A Social Media Aesthetic is Not a Lifestyle
We cannot buy or accumulate things to become someone or something we see on the Internet.
Note: I started writing this piece mid-April 2022, and as I edit mid-May, Coastal Grandmother has came and went, and now people are all about whimsigoth, which only further proves my point. Enjoy.
Coastal Grandmother is the latest trend that makes me cringe. I have 3 sort-of coastal grandmothers in my life, who dress similarly to the aesthetic and grew up on a coastal town. They know how to grow and keep cut hydrangeas looking immaculate, could be hired as dinner party event organizers, all raised multiple children, have a small collection of sun hats and sailer cardigans for breezy summer nights.
And now, their home decor choices and clothing dupes are getting circulated on “Get the Look” articles, driving people to fast-fashion megahouses like Shein and Urban Outfitters who take a $30 shirt and sell it for $60 at Urban Outfitters because it’s Coastal Grandmother chic now~~~!
Like all trends, this will come and go. And with TikTok, trends are clipping in at 90 mph. We’re living in a trend vortex right now, where trends are churning out at the speed of light, where people who merely *exist* are suddenly inspiration for yet another shopping trip and wardrobe re-haul.
Trends start in the real world, go on TikTok and then get spit back out into the real world. And then we see the chalked cheekily on signs to lure young people into bars…like the sign I just passed in the West Village that read, “Gorgeous Gorgeous girls love our martinis”.
It makes sense that coastal grandmother is in right now, as Cottagecore becomes mainstream; it’s next up in the next Y2K trend in the lineage.
There’s something about this trend that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe because I was once teased for being preppy and now it is “cool”? Or because my mom’s life is now the It Girl Aesthetic grown up, to be commodified, purchased and adopted, only for people to be onto the next in a few months? I remember a time when I felt ashamed to be from Connecticut. I remember trying to hide it, trying to pretend it didn’t exist. And now, people are intending to dress like Connecticut folks on TikTok! I never thought I’d see the day.
The coastal granny aesthetic is one I am all too familiar with. It is a mixture of classic, colonial and European design and one I rejected, for better or for worse, since I grew up with it and I perceived it as un-cool.
The coastal grandmother aesthetic can be described as Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. It is looser clothes, neutral cardigans, cargo pants, sailor knots and jute bags. It’s growing your own tomatoes, making your own relish and chutneys, hosting dinner parties and knowing when to plant zinnias. It’s going to bed at 9 pm and waking up at 6:30 to go on your aerobics walk with a big cup of coffee with cream!
It’s also another unrealistic life that we can aspire to, create mood boards with, buy products to emulate but never quite get right because we will never get a lifestyle portrayed on Instagram/TikTok/a buzzy article right! We can’t buy a sailor cardigan and then magically become the cool girl. I think that’s what gets me about these trends.
A social media aesthetic is not a lifestyle.
Real life is messy. Nobody’s life is like Diane Keaton’s in Something’s Gotta Give. Life gets life-y. Relationships don’t work out. People lose their jobs. And the Coastal Grandmother “look” is having it all together and looking great while doing it. But there’s a reason we turn on Nancy Meyers movies, to fantasize.
Coastal Grandmother is a return to a certain time and place, as, get this, all trends are. Coastal Grandmother is the That Girl grown up. I am not even going to hyperlink the It Girl/ That Girl aesthetic, because it everything wrong with social media: an unrealistic ideal of what women should aspire to, and I don’t want to perpetuate it any further. In many ways, I was portraying the That Girl aesthetic (in wellness) for many years while I was an influencer.
I had my first real-life experience with falling prey to an online trend during the pandemic: The Avant-Basic Home trend. I began seeing this trend on Instagram in early 2020. I loved the design, a huge rejection of minimalism and all-white apartments. I re-decorated my entire apartment in this exact aesthetic. Luckily, a lot of Avant-Basic stuff can be thrifted, but I still put a lot of time and money into it. I considered painting a vintage MCM desk pastel pink to fit with the aesthetic. I really was devoting my whole life to that aesthetic. To offer myself some grace, it was the pandemic and I was tired of being an influencer and looking for an out…so I got into decorating.
But then I looked around at this seemingly perfect apartment, I was still lonely, unhappy, and unfulfilled. I had fallen for the bait. I had thought if my apartment looked perfect, maybe my life would be perfect, too. WRONG. SO, SO SOSOSOSOSO WRONG.
INSTAGRAM, TikTok, so much of what we see online is an illusion.
I am not here to rain on people who want to wear cardigans and carry hydrangeas, but maybe just remind people that you can “get the look” but at the end of the day… you’re still you. And I'm still me. And it’s really easy to compare yourself to other people on social media and think, I want that lifestyle- let me go buy their jacket. Because I’ve done that and it just doesn’t work, unfortunately. If only it would be so easy.
My Grandmother’s style is suddenly a TikTok trend. And all I can hope for is that the trend will go away, and hopefully both my grandmothers will still be here long after it’s gone.