Storybook Style: A Pinterest board, some outfits, and a detour down the rabbit hole of internet aesthetics

I love making fashion boards as a form of escapism, and that has definitely been something sorely needed in recent weeks. I’ve got really into my “Storybook Style” Pinterest board again, and wore a couple of outfits that I felt pretty happy with as a personal interpretation of that inspiration. I wanted to share those, as well as the variety of  other styles that have had a strong influence on it.

storybook style collage v2
Polyvore, but make it http://www.remove.bg and google slides

I’ve been curating the board for over a year now (you can read the post I made when I first decided to use it for a style overhaul in 2018 here, but it’s more of an item/shopping focused post), and it contains a mix of aesthetic pictures, fantasy fashion pictures (e..g detail shots from the runway, blogger photos with impossibly idyllic backdrops), and more realistic fashion pictures (things I might actually be able to get). At a high level, I’d describe the type of thing on the “Storybook Style” board as romantic and earthy with “magical” details.

Before I start bringing out the “long” in long-form fashion blog, here’s a sampling of recent images from the board:

For more, view the full board on Pinterest here:

storybook style pinterest board spring 2020

Description Breakdown

  • romantic – generally leaning towards the feminine in and details, as well as more vintage inspired than modern or futuristic.
  • earthy – earth tones and generally that basic-instagram-fall-aesthetic
    • burnt orange, olive and spruce greens, rust, tan, cream, and black
    • floral and botanical prints
    • fabrics with rich textures (e.g. corduroy, linen, velvet, eyelet)  that aren’t too sleek.
  • but not too hippie – despite all the earth tones and lack of pressed button-down shirts, outfits generally incorporate more structure and are a little neater (i.e. not many handkerchief hems or raw edges) than typical breezy boho.
  • “magical” detail – mostly in jewelry, i.e. things with celestial, animal, and botanical motifs, hand and eye motifs, antiqued styling
  • storybook sauce – if we’re thinking about this from the character/persona/avatar based approach (Adina from BCRL has a great post on this, as does u/lumenphosphor on reddit), it’s the kind of stuff you might picture on a character from a storybook. Think local forest or exploring a mystery in town parts of story, not epic high fantasy adventure journeys. In terms of aesthetic, think Wes Anderson, Beatrix Potter, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Hogsmeade, hobbits.

Personally, I tend to stick to the same couple of silhouettes (honestly just whatever is the general trend), but I don’t think that is a defining element of the style. I think any well-balanced silhouette can work with it, whether it’s high-waisted balloon trousers and puffed sleeve square-neck blouse, a fit-and-flare dress with a fitted sleeve, buttonless cardigan, or something else.

Items

What could all that look like if it was manifested into an IRL closet? I don’t think my hoard of clothing is 100% my platonic ideal for the style, but I think the color palette, textures, and details managed to translate across.

storybook style clothes spring 2020

Particularly in accessories, where the nature and magic motifs are more apparent, and the color scheme is further emphasized.

storybook style accessories spring 2020

That isn’t my entire closet, as I have an egregious number of free t-shirts as well, but

Outfits

And here are some ways I’ve put all that together! Recent outfits I haven’t shared yet on the blog have asterisks.

(I’m not sure what exactly is happening, but it seems that by the time I take photos, apply the android auto-edit to it, put it through the Layout app, upload it to Instagram, add a 20% filter and possibly more lighting edits, then upload that to WordPress, they get awfully grainy :/ I should probably start editing my photos purely outside of the Instagram apps to avoid some of the stages of compression or save the un-insta-filtered ones from my phone for the blog, but I’m not really about that level of blogging intensity.)

Look 1*

2020-03-31

These trousers have an extreme high rise on me and are kinda taking over this outfit since the top has a lower neckline, but I think the long cardigan helps balance it out. I liked all the different rich fabrics which complement the metallic shoes, and the hair bow for adding a small shape to the top of the outfit which otherwise would be very visually bottom-heavy from the back.

