Are you ‘Dark Academia’, Neo-Victorian, or even Cottagecore at heart?

My idea of Cottagecore: a simple house on a lake – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

These days there’s a label for everything. Our society seems unable to function unless it’s categorized a trend and given it a designation. I suspect there are people quietly living their own way without knowing that their lifestyle falls under a certain ‘aesthetic’. The poor fools 😉  

What’s most interesting to me is our tendency to want to introduce some charm and creativity into our relatively humdrum lives. We express our personalities by how we feather our nests, the clothes we wear, books we read, even people we associate with.  

My hubby and I have a wide variety of friends, loosely associated by common interests. We have friends we golf with, for example, and sometimes those rounds out on the course are almost the only place we’ll see them.  

A number of my friends, mostly from work, are really into Halloween and anything supernatural. We have semi-regular movie nights where we’ll go to the theatre to see an interesting new release on the big screen, and in October I’ve been known to host a Halloween tea or two.  

I even have a few Halloween-related decorative pieces that remain out on display all year long. You see, I grew up in an era when kids could go trick-or-treating without adult supervision, when shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits dominated television, and when the first supernatural soap opera, Dark Shadows, made its debut. I read a lot of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and watched Vincent Price earn his reputation as the greatest horror movie actor around in countless creepy films. I became a Halloween geek very early on.   But the things I’m interested in cross over into a number of lifestyle trends, as yours probably do as well. Here are a few of the biggest trends around – some you may be familiar with, some not. And of course, as many followers that these trends attract, there always has to be someone pointing out a ‘downside’. I say you can embrace certain aesthetics of a trend without buying into all the bad stuff that came with it originally.  

Atmospheric book stacks at Trinity College Library, Dublin, Irelandphoto by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

Let’s look at Dark Academia. It’s defined as a subculture that likes certain idealized facets of college/university life – not in the modern block buildings that many of us attended, but the stylized, romanticized places like Oxford University, with its magnificent architecture and ancient traditions. Think dressing in blazers, sweaters, lots of plaid, tweed and houndstooth. A moody colour palette of black, brown, dark green, navy blue, and a little crisp white for contrast holds sway, along with an appreciation of carved wood, creaky old floors, multi-paned windows, softly-lit lamps illuminating old books, a fire in the hearth and a hot cup of tea for sipping. If you look this trend up on Pinterest, you’ll find all kinds of photos illustrating the aesthetic (including a few of my own 😉). I like the look myself – it reminds me of my own university days, of youth, of learning new things, of a future bursting with possibilities. I didn’t wear tweeds or anything remotely ‘British country manor’; most of my days were spent in jeans and a lab coat (as a science major). But I remember sunny autumn days, burying my head in books, and still waiting for Halloween to bring its magic.

The beautiful quill pen I chose to sign books with at my Launch Party – photo by C. Capacchione, professional photographer, all rights reserved by me

The nostalgia evoked by that theme is echoed in Neo-Victoriana. Despite the large dark side of the Victorian era, or maybe even because of it, the Victorian influence still looms large in our lives. It was an era that brought us:

  • the house architecture that pretty much epitomizes the classic ‘haunted house’;
  • some of the most iconic literature ever written (including arguably the most beloved detective in history, Sherlock Holmes, and a Christmas fable that has been remade in many, many iterations – even Henry Winkler played a version of Ebenezer Scrooge);
  • spiritualism and psychic investigations
  • the darkest, most infamous serial killer ever to prowl the streets of the most layered city in history; and
  • enough moody style to inspire countless writers and movie-makers.

  It is ironic that a society that held so many dark secrets (poorhouses, mistreated servants, horrifying asylums for anyone labelled as ‘insane’, layers of both street and organized crime, and a generally bad end for anyone who fell through the cracks of ‘acceptable’ society) continues to fascinate us as much as it does.   People who embrace this trend may have modern technology that’s disguised as antique, furniture that may be authentic or emulates that vintage style, romanticized art in moody colours, Victorian style clothing, and everyday elements that pay homage to bygone days. For my Book Launch Party, I bought an old-fashioned quill pen that had to be dipped in a bottle of ink to do my book signings with. It fit the atmosphere of my novel, looked very stylish and romantic, and generated plenty of compliments. The downside is that I got a bit careless with the dipping and wound up with ink smeared all over my fingers – not the most elegant result lol. (The signatures look very cool, though.) People may collect vintage items of Victorian, or be inspired by them – an 1843 circus poster, very atmospheric on its own, apparently inspired the Beatles for their song “For the benefit of Mr. Kite”.

By Pablo Fanque – Previously uploaded to en:Wikipedia as en:File:MrKitePoster.jpg on 00:51, 23 March 2006 by en:User:Thejokerlaughs27, Public Domain,

On a side note, a lot of Halloween décor has a Victorian look to it, like my lovely pied skull on a pedestal.

photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

A closely-related trend, at least to my mind, is Dark Romanticism. It takes its cue from the supernatural milieu that arose from the Victorian era. Similar to Gothic, but with more ‘modern’ elements drawn in from the expanding world and the Age of Exploration, it explores sin, desire, horror and death, all at the hands of ghosts, demons, vampires, ghouls, and other assorted supernatural creatures that either directly affect humans or seduce them into a world of evil and madness.   Edgar Allan Poe embodied Dark Romanticism in his day, dwelling largely on the theme of madness, while H.P. Lovecraft created an entire canon around his mythical, old-beyond-time Elder Gods. Their stories continue to chill us and enthrall us to this day – in fact, Lovecraft is enjoying a renaissance, including modern spin-offs around his monsters, such as a series I’ve been enjoying where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate “The Cthulhu Casebooks”.  

