Austere Romanticism, 2021 design trend of cottagecore dreams

Adobe Stock’s Creative Trends reveal the influence of the pandemic. Austere Romanticism, expresses that influence in a style that is comforting—with a modern twist.

Acrylic portrait of red-haired young caucasian girl dreaming in field of white flowers.

Image source: Adobe Stock/ Mariia.

Pandemic baking. Knitting, embroidery, and crochet. Fabric dying, flower arranging, and houseplant collecting. Have you noticed a trend toward the handmade, natural, and an especially-chic vision of old-fashioned DIY all over your social media feeds lately?

It is not just you.

Many of Adobe Stock’s Creative Trends, including the four 2021 Design Trends, reveal the influence of the coronavirus pandemic. Austere Romanticism, one of our most elegant trends this year, expresses that influence in a visual style that is deeply comforting and nostalgic — with a sleek, modern twist.

Paper collage showing girl in field, flowers, and ceramics next to black pattern of perfume bottles, incense, and plants.

Image source: Left: Adobe Stock / More Profesh. Right: Adobe Stock / Good Studio.

The triumph of cottagecore

Cottagecore — an aesthetic and hashtag that went from super-niche to explosively popular in just the past year — is having a very big moment, in large part thanks to the confluence of factors keeping many of us suddenly socially distant and stuck at home.

In our increasingly digital lives, there has been a growing desire among many to get back to nature — particularly the beautiful parts. Cottagecore, for those not yet acquainted, is an aesthetic popular on TikTok, Instagram, and elsewhere around the web that encompasses dreamy pastoral and floral imagery, idealized natural and agricultural elements, and Victorian sensibilities. The result is a romantic pastiche of an imaginary bygone country life.

Labeled scientific illustration of butterlies next to 3D render of lamp, frame, and nightstand against a wooden wall.

Image source: Left: Adobe Stock / OlgaKorneeva. Right: Adobe Stock / artjafara.

With so much of our work and socializing taking place online, the backlash against so much screen time has taken the form of hobbies (like gardening, cooking, woodworking, paper or fiber arts) that let us get physical and get our hands dirty. That tendency got a dose of rocket fuel with the increase in digital socializing and the removal of other options, brought about by the pandemic.

Though much has been made of the idea that people are “fleeing cities” to escape during the pandemic, so far that has mostly turned out to be false. What has been true is that many, especially city residents, have instead tried to create a rural escape in their free time at home. Designers have tapped into this with a strong aesthetic response that is a blend of old and new, handmade and refined.

“I think there was a big collective desire to get away and move to a farm in 2020,” says Shea Molloy, vectors and illustrations lead, Adobe Stock. (She says this with a laugh, but she is not joking.)

For those unable to escape in a literal sense, gaming provided a welcome outlet, with an entire gamer subculture niche springing up around applying a cottagecore design aesthetic to your Animal Crossing island.

Fonts for the new antiquity

“The aesthetics of Austere Romanticism are not generally urban or slick — they are floral and traditional, with more classic fonts and color palettes,” says Molloy.

When it comes to type, one of the most recognizable calling cards of this trend is the use of high contrast — that is, a pronounced difference between the thick and thin strokes that make up the letterforms.

High contrast, as well as delicate serifs and subtle flourishes, are a few of the ways typography communicates elegance and classic beauty. Span is a perfect example of a high-contrast typeface that has Austere Romanticism’s contemporary edge while maintaining a sense of tradition and elegance. Meanwhile, MVB Gryphius adapts the look of French types from the early 16th century, retaining the irregular contours and uneven texture of the printed surfaces on which they were used. The results are rough and warm, rich in history.

Beige soap mockup with lavender and a serif-font label next to a mockup of an open book with serif text.

Image source: Left: Illustration using logo template from Adobe Stock / amber&ink, mockup from Adobe Stock / tabitazon and featuring Span typeface from Adobe Fonts / Jamie Clarke Type. Right: Adobe Stock / Custom Scene featuring MVB Gryphius from Adobe Fonts / Otto Trace.

Survivalism meets academia

One element of Austere Romanticism that elevates the trend to aspirational status while tying it to modern day online aesthetics is a connection of another micro-aesthetic called dark academia. According to the popular Aesthetics Wiki, dark academia “revolves around classic literature, the pursuit of self-discovery, and a general passion for knowledge and learning.”

This term did not realy exist before 2019, and like cottagecore, it experienced a spike in general internet consciousness and popularity in mid-2020. Grounded in a glamorization of intellectual pursuits, nostalgia for paper books and libraries, and a reverence for institutions of learning, there is a tinge of goth edginess, confident individualism, and reclusiveness that elevates nerdiness to its own brand of cool.

 3D render of library with spiral staircase and cathedral window next to stack of business cards with ornamental designs.

Image source: Left: Adobe Stock / 3drenderings. Right: Adobe Stock / Roverto Castillo.

This brings us to another part of Austere Romanticism’s feeling of sophistication which comes from the survivalist aspect of isolationist fantasy. There is a dreaminess, almost a sense of childishness, to the desire to run away and live in the woods — yet it is underpinned by a consciousness of what work that might actually entail. Rural or agrarian life does not really consist of lounging around in Victorian nightgowns reading antique books, after all — it is full of hard work, and surviving alone, creating your own personal woodland paradise from untamed nature, implies a necessary strength, intelligence, and capability.

The 2019 film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, achieved impressive popularity, tapping into a hunger for stories and visuals combining period fashion and weighty romantic tension, against a backdrop of rough-hewn interiors, and Sublime, natural locales. The emotional resonance of the story is amplified by the sense of isolation in nearly every scene. Though the central lovers are women who lack the social power to determine their fates, that isolation gives them a chance to create a private world where anything is possible, if only briefly.

3D render of orange chair, green handbag, and dried plants in wicker vase next to embroidered flowers and leaves with bees.

Image source: Left: Adobe Stock / artjafaja. Right: Adobe Stock / Matrioshka.

Prim and primed for the ‘gram

As much as Austere Romanticism expresses a reaction against a hyper digital, information-saturated life, it is shaped by that life, too. The degree to which many of us are influenced by the carefully curated images we see on social media is hard to overstate, and it is turned many of us into amateur set designers, manicuring glimpses of our lives in pursuit of perfection.

“So many social media influencers on Instagram and Pinterest are all about beautiful interiors,” says Jasmine Whitaker, product marketing specialist for graphic design, Adobe Creative Cloud, who contributed research to Adobe Stock’s 2021 Design Trends. “Even before COVID became a factor, people have been focusing more on their personal space, becoming DIY interior designers, and learning more about feng shui — or just making their space feel more complete and more wholesome. I think that interest plays into this trend as well.”

This collective urge shows up in minimal and spacious layouts, modern interiors, and airy color palettes — the austere — combined with green touches, torn paper edge effects, layers of traditional type, antique or Victorian imagery, sumptuous jewel tones, and luxurious accumulations of flowers — the romantic.

Woman in roses on ripped paper next to 3D render of black mannequins, yellow flower, and marble platform on red floor.

Image source: Left: Adobe Stock / More Profesh. Right: Adobe Stock / vpanteon.

Gallery: Escape into Austere Romanticism on Adobe Stock.

Download the full Austere Romanticism call for content here — then submit your latest content to Adobe Stock. Join our Discord channel for stock artists here and follow the #call-for-content channel for more inspiration.