2020-03-31b

This felt like a particularly hobbit-y look without the shoes (aka realistic version, since I didn’t leave the house). I think the cardigan and button-up velvet cami also feel slightly reminiscent of a waistcoat and long coat.

Look 2*

2020-03-28a

Wore the appropriately apocalyptic Hieronymus Bosch docs in this outfit, along with some nice saturated warm tones and some nature themed accessories.

2020-03-28c

This dress has a pretty full skirt, which feels especially luxe in a velvet fabric, while the docs and the inside-out texture on the cardigan make the whole look feel more grounded.I’m really excited to have a cropped cardigan that works with this dress now, since normally it’s too big around the shoulders causing the neckline to sag too much to wear aside from loungewear.

2020-03-28b

Look 3

2019-12-11

I think this is one of my more personally-identifiable outfits – last year I wore white sweaters with these pants + boots fairly regularly. This iteration of it is my favorite and I did repeat it recently, but I liked how this older photo came out better.

The pleated cords and granny boots with matching belt + purse are a little on the costumey side, but the minimal sweater and the overall uncomplicated feel makes it  more wearable.

Look 4

I am always pleased with the proportions and texture blocking in this outfit. I ought to wear it more often.

2019-10-24

Look 5*

One of several cream/black/rust outfits in this set, but I wanted to give a fully comfortable loungewear version of my day looks a try while I’m in the house all the time anyway.

2020-03-29a

The textures came together really well and I think are what really takes this up a notch from what could be just neutral colored pajamas.

2020-03-29b

And of course the common additions of a headband and celestial jewelry.

2020-03-29c

Look 6

I think I put this together for the “autumn explosion” theme WAYWT on reddit. The sweater is honestly a little too chunky for the waistband of the skirt, but it’s a cute enough look that I’m willing to suck it up once a year to kick off the season. I mean, I dress like this year-round, but it seems appropriate to go all out (including with a kitschy bat necklace) at the start of October.

2019-10-01

Look 7*

I really liked the colorblocking in this outfit, as well as how the finer knit pattern on the cardigan and the rouleau button details soften it without being delicate.

2020-04-01a

Featuring mixed-media bee earrings (from Forever 21 a couple of years ago)

2020-04-01b

Look 8*

Got a 1970s flower-power thing going on here with the addition of the platform clogs. Unabashedly blush and pink and ruffled, but the shoes ground everything and keep it from feeling entirely dainty without going the obvious combat boots contrast route. White boots would have also been super cute here but I think at that point the 70s vibe would overwhelm any residual mori-inspired vibes.

2020-04-02a

A close-up of the print

2020-04-02b

Look 9*

I like this outfit as a utilitarian fall/winter option in the style, since everything is so sturdy. It took me a while to get used to the cropped wide leg pants and chunky flat boots silhouette, but I’m fully on that train now. The fisherman cable knit pattern and velvet padded headband add a luxe touch without getting in the way, and the palette is softer and cheery compared to my previous default all-black and gray practical winter-y outfits.

fisherman sweater and docs

Look 10*

I usually wear this trapeze dress unbelted and revel in its tent-like volumes of eyelet fabric, but I wanted to try changing it up a little. I think it worked pretty well, although I think a more fahion-y belt would make it seem more like an intentional styling choice rather than a might-be-insecure-about-not-having-a-defined-waist thing.

Something about the dress with a belt and cuban-heeled boots gives it a sort of dark western vibe.

2020-03-30

Look 11*

A more low-key outfit with the pants from the first look. Since this top has a lower neckline and I didn’t have a layering piece to break up the silhouette, I opted for a belt to slightly visually shorten the rise of the trousers. I didn’t want the belt to stand out since the overall vibe of the outfit is relaxed and slouchy and this is a pretty no-nonsense belt, so it was nice that it was close color to the trousers. I also think the puff sleeves and mini ruffles along the neckline of the blouse help balance out the visual interest.

