A generation ago, the word “core” was synonymous with fashion. It meant the clever but uninformed concept of a “capsule wardrobe”. A pared down assortment of monochromatic items. The notion of “core”, however, has become a hot topic in fashion. The innocuous word functions as a popular qualifier for an endless number of aesthetic subgenres that have emerged in different corners of the world and shared on TikTok – all signified by the hashtagged exchange of online imagery, music, and, of course, fashion. And, while the likes of normcore or cottagecore have become fairly recognizable, there are more and more niche cores appearing each day (from angelcore to goblincore and royalcore). We decided to keep track of them all by writing them down here. A few aesthetic experts also helped us to understand where these cores come from and what they represent.
Core’s moment in mainstream media spotlight, despite the often confusing nomenclature, is gaining serious momentum. Fashion and culture publications are even trying to make their mark on the canon. Now-shuttered Man Repeller offered up the term menocore to encapsulate the linen-clad Nancy Meyers-heroine aesthetic. The Cut recently coined Zizmorcore named it after a Upper East Side dermatologist, whose ads used to grace MTA cars. It buckets any merchandise that has the logo of a well-known Big Apple business or municipality. Marian Park, a strategist with WGSN, says that micro-cores are causing a shift in youth culture to sub-cultures and niche aesthetics. It’s almost as if there has been a new school for creativity, despite the isolation and devastation caused by the pandemic. Gen-Z is having fun creating new aesthetics, exploring fashion history, and trends that link them. While -core has been the focus of a lot of attention in recent years for helping to define this phalanx subgenres created by social media users, there are many style persuasions which don’t use the suffix. One of the most popular aesthetics is -core. This subset of style is free from any core and features moody lighting, hardcover books and an Ivy League approach in dressing. While the movement isn’t as well-known as other internet-bred phenomena, some gatekeepers are trying to organize the many aesthetics that have proliferated online and offline over the past few years.
Angela Yin, an 18-year-old Los Angeles resident, is a moderator of the Aesthetics Wikipedia. The site is a living catalogue of almost 600 visual micro-movements created by its users. According to a statement on the website, the database was established in 2019 as an online community for “identification, observation and documentation of visual schema.” Yin explains that the database is essentially a dictionary. “We’re just documenting what’s there.” There are pages dedicated to “aesthetics”, such as dark academia, light academia and synthwave. Yin says that people often ask about their aesthetic because they are looking for a way to identify themselves. “The best way to describe it is: you know in the opening of The Breakfast Club, when everybody is like, ‘Oh they’re a nerd, they’re a princess, they’re a jock or whatever.'” Some of the site’s users think they have to pick a single-core lane, when in actuality, says Yin, “you can just sort of combine your aesthetics.”
You discover that core is complex and difficult to define. “We can say definitively that [something] is not an aesthetic,” explains Yin, but it’s harder to pin down what an aesthetic is – “especially because it’s all connected to memory.” She says that we are trying to be descriptive and not prescriptive. Or, as our associate writer and resident TikTok translator Alexandra Polk put it: “Cores, aesthetics, moodboards, and vibes are all just a result of wanting to look cute on social media.” Because we’ll never completely understand what constitutes a core, we’ve done the next best thing and outlined some of the most recognizable (in addition to a few cheeky takes of our own) below.
First coined by cartoonist Ryan Estrada in 2008, the term “normcore” was adopted by K-Hole – a five-person collective that was part trend forecaster, part performance art – and employed in “Youth Mode,” a 2013 report posting that, in a society that fetishizes individuality, the “coolest” people are the ones who have evolved beyond the need to appear distinct and are embracing the universal concept of normalcy. It launched a fashion obsession with all things plain, uncool, and seemingly mass – one that’s still very much alive and well in the form of dad hats and mom jeans, Birkenstocks and Crocs. You can also find a variety of items that are decidedly anti-fashion.
This subgenre is not difficult to understand. It has been steadily growing on Tumblr ever since 2018. In 2020, it enjoyed a massive explosion of mass popularity as the world became more isolated. The subgenre’s rustic characteristics (agrarian environments) suddenly became apparent. Traditional feminine clothing. Domesticity and homesteading were a way to escape the grim, digitally-focused reality many of us were living in.
Cabincore is the cold-weather version of cottagecore. It relies on warmer temperatures to display its host (light, loose, sun-dappled dresses, sun-dappled greens and baked goods cooling on windowsills). The darker and more densely wooded world of the cabin, is replete with “carabiners, fire, farmhouse tables, 50 shades of flannel, and Carhartt coveralls.”
Although it isn’t officially approved by the Aesthetics Wiki we are making the case for this core. The public display of mittens by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders at the 2021 presidential induction sparked a frenzy on the internet for all things knitted and homespun.
Angelcore, according to Joanna Cresswell, is “an aesthetic defined dreamy, cloudy, celestial imagery in a kaleidoscope pinks, lemons, and baby blues.” This spring, translucent gear will be available for Simone Rocha’s anticipated collection for H&M.
Also inhabiting the natural-fantastical Venn diagram shared by cottages and angels is goblincore – a subgenre that concerns itself with earthly treasures like moss, mushrooms, and critters of the soil. According to the Aesthetics Wiki, “Lots” of the clothing are worn out, thrifted, and second-hand, for a more comfortable feeling. (There is also a fascination with “shiny” items that goblins have been known to collect. This core has also been embraced by the nonbinary community – as one user on the Goblincore Subreddit wrote, “No gender, only bugs and shinies.”
Jane Boddy, trend forecaster and expert in color, says that there’s one core that has been hidden from plain sight for many years. It’s soft. Softcore is a world where you feel safe and secure. You feel safe. The trend forecaster says that your clothing, house, and colors feel soft. “You won’t wear your crispy baguettes, it’s like eating a brioche.”
Boddy, who was teaching class over Zoom, described purchasing “a lot of StineGoya mental Tops” to wear while she taught. This inspired us to make this one. She adds, “If I’m going be lecturing students on trend forecasting, many of us treat the outside world through our screens in the same manner. We meticulously care for what we see on our bodies, from the waist up. There’s only one way of describing this style of dressing.”
Another core to keep an eye on for spring? One that concerns itself with aesthetically-pleasing fruits in their many juicy forms. Think apples, oranges and strawberries – anything with a healthy dose. We’ve already seen sculptural tropical goodies like papaya and durian .dominate the world of prop and food styling, and the time is ripe for their farmer’s-market brethren to take over our wardrobes. In an effort to make 2021 a brighter, more hopeful year, we are harnessing the symbolism and abundance of fresh produce.