What is an aesthetic? | Slate.com

Soft Girl, Vaporwave, Plant Mom… Behind these sometimes nebulous codenames hide some of the most elegant aesthetics of the moment. An aesthetic? Derived from ancient Greek, this word originally designates the study of what is beautiful, pleasant, and what makes sense. Today, this term refers simultaneously to a type of decoration, to a musical and clothing style, to a literary current.

An aesthetic brings together in community those who are in certain visual and artistic codes and thus adopt a lifestyle that refers to them. There’s something for everyone: Dark Academia if you’re fascinated by knowledge and learning, especially the humanities, love dusty libraries, fall and glamorous campuses… Dead Poets Society; if you prefer the glitz and old Hollywood vibes then you should opt for Glam Aesthetic; finally, for lovers of neutral colors and refined compositions, the Minimalist aesthetic is ideal.


Manon, 21, is a fan of Cottagecore, an aesthetic that fantasizes about country life and a return to nature, which has been hugely successful since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and successive lockdowns. Long flowing dress, straw hat, bouquet of wild flowers, the codes hark back to a contemporary equivalent of 19th century romanticism. “What I like about this aesthetic is its calming and relaxing side, explains Manon. I live in the suburbs of Paris and when I get home and immerse myself in this universe of meadows, cottages, flowers and animals, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

The young woman, who looks for bohemian clothes at thrift stores, says she has redecorated her room with bouquets of dried flowers and an old rocking chair. “About a year ago I found my aesthetics, my daily life has really changed. I don’t dress the same anymore, I started to cook, read and watch movies that I would never have discovered before like The four daughters of Doctor March, Jane Austen books or The melody of happiness.»

“When I come home and dive into this world of meadows, flowers and animals, it’s like a breath of fresh air.”

Manon, 21, Cottagecore enthusiast

Manon even says she gave up shopping with her friends to start knitting and designing a herbarium. “It’s a way of living country life in the ’93s, she smiled. And distance myself from the media, social networks, distance myself a little from new technologies, even if it seems paradoxical. Paradoxical, because she says she spends entire hours every day scrolling through her laptop looking for images, inspiration, book or movie recommendations that fuel her aesthetic.

A niche phenomenon?

On TikTok or Instagram, there are dozens of influencers for each aesthetic, which add up to millions of subscribers. In the age of social networks, claiming an aesthetic is a way of cultivating one’s own Personal Brand and build your visual identity. «The aesthetics are a way for young people, as it is mostly practiced by Generation Z or very young millennials, to assert their personality and individuality.” observes Emmanuelle Patry, social media specialist.

It specifies: “Appropriating dress codes, musicals or visuals to present yourself to the world is pretty universal. The big difference here concerns the virality of social networks and their global nature. Today, there are communities of several million people that form very quickly around aesthetics, sometimes very accurate, because social networks favor niche phenomena.”

“Some aesthetics are real subcultures that are here to stay, like the Gothic movement.”

Emmanuelle Patry, social media specialist

From the Poolcore aesthetic, which unites snooker fans, to Cartelcore, which focuses on the environmentfluorescent neon lights-guns-tropical nights» (think Miami Vice, narcos or scarface), to the very special Cleancore aesthetic that is aimed at fans of soaps, sponges and spaces that have been sterilized or that have just been cleaned, the list is endless and many websites serve as a glossary to list them all and not lose the thread between them. different subgenres.

For the undecided, various personality tests and other Chinese portraits are used to find your own visual identity in a few clicks. For Emmanuelle Patry, however, aesthetics should not be considered as mere trends: “Some are true subcultures that are here to stay, like the goth movement or the skater style that is well established today. It is very likely that most aesthetics they are structured and become real currents in the virtual world, but also in the real world, especially in our image society where video and photography occupy such an important place.

From visual claims to political claims

By uniting so many people around common codes, values ​​and aspirations, aesthetics can sometimes go beyond the framework of a pure exercise in style or the art of living and become political. The Dark Academia, one of the most popular, was thus reappropriated some time ago by those concerned to denounce the lack of inclusion and diversity in the great Anglo-Saxon universities, such as TikTokeuse Cosyfaerie, or the Instagrammer Sumaiyya, specialist in Arabic literature, which in an article by Refinery29 explains: “There is potential for Dark Academia fans like myself to integrate into our own cultural contexts. That’s what makes this subculture so great; everyone can contribute and add their own way of looking at things.”

“The eruption of political demands within the Dark Academia is not so surprising, commented Emmanuelle Patry. The younger generations are much more politicized than we would like to believe. They fight in their own way, using the tools they dominate, in this case the internet and social networks. Like memes, aesthetics allow for a political claim that starts at the origin of a visual claim. “It can be deviations, re-elaborations, collages of images, symbols, etc. Visual and graphic arts make it possible to unite and gather around common interests, and then start a discussion on various subjects, in particular social justice issues. notes the specialist.

Faced with the enthusiasm aroused by the different aesthetics, it didn’t take long for the big names in fashion or decor to take over the trend, from Cottagecore to Mermaidcore, passing through Aesthetic Queer. For Emmanuelle Patry, this is a new way of creating and disseminating trends: “Before, fashions were dictated very top-down, with a style office, a brand or a designer imposing their vision. We’ve certainly heard that the inspiration came from the street or the spirit of the times, but we were still on something very vertical.

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Today, the street is on social media and the air of the time is accessible in a few clicks on Instagram or TikTok. From a very rigid verticality, we moved to a horizontality that better reflects the multiplicity of styles, desires and cultures. “It’s the game of communicating vessels, observes Emmanuelle Patry. The aesthetics The networks influence as much as they are nourished by haute couture shows, movies and series, literature, decoration trends… aesthetics is basically a way of building a bridge between the real world and the virtual world.”

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