2020-04-14

Look 12*

This one’s maybe a little more fantasy/fairytale than storybook, but I couldn’t not include these lace-up gigot sleeves. I feel like the little mermaid in this! Since it’s more over the top, I just style it with some modern jeans and sharp flats 🙂 It’s a thermal top which is a tad more casual and washable than silk and tulle.

2020-04-03

Influential Aesthetics

(For this blog post, I use “aesthetic” in the internet culture sense, not in the philosophy-you’d-learn-in-college sense)

“Storybook Style” is somewhere at the nexus of cottagecore/mori, vintage academia, Miyakzaki girl, and high fantasy/fairytale aesthetics.

I was originally going to write this post without a whole historical/context section, but three days into writing it, the whole “cottagecore” thing finally came into my awareness and I had to admit that basically this is all just a Potterverse tinged version of cottagecore, and that the NYT has an article that basically covers anything I could write.

It isn’t so much that I need to feel like a special flower with my own personal and unshared style. I knew it was pretty mainstream stuff because the board is seeded almost entirely with things that you can buy from Free People/Anthropologie/Urban Outfitters and ASOS, so it must have been tapping into something in the current popular consciousness. I’d just spent SO DAMN LONG curating that board and writing this up and I was worried that it would come off as a cheap copycat SEO grab spurred by the NYT and Vice coverage (though not a very good one because if I was doing that I probably would have just called the whole thing autumn cottagecore and been done with it 🤔).

So, I’m including this prior art section of similar styles which have (consciously or not) contributed to it, even though it shouldn’t be necessary because unless you’re inventing a new fabric technology or something, no one expects that you’ll be claiming you have anything novel when it comes to fashion, personal or otherwise. At any rate, it can be fun to see what all the other people in the internet have curated.

🌼 Cottagecore and Mori

cottagecore search results

Cottagecore is the latest pop culture manifestation of the romanticization of rural life and “the good old days”. See also: farmhouse-themed decor, the “storybook style” / “provincial realism” architectural style from the 1920s/1930s, vintage-enamored bowler-hat-clad twee folk / hipsters of the early 2010s, mori style, the entire freaking history of Romanticism. I don’t think this sort of mushroom-foraging-in-a-dress aesthetic ever really goes away when it comes to fashion subcultures, but it seems to have more noticeably come back around into vogue. Gloomthzine put it really well in a recent post on Cottagecore vs Mori:

Lifestyle aspects include gardening, flower pressing/gathering, and other activities similar to those of Anne of Green Gables- except that you share them on tiktok/tumblr

Anyway, in lieu of me writing a poorer summary of the same content, I highly recommend taking a look at these articles for an explanation of the whole cottagecore/farmcore/hobbitcore/goblincore/hedgewitch thing. One aspect of this new version of rural romanticism that I found interesting (and great!) was a pointed focus on inclusivity and feminism, as opposed to mori which, from what I understand, was at least partly motivated as an alternative fashion subculture to the spray tanned barbie-girl Ageha fashion that was popular around the same time and is generally just a fashion thing and not a full lifestyle. Though, now that I write that, I suppose you could argue the same thing about cottagecore going against the tide of Karidashian-esque influencers of the moment.

Cottagecore is related to grandmacore, faeriecore, farmcore and goblincore; other nostalgia-ridden aesthetic communities that, paradoxically, thrive on many of the most popular internet platforms of the day. What these cores have in common is a desire to live in a world outside the one currently inhabited. (The suffix “-core,” derived from 1980s hard-core punk music, is now used to delineate a type of genre or category.)

In the cottagecore universe, there are no phones pinging constantly with updates, no urgent work emails, no evenings spent responding to the onerous demands of a tyrannical boss. In fact, there is no labor beyond domestic, and workaday tasks are completed with a gauzy sense of fulfillment.

Each pie appears to emerge effortlessly from the oven with immaculate golden brown lattice crust. An obvious backlash to the hustle culture embodied by Fiverr ads, cottagecore attempts to assuage burnout with a languid enjoyment of life’s mundane tasks.

