With the COVID-19 pandemic and political pressures, 2020 was a better time than ever to turn to various methods of escapism. One of the easiest ways to do this is exploring various aesthetics and subcultures, whether it’s something ethereal like cottagecore or classic like dark academia. These six aesthetics took social media by storm this year, and while time will tell whether they prevail, there’s no denying their influence or popularity.
2020 saw the rise and subsequent mockery of the e-girl/e-boy aesthetic, a style that gained momentum on Tik Tok. In this generation’s grunge movement, the fashion includes dark, layered clothes, chains, and brightly dyed hair, popularized by alt-pop darling Billie Eilish (pictured in the lower right corner) and Tik Tok influencer Charli D’Amelio (pictured in the upper right corner). Like with the original grunge subculture, e-girl/e-boy culture is heavily engrained with music, including the ever-classic Nirvana and late rapper Lil Peep.
Another style originating from Tik Tok is a bold, neon breed of room decor. Common accents include LED light strips, neon signs, and wall collages, popularized in part by New York-based photographer Tezza. Since the aesthetic gained traction, YouTubers like Sydney Serena and Annie Rose have shared their Tik Tok-inspired room makeover to nearly one and a half million combined viewers.
Perhaps the biggest aesthetic movement of the year was cottagecore, a style emphasizing slow living, connection to nature, and coziness – unsurprising, considering how many of us were lodged at home due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Music superstar Taylor Swift seems to be one of the aesthetic’s fans, with many of her folklore era looks integrating comfy sweaters and earthy tones.
While fans of cottagecore escaped to nature, some escaped to their childhood and adolescence through the Y2K aesthetic, which draws from the fashion and culture of the nineties and early 2000s. Think bright colors, Lisa Frank art and stickers, and lots of rhinestones. 2020 signaled the return of Tamagotchis’ popularity, and Paris Hilton’s documentary This Is Paris allowed the socialite to return to the limelight in a time where influencers thrive on social media rather than reality TV.
Practically the opposite of e-girls, the soft girl aesthetic integrates pastel colors and “pretty” elements of nature, including flowers, stars, and butterflies. Stylewise, soft girls are drawn to soft shades, lacy shirts under dresses, and dainty pieces like camisoles. One of the main faces of the aesthetic is YouTuber and Tik Tok star douxfairy, who makes videos about home decor and fashion.
Gaining traction through socials like Tik Tok and Tumblr, dark academia centers around learning, Classicism, and self-improvement. With many school and universities switching to remote learning during the pandemic, it’s a fun way for students to find new inspiration and motivation for their studies.
Hi! I’m Madison Murray, a pop culture and music writer who also loves writing about lifestyle and fashion. I have credits on sites like TREMG, Young Hollywood, and Audible Addixion, and I’m the founder of Melodic Musings. In addition to writing, I’m a community editor on Genius, lyric curator on Musixmatch, and a playlist curator at VOLUP2. My favorite artists include Taylor Swift, Machine Gun Kelly, BLACKPINK, Elko, phem, and YUNGBLUD. She/her.