Arts and Entertainment

Goblins, Gardens and Gender

Goblincore is an aesthetic based on the wilder aspects of nature, ingrained in the nonbinary community with ties to Cottagecore.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Phoebe Buckwalter

Overgrown gardens, chunky argyle sweaters, and fungi infographics converge in the earthy cesspool that is Goblincore. While scrolling through the fit pics and mood boards on Pinterest, you can find a few similarities between each image: green and brown color schemes, weathered textures, and motifs of nature like mushrooms and frogs. The further you scroll, the more these elements appear—every outfit either has a Doc Marten 1460 boot or a hi-top Chuck 70. This collection of pretty wild things makes up the Goblincore aesthetic, a fashion movement with an appreciation for the woods.

One way to examine the Goblincore aesthetic is through the lens of its more popular sibling, Cottagecore—a bright and idealized aesthetic that romanticizes country life and domestic roles. A slight removal from nature also characterizes Cottagecore—many inspiration pictures for the aesthetic feature manicured gardens or picnics in fields, unlike Goblincore’s wilder and overgrown style. If Goblincore is the forest, Cottagecore is the clearing in the trees.

This comparison continues in the clothing pieces and gender identities each aesthetic assumes. Cottagecore has a strong focus on femininity and delicacy, so skirts and dresses often dominate outfit inspiration boards, characterized by ditsy floral designs on white fabric, often with wispy ruffles and a corset layered over the piece. Though there is some variation in the outfits associated with the aesthetic and certainly a sizable overlap with Goblincore (overalls and corduroy pants tend to show up in both), Cottagecore is far more traditionally feminine. Though sexuality defines no aesthetic, Cottagecore has unofficially become the signature WLW (woman-loving-women) aesthetic. Interestingly, the aesthetic flips traditional gender roles from 19th century agrarian life by portraying women as independent figures who fall in love with other women rather than simply being servants of their husbands. Paintings by the likes of Claude Monet and John Constable that once glorified the quiet life of housewives in the countryside are recontextualized and given new meaning under Cottagecore.

Though set in the same environment as Cottagecore, Goblincore has a far more fluid understanding of gender. Dresses are traded out for trousers and oversized sweaters, lending a more androgynous silhouette to many outfits. The Goblincore lifestyle is incredibly popular in nonbinary and transgender communities as the ugly wilderness creates an escape from binary expression that is understandably needed. The forest as the heart of Goblincore is almost perfect—the wild is full of things both pretty and handsome, a hodgepodge of beauty and gunk without a common thread to the gender binary. The Goblincore aesthetic serves as a retreat of sorts from Cottagecore, breaking from the confines of femininity and into the thick swamp of gay panic that is androgynous fashion.

The concepts of both aesthetics are lovely, but their practice has raised controversy. Despite their shared focus on nature, the sustainability practices of these aesthetics are questionable. As is the case with many trends, Goblincore and Cottagecore have been adopted into the meta of fast fashion. Brands like emmiol, SHEIN, Topshop, and ASOS noticed the rise of nature-based aesthetics in the 2020s and incorporated key elements of the style into their pieces. The explosion of Lirika Matoshi’s Strawberry dress on TikTok pushed every fast fashion brand out there to create their own dupe of the piece.

Goblincore does strongly promote thrifting and secondhand shopping as part of its environmental ethos, but followers of the aesthetic do often lean into fast fashion to buy standard pieces. This emmoil striped pullover sweater might be the true main character in the Goblincore aesthetic, sneaking its way into almost every mood board and outfit assembly manual. Fast fashion is problematic for many reasons, but it’s especially contentious in these nature focused aesthetics, as fast fashion directly goes against everything it stands for—factories and mass-manufactured products are the antithesis of what being a Goblin is all about, and so the aesthetic carries fast fashion as a chink in its fuzzy, hand-knit armor.

People have also criticized both aesthetics for their reliance on fantasy. Cottagecore and Goblincore both heavily indulge in escapism from modern society, painting nature as the true habitat humanity has abandoned. Goblincore especially glorifies the wild with its ethos of hoarding “shinies,” reminiscent of European folklore about supposed goblins who steal coins and jewelry. For this, the aesthetic faces the accusation of promoting antisemitism as the term “goblins” has been historically used to negatively refer to Jewish people. Though Jewish members of Goblincore have attempted to refute this claim, certain members of the aesthetic prefer to be referred to as Gremlins to avoid using any possibly harmful terminology. On the other hand, Cottagecore leans into its agricultural roots with gardening and farming being significant components of its lifestyle, but farmers criticize the aesthetic for diminishing their work and creating an unrealistic depiction of manual labor.

However, no Goblins or Cottagecore enthusiasts seem to really mean any harm. Most aesthetic followers live in metropolitan areas and simply use nature imagery as a fun escape. Without a forest to forage through, Goblins are very fond of geocaching and scavenger hunts through their local park—Cottagecore followers work in community gardens or grow small plants. At their worst, nature aesthetics are idealistic and capitalized on by fast fashion companies. But for the most part, each aesthetic is simply fun. Cottagecore is a lovely style for springtime with a positive lifestyle that promotes sustainability and subverts femininity. Goblincore’s ideals are admirable—the embrace of the wild and its imperfections is a wonderful concept—and its place in nonbinary fashion is undeniable.