“It’s extremely important to welcome people into this community,” she said. “Queer people are also so heavily objectified and sexualized in media, and this is something where we can just be ourselves.”

After nearly a decade of interior design dominated by whitewashed walls, monstera plants and bland midcentury reproduction furniture (Kyle Chayka, a cultural critic, coined the term AirSpace to describe this aesthetic in 2016), perhaps the yen for minimalism is finally waning and a desire for something wilder and more pastoral is beginning to take root.

“People want to be closer to nature,” said Kai Chow, a creative director at the Doneger Group, a design consulting agency in New York City. “The biggest trend in interior design is bringing the outdoors indoors.”

Or if you want to feel really called out:

But if cottagecore’s dainty, precious visuals offer a corrective to the blank canvas of AirSpace, its preponderance of cabbage roses and doilies still falls prey to the same fallacy of minimalism: that by exerting control over one’s environment and making it appear perfect, one can regain control over one’s life.

(From the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Loebel)

So why does the utopian pull of cottagecore attract young queer people so intensely? “Lesbians tend to be oversexualised by the media,” explains Redditor Ralice177. In comparison, “cottagecore sees love as a connection between two souls.”

For 27-year-old Reid in Arkansas, it’s a way back home. “Unfortunately, my hometown, like many rural areas, is very anti-LGBTQ+,” he tells me. “Even now when I go back I can’t help but feel watched and judged all the time for how I look or dress. It especially makes me feel like the things I loved in childhood, like having farm animals and picking blackberries in the fields and getting lost in the woods, are cis- and hetero-coded. So for me, cottagecore is an ideal where I can be visibly queer in rural spaces.”

I specifically reference mori because I think it’s the oldest of the 21st century iterations (fashion moves so fast now!), having started in the mid 2000s though it was going out by the early 2010s and I’m not sure if it ever made much headway in the US. For more on that, see

  • NYT: Cult of the Living Doll in Tokyo (2010, goes over both Mori and Ageha)
  • I Don’t Know Much But I’m Learning blog: An Introduction to Mori Kei goes over history and common elements of the style. Also, this is an active blog. I’m always very excited when I find those. They had a nice post on how to dress down mori for casual wear just last month. Honestly, that post was so simple and clear it’s inspiring me to maybe tone it down a little over here and write some more easily-digestible content.

(The hallmarks of a mori outfit are an excess of layers, soft colors, practical shoes, lace as a framing element, and a loose, bottom-heavy silhouette. Couldn’t find the original sources of this image.)

I wish my apartment had a dishwasher (even before I was cooking 3 meals a day at home. 😩 I don’t actually mind the act of handwashing dishes, but it just takes so much time). My lifestyle is dependent on the internet. Pre-pandemic, I spent almost every Saturday cleaning up after animals and that would suck without access to buckets of Nolvasan, bleach, and industrial strength laundry.

I don’t want to literally live a cottagecore life. Give me, uh, 2021 (can we just skip the rest of 2020?) over 1901 any day. Can’t deny it really fills me with warm fuzzies from a visual standpoint though.

Stylistically, I wouldn’t say my personal vision is 100% cottagecore or mori. Though it shares a lot of the same inspiration and mood, it’s definitely more Urban Outfitters than true vintage Gunne Sax, and slightly more adventurous in spirit than domestic.

I’ve had a few times though where people have said my outfits make them think of what a ministry of magic employee would wear, or “mori girl who grew up”, or have cited my photos as an example of a wearable-fairytale vibe, which always makes me really happy to hear because honestly a lot of the time I wonder whether I’ve just got my head stuck so far into my own navel that I’ve lost touch with how my methodically crafted outfits read to the less worryingly fashion-obsessed.

