Fashion and design trends come and go. In the ’90s, butterfly clips and blue eyeshadow were staples of women’s fashion. At the turn of the century, the early 2000s introduced us to low-rise jeans, Juicy Couture tracksuits, and the still cringe-inducing whale tail.
Now that we’re in a new decade, we’ve started to put away the platform heels of the 2010s and explore newer fashion aesthetics, some of which are more than just a little older than the retro comeback of the mid 2010s.
But just like other print media, magazines are now next to obsolete. This decentralization of fashion has given birth to different fashion styles and aesthetic choices that currently co-exist, each one just as trendy as the other.
The internet is home to dozens of these different aesthetics. Most popular among these is dark academia, which emphasizes warm browns and dark colors combined with gothic architecture and a love for the classics. But you also have less popular aesthetics, such as goblincore, a less feminine version of cottagecore.
But from a plethora of ‘-core’ aesthetics, angelcore stands out for the way it combines the old with the new.
What Is Angelcore?
If you actually ask anyone who’s into these ‘-core’ aesthetics, they’ll tell you that angelcore is, like all other cores, more about vibes than a specific definition.
The Aesthetics wiki defines angelcore as an aesthetic that attempts to emulate the ethereal qualities of European angel imagery. The wiki goes on to say that it may include imagery associated with non-European angels, but let’s face it: no one who knows angelcore thinks of Japanese tennin as part of the angelcore aesthetic. The ones that do are in a very small minority as evidenced by Pinterest boards on angelcore, which are predominantly Western-centric.
Angelcore takes its essence and inspiration from classical Baroque and Renaissance paintings of angels.
Because of its association with angels and divine imagery, it’s not uncommon for angelcore to adapt aspects of Catholic iconography. Examples of this would be the use of Catholic crucifixes in angelcore outfits and interior design, often in white or pastel colors, and with a decidedly feminine touch.
Many people who are into angelcore will sometimes include aspects of cottagecore, a sister-aesthetic that strives for an ethereal look by means of nature and countryside elements.
The Elements of Angelcore
Though it looks very similar to both cottagecore and light academia, angelcore is actually quite easy to break down into specific elements. While these elements are definitely not a hard and fast rule to determine what counts as angelcore, they are among the most commonly agreed-upon elements of the aesthetic.
By putting together these basic building blocks of the angelcore aesthetic, you can achieve the look effortlessly.
White or Pastel Colors
Angelcore takes its color palette from the candy-colored gowns of women of ages past. This means soft, muted shades that stick as closely to white as possible. The most common pastel color swapped in for white in angelcore is pastel pink. This is followed by shades like periwinkle, mint green, lilac, and buttermilk.
As Reddit user u/HappiCacti puts it, the soft colors used in angelcore are intended to recreate the feeling of the unearthly beauty of angels. That means no loud colors like fuchsia pink, which is more often tied to vaporwave, or browns and blacks, which belong to dark academia.
Pearls, Lace, and Gold
If Marie Antoinette was still around, she’d love angelcore.
Angelcore accessories often have these three key ingredients: gold, pearls, and lace details. The use of gold is from angelcore’s Baroque inspirations. Angelcore has more ties to the late Baroque period known as Rococo, an 18th century design and art style that made heavy use of light colors and gold details.
Pearls also have historic symbolism that cemented them in the angelcore aesthetic. Upon first glance, a pearl easily reminds us of purity, an idea associated with angelic innocence and femininity, if a bit problematically.
In his book The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, mineralogist George Kunz had this to say about pearls:
“The pearl, like a lady of old — pure and fair to look upon, is the emblem of modesty and purity.”
Just like pearls, lace has become part of angelcore for its associations with purity and feminine innocence. The association of lace with lingerie, and therefore female sexuality, is relatively new, making it less potent than the ethereal qualities of lace.
Angelcore doubles down on its themes of angelic innocence and purity with its dominant use of modest hemlines. Rarely will you see racy outfits make the cut for what is widely accepted as angelcore.
Most angelcore outfits start at ankle or mid-calf length and go up to just a few inches above the knee, right around a woman’s mid-thigh. Though exposing collarbones is commonly accepted for angelcore outfits, few wardrobe choices for this aesthetic go for deep, plunging necklines. Angelcore’s relatively conservative hemlines is a quality it shares with its countryside sister, cottagecore.
Angelcore as a Way of Life
Though it puts a heavy emphasis on looking sweet and innocent, angelcore is more than just an aesthetic. The fashion choices, movies, music, and literature that angelcore fans associate with the aesthetic are reflections of angelcore’s core message.
At the heart of every Tumblr aesthetic is a new way of looking at life and a new way to be mindful about the way we live. The academia aesthetics, for example, encourage curiosity and love for literature and art. Cottagecore, despite criticism of its sanitization of rural life and hard labor, draws women and LGBT+ people towards appreciating the quiet, simple joys of life, like the pleasure of a job well done after a long day of gardening.
In a similar vein, angelcore invites its practitioners to embody the same principles of angelic ethereality in the way they treat themselves and other people. Lace is soft and pure but there is something softer and purer in kindness and understanding.
Angelcore and the Politics of Pretty
While angelcore is likely to draw flak for its heavy use of imagery that alludes to feminine purity and virginal qualities, it is just one of the many attempts to bring softness back into feminism. Unlike the “Pick-Me” girl who strives for male approval and masculine portrayals of strength, angelcore’s brand of proud femininity is a rejection of patriarchal cultural values that reject traditionally feminine qualities as “less than.”
That said, even potential criticisms for angelcore are merely ways in which it gives women the power to enjoy their beauty and femininity away from a male gaze.
In a piece originally published on NewStatesman.com, Sarah Ditum writes, “There is no problem in gender politics that Cool Girl Feminism doesn’t believe could be solved by being a bit more amenable to patriarchal lust.”
A sharp contrast to Cool Girl Feminism, angelcore’s pure imagery, modesty, and distance from female sexualization provide women a refuge from performing standards of beauty and sexuality. It’s a sentiment shared by practitioners of Lolita fashion, a Japanese subculture and fashion style.
Teresa Younker’s paper, “Lolita: Dreaming, Despairing, Defying,” explains that the soft and almost child-like aesthetics of Lolita fashion, which it shares with Western angelcore, are not an encouragement to prey on innocence but a rejection of the sexualization of women.
Though Younker talks about the bleak future ahead of Lolita fashion, one thing is becoming clear: the good fight isn’t over and angelcore is ready to take up the torch.