Part of the Dracula illusion show in Dublin, Ireland – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

Bram Stoker introduced us to the world of vampires, and let loose a whole genre of literature and movies of its own. When my hubby and I were in Ireland several years ago, while in Dublin (Stoker’s home base) we visited a special attraction that sadly has since closed up, “Bram Stoker’s Castle Dracula”. Before the adventure began, all of us “Brave” souls were given some background material to read, then led into the Castle, down a corridor with all kinds of Dracula memorabilia and past all the classic movie scenes, to an illusion show wherein the stage master engaged the audience in trying to prove whether vampires might actually exist. It was great fun, with lots of atmosphere, and I’m so glad we caught it while it was still running.  

While I haven’t seen a ‘Vampirecore’ aesthetic of its own, the ‘undead’ aesthetic is a large part of the Goth trend, which has been in existence for decades.

I believe this is an oyster mushroom growing on a local tree, so possibly edible but don’t quote me on it – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

There is however, an homage to a specific legendary creature, the goblin. It is indeed called Goblincore, and it’s not what you think. Although it is inspired by goblin folklore, it celebrates the rougher aspects of nature – soil and rocks, found objects foraged in the woods, animals and insects, woodland plants as opposed to cultured garden flowers. Apparently this subculture has several other monikers – cottagegoth, crowcore, dirtcore and the somewhat more extreme feralcore.  

For someone who grew up on a farm, I completely understand this culture because country life is largely gritty. People who’ve grown up in the city and decide they want to rusticate it later in life are often unprepared for the field mice, insects, nature noises and other features not nearly as romantic as they envisioned.  

Interestingly, a lot of my photography includes rough nature as a subject, so I guess I’ve been part of this trend for years. I love to document natural textures, colourful fungi, caterpillars, fallen logs, interesting forest features while I’m hiking.  

There’s something about a kitchen garden that’s so homely and comforting – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved.

Critics of a very popular current trend, Cottagecore, assert that the idealized country aesthetic ignores the grittier aspects of life in the country.  Rather than bathing in darkness, Cottagecore loves the perception of a simple country life, surrounded by nature, sunshine and softness. I can attest to the hardships personally, as my brother and I had to pump water from the well, chop wood for the wood-burning stove, fight off deer flies and horse flies in the summertime, and more – and no, I’m not that old, we just lived in an extremely rural part of northern Ontario. Nevertheless, I loved it at the time and in my dream life would build a farmhouse on a beautiful wooded piece of land. Critics also point out that it’s largely impractical for most people to move to a farm, but, as with all of these trends, I’d argue that many aspects of them can be integrated into our lives without going whole hog, so to speak.  

Cottagecore apparently developed in the past decade, and grew to prominence during the pandemic as at least a mental escape from the stress. It’s a more romanticized version of Goblincore, and there is something very appealing about the idea of stepping back from urban craziness and slowing down enough to breathe the fresh air and watch the sun set over the fields.   The current popularity of making your own bread, which my hubby and I even jumped on the bandwagon of during the lockdowns, is symbolic of the trend – not only is it very fulfilling to do, but the end result is an aromatic kitchen and a truly superior loaf of warm bread to eat. Not all back-to-the-basics aspects of Cottagecore will appeal to everyone; you won’t catch me knitting or crocheting, for example (tried them, didn’t like them), but the idea of nesting and nurturing appeals to our need to relax, slow down and take better care of ourselves.  

One trend that I’d personally like to see come about is the style of the 1940s – nightclubs and fancy cocktails, film noir (which is in itself still very popular), intrigue, beautifully tailored clothes. It would be epitomized by one of my all-time favourite television series, the 2001 Nero Wolfe mysteries, which captured all the style so wonderfully detailed in Rex Stout’s novels.

My beloved Halloween tree, which each year holds pride of place on our dining room buffet – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

But until that happens, I’m going to promote my own invented style, which I know already has plenty of adherents: Halloweencore! That’s right, you heard it here first (as far as I can tell)😊 I’m defining it as the subculture of people who to varying extents live Halloween all year round instead of just the month of October. We watch ghost-hunting shows and creepy movies regularly, plan Halloween parties months in advance, and start looking for merchandise in stores in July (more fun than just ordering online). We may have a collection of Halloween-themed lifestyle books, gargoyles and skulls that lurk on shelves for anyone with eyes to see, and a few Halloween-decorated cookware items.  

One of the perks of being a fantasy/horror author is being able to immerse one’s self into a landscape of creepiness any time we want, and then we get to share all of it with you, our enthusiastic readers. The other perk is surrounding ourselves with creepy décor all the time – we call it ‘atmosphere’.  

And with all of these subcultures/trends, atmosphere is what it’s all about. I can’t live in Oxford University, but I can have my bookcase of dark wood filled with great books, my vintage-style campaign desk, my antique black-amethyst decanter decorated with golden sailing ships on the high seas. I love researching history and mythology for my novels, hearkening back to university days. I have a tweed jacket. And I can visit Oxford and its fabulous bookstore. Close enough for me.  

Are you a fan of any of these subcultures, or another not described here? Tell me about it, and what attracts you to it. You can also see my pins for all of these, as well as book info and more, on my new “Erica Jurus, Urban Fantasy Author” site on Pinterest. If you like them, please spread the word!

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