✏️ Vintage Academia

vintage academia search results

To most people: “the stereotypical Indiana Jones professor look”

The internet (originally Tumblr, but now I think a lot of it just comes out of Tik Tok, which I am totally out of the loop on because I’m old and crotchety at heart) has a whole plethora of “_____ academia” aesthetics, of which the Aesthetics Wiki states includes dark, darkest, light, witchy, romantic, scholarly, and theater academia (I find the aesthetics wiki fun to occasionally poke around on, but in general I find that the articles are mostly stubs, and read like they were written by middle schoolers, so it’s better to go off blogs dedicated to a particular aesthetic).

(this is one of those sourceless pinterest/tumblr images)

Common elements include lots of tweed jackets, linen button-down shirts, wool trousers, blazers, leather messenger bags, oxfords and lace-up boots, ~spectacles~, and an air of ivory tower probably-collects-typewriters hipster pretentiousness (I say this as someone who owns a taxidermy octopus 🧐).

I pull a lot of the earth toned relaxed vintage vibe from this, although not so much the highly structured pieces like blazers or love of reading moody books / tumblr posts about them.

🌱 Miyazaki Girl

kiki's delivery service aesthetic search results

I’m not sure how much of A Thing this is, even in the flourishing subculture garden of the internet. I’m not convinced it has a defined enough look to it across the films that it can really support a distinct fashion/aesthetic subculture. I’ve heard some people use the phrase and there was a really lovely inspiration album and discussion on reddit about it, but I don’t think there have been articles about it as a fashion thing in mainstream media or much outside of the firehose of images tagged Ghibli Aesthetic on Tumblr. I found a few philosophical human-interest pieces and academic articles on the Ghibli canon in a quick google search, but none that focused specifically on fashion influence.

I generally try to steer my personal aesthetic away from anything anime as I’ve never gotten into that culture, but I’m not that much of a grinch and I did enjoy the Ghibli films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Totoro. In terms of costume design, I really like how the female characters tend to dress in an unapologetically feminine way, with dresses and hair accessories, but unlike twee or full-on mori, their outfits still feel unencumbered and not too overwrought. Lots of breezy dresses, although my personal preference I think is for something a little more embellished.

(For the probably non-existent peanut gallery: I’m aware that this sort of thing goes against the movie’s thing of “It’s not really important what color your dress is. What matters is the heart inside.” but hey, my heart is really into intensely curating my personal environment to pretend that I have control over other areas of my life)

🏰 High fantasy / Fairytale

Lavish gowns and embellished wizard cloaks. Tulle, velvet, flower crowns, and jewel-encrusted everything. Arthur Rackham illustrations (below: “Bluebeard” from The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book).

I LOVE this stuff, and actually have a separate Pinterest board for it.

But this totally does not work for my lifestyle, and from a persona-based approach, this doesn’t appeal to me nearly as much as ~the simple life~ thing of the other styles anyway, in the same way that HBIC power stilettos don’t. Being part of a royal court sounds awful. I try and incorporate this into the Pinterest board and my wardrobe through accessories and details rather than full garments. I find that having it in a smaller, concentrated dose in the way I store and see my jewelry every day helps scratch that itch without involving dry-clean-only dresses.

jewelry box

(This is a used display box for some macaron shaped trinket boxes that I got off eBay to use as an earring organizer)

Infrequently Asked Questions

Ha, you didn’t think there would be an m gets dressed blog post without some sort of overly defensive disclaimer, did you? Question for readers: do you think these FAQs/disclaimers are unnecessary or are they prudent / a nice reminder to have in posts of this type? I feel they are definitely required on reddit so as to not get roasted, but on the wider internet it isn’t really assumed that you’re prescribing any of these things so much as just explaining how your own weird habits and preferences play into things.

“Do I have to define/name my style?” No, especially not if you have no problem at all with the state of your closet and personal style already. But I’ve found (and pretty much anyone else who’s done thinking about lifestyle-aware wardrobe overhauls or read The Curated Closet) that keeping some sort of closet mission statement in mind (or even a few different ones, since most people have different styles they like and people they need to be) can help when you’re getting dressed, or when deciding what to purge or purchase.

