Romanticism among aesthetic subcultures

Dreaming a slow fulfilling life through internet communities.

Man-Ping Wu
5 min readJan 31, 2021

Internet youth subcultures reflect the evolution of generational priorities in relation to current events, values and nostalgia. The scene kids wear their straight, flat hair with long fringes with their love for non-mainstream music, e-girls and e-boys dress as their digital personas to gain clout, and cottagecore followers romanticize country life to make quarantine less terrifying. Many subcultures are common for developing youth-centric social platforms or microblogs and romanticising the ideals for what the community stands for. Currently rising subcultures are the aesthetics like cottagecore and dark academia, designed to be more inclusive to include LGBTQ+ members, androgynous attire and dreaming to live in a non-patriarchal society. Normies might need a second look before underestimating these aesthetic subcultures as a phase.

Curated visual-focus subcultures gaining rise through TikTok were a topic of interest, as I was once a high school Tumblr user in the 2010’s. I always hearted curated wearable outfits made for a Ravenclaw water-bender personality or the heavily pink filter street photographs that look like an anime scene. They were entertaining and relaxing, as I romanticised walking through the pink sakura season or studying potions in the Hogwarts library. Being a master’s graduate, seeking my purpose and living in the current global pandemic makes me nostalgic for when times were seemingly more innocent. The idea of running through the fields, living through the country domestic bliss and studying a Greek mythology in a 16th century Gothic library doesn’t sound too bad.

Nostalgia, values and romanticism are three common elements in niche aesthetic subcultures. Dreaming of the past or an ideal situation as a form of escapism or finding one’s extended self. Unique digital personas or contributing content by microblogging on Tumblr or lip syncing on Tiktok.

Cottagecore Instagram posts by @h0neybeecottage

Cottagecore is a nostalgic-based subculture with the followers dreaming of moving to the countryside living in stoned cottages to bake beautiful pastries and craft beeswax candles. Imagine wearing a milkmaid blouse and running through an open flower-filled meadow. It is a bit reminiscent of being at grandma’s reading childhood stories of Beatrix Potter, fairy tales or The Secret Garden.² The simpler times when things were not so tragic.

Dark academia posts by @myfairesttreasure

Romanticising dark gothic library halls and wearing vintage tweed pants with a full stack of classic books brings in the Dark Academia movement. School does seem more idealized, when it is halted due to a global pandemic. The subculture quotes literary references and imagines a world free of modern technology with one imagining what life would be like in a 19th or early 20th century private school in England. A community where reserved individuals with academic interests discuss the classics, productivity and poetry.

These rising movements reflect how subcultures have evolved to be conscious of their world and become more inclusive and respectful with diverse followers. Movements like dark academia and cottagecore have been synonymous with the queer community. Dark academia reference LGBTQ+ characters from books and films like “Kill Your Darlings,” a film about the poet Allen Ginsberg, while wearing an androgynous vintage blazer.¹ Cottagecore features terms like “cottagecore lesbians” with “a vision of domestic bliss without the servitude in the traditional binary framework”, as written by Isabel Stone in The New York Times.² Both are environmentally conscious with thrifting old pieces, home crafting and borrowing library books to live a slower life free from the competitive capitalistic world.

Despite the good intentions, there are some subcultures, like VSCO girls and soft girls, that are criticised for being suited for pretty light-skinned thin teenage girls. VSCO girl gained its popularity for being beachy and environmentally conscious by using metal straws to save the turtles. Soft girls dress up being dreamy and cute without eagerness to please others as a form of female empowerment.⁴ The criticism arises when the two subcultures have a young following with expensive starter packs and Pinterest subcultures.³ Both examples are the societal beauty standards of a cis white skinny girl. It can affect young girls’ insecurities if they feel they don’t fit the model and are not able to afford the Fjallraven Kanken backpack or Dolls Kill platform Mary Janes. Subcultures need to be wary and not gate-keep their community, as it will overshadow and limit their good cause message .

VSCO girl Pinterest results

Aesthetic subcultures all come together on the internet with a common idealized mindset to discuss topics that weren’t available near their geographical point. It is a reflection of what some people desire as a form of criticism against the current societal norms. Care for the environment, living a simpler life, being mindful and not being too excluding. Maybe we can find our own aesthetic community reading about all the different cores, kei’s and waves on the aesthetic fandom wiki. Coming up with unique personas to see how far our personality extends. Hopefully these communities can meet up one day, play up being the persona instead of hiding behind a filtered screen.


[1] Bateman, Kristen. “What Is the TikTok Subculture Dark Academia?” The New York Times [New York, NY], 30 June 2020,

[2] Jennings, Rebecca. “Cottagecore Meaning: Taylor Swift, Animal Crossing, and Our Endless Desire for Calm.” Vox, 3 Aug. 2020,

[3] — -. “What Is a VSCO Girl? The VSCO Girl Meme, Explained.” Vox, 24 Sept. 2019,

[4] Matei, Adrienne. “TikTok’s Soft Girls: Could a Hyper-Cute Aesthetic Be a Symbol of Empowerment?” The Guardian, 4 Dec. 2019,