandmother’s living room. (But, don’t worry. Grandmacore is also a thing.)
Images by Alyona Mandrik, Mantikorra, Look Studio, frantic00, and Madele.
That said, modern aesthetics don’t limit either to a lifetime of drawing rooms and formal events. Although lace currently holds sway as one of the most common dress fabrics in the wedding industry, it’s also a perfect material for casual spring dresses or skirts. Soft, pastel hues take away some of its stiff formality while maintaining its feminine and romantic nature.
Tulle and chiffon are also classic wedding fabrics, but they can be youthful and energetic as well.
View this post on InstagramA post shared by Selkie
Natural Fibers and Patterns
Florals are an ever-popular print pattern in cottagecore and other folk-inspired fashions. Small florals such as ditzy patterns are plentiful and always fresh. Meanwhile, bolder florals instantly punch up the impact of a design.
Images by Krichevtseva, goldnetz, Alyona Mandrik, Tah.suttipong, and Karen Dole.
Not just for lumberjacks or Victorian detectives (although both arguably reflect a certain folkloric origin in their own rights), woolen plaids offer instant warmth to images. Gingham is a staple pattern in cotton apparel, and plant-based dyes offer a rustic authenticity to natural fabrics. Linen is a mainstay in summer wear, while cotton flannel is perfect for the transition into fall.
Images by Julia Mols, skyNext, and Egrigorovich.
And, of course, the cardigan. Classic cable knits and buttons made from natural materials such as wood and coconut lend a cozy handmade feel perfect for adding a touch of hygge to any outfit.
Images by Look Studio, Lena Pan, grintan, Polovinko Julia, and Sarfoto.
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