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The Rise of Escapist Aesthetics

Georgia Lay explores the re-emergence of the aesthetic for Lippy Magazine.

Does the idea of gentle rain tapping on window panes and soft wisps of steam from frothed lattes bring you joy? Or would you prefer sun-lit picnics in meadows adorned in gingham dresses and wildflowers?

The idea of aesthetics is one that has been around for hundreds of years, dating back to the first use of the term in 1735 by Alexander Baumgarten. Maybe your first jostle with the idea was the ever-so-popular, and now slightly regrettable, grunge Tumblr aesthetic of 2014, quoting awful poetry and outlining your eyes in heavy black eyeliner because no one truly understood you.

Over the last year throughout the Covid-19 experience, I have noticed a rise in particular aesthetics, reaching new popularity on social media platforms such as Pinterest and TikTok. This typically involves creating boards of an idealistic lifestyle, and sharing items of clothing in hauls that establish particular personas. Briefly described above, two of the main fantasies I have fallen guilty of craving are Dark Academia and Cottagecore. The first a mix of dark coffee, well-read classic books, tousled shirts and classist boarding schools. The latter, a sweet mix of picnics, strawberries, cream dresses and bare feet in the grass. So, why is it that our social media feeds have been bombarded with lifestyles more seemingly perfect than our own?

The idea of escapism is one that instantly comes to mind, the idea of mental diversion from aspects of daily life, which over the past year have been particularly bleak. It is not surprising that teenagers and young adults, trapped in their bedrooms for endless days dream of exploring another city or feeling free in meadows. The pandemic forced us into new aesthetics of zoom calls and banana bread, which although now seem nostalgic, before were almost a novelty to mediate through the scary new changes of day to day life. According to Sprout Social (March, 2021), Pinterest started 2020 with around 320 million monthly activate users and now has 459 million monthly active users, higher than the users of Twitter and Snapchat combined. After the past year, it is unsurprising that the social media consumer would rather soak in images of other countries and water-coloured sunsets instead of the nightmarish truth of the current state of the world which is far more visible on platforms like Twitter.

Now I’ve outlined why I believe the rise occurred, let’s talk about current aesthetics. As stated before, Cottagecore and Dark Academia are two that I see the most often, perhaps that is because they are the ones I enjoy or simply more popular. TikTok users across the world took to integrating these aesthetic elements into their day to day lives, from decor in bedrooms to new items in wardrobes. One of the trends on TikTok included picnics (very Cottagecore) with cakes scooped with a wine glass instead of cut with a knife. Similarly, anything strawberry or cow-related seemed to rise in views.

It is undeniable that the current media and shows on Netflix affect the items we consume. The greatest recent example of this is Bridgerton, released at the end of 2020 and now Netflix’s most-watched series. The steamy period drama set in the Regency era of London is adorned with beautiful costumes and stunning accessories all round. The pastel shades and embroidered gowns certainly appealed to the drained generation of TikTok, again trapped in their homes in dreary December. It is possible that it was the previous lovers of the books, the steamy scenes with the Duke or the gossiping work of Lady Whistledown that led to the show’s viewership. Yet, it is easy to imagine that it was the mental diversion of escapism that resulted in the high numbers. Regardless, the show’s popularity led to a certain fashion aesthetic reworking its way into our wardrobes. Suddenly, embroidered corsets and milkmaid sleeves were appearing on shop websites branded with a sold-out sticker. One item, in particular, an embroidered corset from Victoria Secret paired with dainty flowers and sweet bows, became ‘famous’ on the platform and is now being sold for prices way higher than retail on re-selling apps such as Depop. Users became all-consumed and almost obsessive over the aesthetic, some even purchasing expensive ball gowns and shoes. A certain user (@enchantedeventsuk) has since organised an actual ball, promising to rent out a location and sell tickets for those who wish to live out their Bridgerton dreams. It is clear that the aesthetic has gone beyond being admired on a screen and has remained on everyone’s minds. Could this be down to the excessive amount of free time lockdown has given us? Craving the excitement and now seeming luxury of the normal world?

Ultimately, we were all undoubtedly looking for some sort of escape from the hellish repetitive routines of our lives over lockdown. Therefore, we latched onto these almost fairy-tale-like dreams and constructed distant realities using social media. A conclusion that is certainly not surprising but still satisfying to decipher.


Words and photography by Georgia Lay.


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