“Do I need just one style?” Nooooooo. There is no need to limit yourself at all if you don’t find you have any problems with the current variety in your wardrobe. You can, though, if it makes you happier. Or you can have one style for like 3/4 of your wardrobe to make it more likely that pulling random items will result in a sensible outfit, but not be militant about the rest. Or maybe you have a style that you like for going-out clothes, or work clothes and to make your items work better together, stick to a style just for that subset of clothes. Figure out what works for you.

“I don’t like this whole definitions thing, aren’t you just pigeonholing yourself?” I like to think of these explorations as discovering more elements for my stylist’s toolbox/palette which can be used or combined later. It’s like knowing what a specific color or literary/movie genre might be called, or learning what a type of sleeve or collar is called so you can find or make clothing that includes it. Or as discussed above, you can define multiple styles that really speak to different aspects of yourself.

📚 Further reading

If you’re craving more, I recommend exploring some visual inspiration from outside the walled garden of Pinterest.

One thing you can do is google “production design” or “costume design” plus the media of your choice (e.g. the Wizarding World movies, Laika, Wes Anderson, LotR, Little Women, etc). One frustrating thing I used to encounter was mostly pulling up Halloween costumes in the google search, but searching for those (or even adding “interview” if the results are still too cosplay oriented) will pull up a lot of discussion on what particular choices make different imagined worlds tick.

Some specific people and resources to check out (not linking articles for each one because I’ve spent so much time on this already, but I have faith in your ability to use a search engine):

  • Beatrix Potter (author of Peter Rabbit, and also slighted mushroom expert)
  • Eyvind Earle (Disney concept artist particularly noted for Sleeping Beauty and his landscapes)
  • Mary Blair (classic Disney concept artist)
  • Arthur Rackham (probably what comes to mind for antique fairytale illustrations)
  • John Tenniel (of Alice and Wonderland)
  • Arnold Loebel (of Frog and Toad)
  • Pook Press (a publisher’s website) with lots of articles on fairy tales and notable illustrators
  • For a dive into some more illustrators, not necessarily for fairytale stuff: http://www.vintagechildrensbooksmykidloves.com/
  • Google Arts and Culture: 1 bazillion museum exhibits online. Not just fashion. Knock yourself out.
  • Fairytale Fashion exhibition book by Colleen Hill (view the installation on Google Arts & Culture)

Blogs

  • A Clothes Horse – Rebecca is one of those bloggers from the OG pre-Instagram blogosphere and produces wonderful escapist photography. This year I’ve really enjoyed the addition of her enormous Irish wolfhound into the mix. She’s on Instagram and maintains her standalone blog.
  • An Alaskan Weredork – Dark boho from the north! Katie also has a long form blog and is one of the nicest people I’ve encountered on Instagram.
  • Cat in a Witch Hat – Alice does primarily “grey goth” fantasy inspired looks, and her Instagram is a phenomenal gallery of layering and accessorizing.

Whew. I probably should have broken this up into a 4-part series or something, but hopefully it was a good bit of visual fun. Do you ever incorporate any aspect of fantasy/cottagecore/storybook style into your outfits? Do you enjoy it from afar? Or is your heart fully on board the modern/futuristic fashion train?

Welch Dickey Loop mushrooms

(mushrooms on the Welch-Dickey trail in New Hampshire)

2 Comments

  1. I’ve always loved looking at Mori style. I have a mori pin board as well. I know it’s not practical for me to wear that type of clothing, especially not at work, but it’s soothing to look at. The same goes with cottagecore. I really like the look of the aesthetic, but again, I wouldn’t necessarily wish to live like that unless I had modern amenities.
    Yesterday when my husband and I were taking a walk in a park we came across a beautiful old property with the structural remains of a house and the owners planted flowers inside the perimeter. It looked very cottagecore-ish and beautiful.

    Like

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