What is a -core anyway?

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Words: Virtuous Ayuk (she/they)

Upon telling a friend I would be attending the University of Glasgow, the first thing she said was ‘that’s so Dark Academiacore’. Cottagecore, Dreamcore, Cluttercore, or even the subversive Normcore, are just a few among the different “-core” aesthetics that have taken over our phone screens.  

The word “core” can be defined as the part of something that is central to its existence. In this context, the core suffix has come to mean an aesthetic inspired by the prefix: connected to, or relating to, the prefix. These -core movements are born from a central interest whereby people who enjoy these interests can enjoy it together. 

Cottagecore, for example, centres around an appreciation for an idealised peaceful western rural life, and we see its lovers celebrate this by incorporating a more whimsical aesthetic featuring lots of earth tones, as well as take on a greater appreciation for the simpler domestic things in life such as baking, the textile arts, or even just picking flowers. 

To many, -cores are a means of channelling self-expression, forming and finding community. The practice of uniting under a common interest is something humans have been doing for many years on the internet. Fandoms are at the root of the formation of internet communities. Historically, much like -core movements are doing now, fandoms have served as a space where fans of a particular media, sports, or person (etc) could engage in this interest together.  

-Core movements are at the root of internet communities where those interested are encouraged to express themselves and creatively take part in these movements. We often see that these are very creative spaces where action and creation are encouraged: from making crafts, videos, and artistic stylings and decorations. Many are able to share their art with like-minded individuals who appreciate the work they’ve put in. This can be extremely beneficial in building self-confidence and developing close knit relationships.  

Aesthetically speaking, the fashion and style around -cores is a huge part of self-expression we see encouraged. Fans style themselves around a particular niche interest. The grace, ease, and comfort we see in ballet is emulated by fans of the Balletcore aesthetic. From bodysuits, leg warmers, tulle skirts, to ballet flats with everything. Fans of Balletcore are able to channel this seemingly effortless comfort.  

For many, the aesthetic and fashion around these -core movements provide the room to tap into otherwise unachievable dreams. While one might not be able to achieve childhood dreams of being a professional ballet dancer, at least looking like one is the next viable option. A certain level of escapism can be seen in the fervour with which many engage themselves in these internet communities. 

A clear correlation can be seen in the rise of -core movements and the Covid19 pandemic. However, even as numbers of cases reduce around the globe and cities open up again, we continue to see a growing interest in -core movements. When faced with the dreary monotone of work, studies, and life in general- as well as an ever-increasing cost of living – it is unsurprising to see many turn to the idea of a more appealing alternative life inspired by the topics they’re most interested in. 

And while interest is lost in particular aesthetics as the time goes on, this simply leads to the rise in another new trend. This shortening of trend cycles is one of the biggest criticisms against -core aesthetics. To many, this rise in these -cores is simply a hindrance to developing personal style, and a collective flattening of our diverse personalities in order to fit into them. 

In place of a personal style cultivated over a long time, and closets filled with well loved items, we often see instead fashion curated around a particular current interest that is quickly forgotten for the next thing the internet is obsessed with. Overconsumption and a rise in fast fashion are a terrible result of this hopping in and out of -core movements. Due to this, we see an increase in consumed energy, material waste, global carbon emissions, as well as many continued negative impacts on the environment.

While I must concede that recent years have similarly seen a rise in second hand shopping, clothing hauls which correspond to ultra-specific styles have become the norm as those with the luxury of choice choose to throw away full closets and cycle in the new next “thing” all in pursuit of a false sense of uniqueness. -Core movements like Normcore are born from a desire to reject this uniqueness. The idea that supposedly dramatic styles are now undesirable because everyone else is trying to dress more unique, has led to an attempt to subvert this. The Normcore movement is characterised by deliberately normal looking clothes, plain unbranded clothing items, such as simple jeans and shirts. 

We then see this over-analysing of one’s personality, where human emotion and behaviour must be repackaged into a selected niche interest. Individual personality traits are flattened into a more universal experience that fits into specific -cores. This takes away from the self-expression and appreciation for diverse interests that’s truly at the root of -core aesthetics. 

Cultivating the space to engage in our diverse interests and meet people from all over with similar interests are at the heart of -cores, and diversions from this are born from society’s materialism, overconsumption, and ingrained biases. As long as the internet lives on, humans will continue to find camaraderie in online communities. 


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