An Overview of Styles and Aesthetics

I think everyone has heard about the word “aesthetic” thrown around before, but I wonder if people know where different aesthetics come from and how to find their aesthetic. I, for one, find aesthetics fascinating, because they allow me to have a better understanding of who I am and help me find communities I belong in. This article will be a description of where aesthetics originate, what they reflect, and some characteristics that define these aesthetics. Hopefully, through this short list of aesthetics, you will find one that you resonate with most.

Note: A longer, more detailed version of all this information can be found here (where this write-up is summarized from).

Every culture is welcomed to follow any aesthetic. You do not need to be a certain gender, race, sexuality, social status, education, body type, etc. in order to resonate with an aesthetic. You are also free to mix aesthetics or blend your culture into your personal aesthetic. In addition, this article is meant to inspire others into finding their own aesthetic, hence you do not need to follow every characteristic; it is up to you what you like or don’t like.

Dark Academia

The Academia aesthetic is inspired by historical Old England beliefs of knowledge and self-discovery, which is seen through classic literature and arts. Dark Academia is a more gothic view of academia, and has gained movement through online social platforms such as Instagram and Tik Tok. You can read more about Dark Academia here.

Some key characteristics that define Dark Academia are books, old libraries and academic buildings, piles of papers, uniforms, and things you would expect from a Harry Potter movie or imagine from Shakespeare’s plays. The colour palette that is commonly seen is composed of burgundy, brown, dark navy, grey, black, yellow, and any dark neutral colours. Activities that are enjoyed in this aesthetic include reading, writing, note taking, book binding, watching movies, playing games such as chess and sports such as tennis, and drawing/painting. Some movies and literature that relate to Dark Academia include Dead Poets Society by N.H. Kleinbaum, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and Enola Homes directed by Harry Bradbeer (2020). Music that also inspired Dark Academia includes classical music and instrumental music.

Cottagecore

Cottagecore is inspired by Western and European agricultural life, and is often romanticized as a simple and harmonious life with nature. But Cottagecore has been criticized for undermining the labours that farmers endure, and can be seen as a commemoration of colonialism used as propaganda for political parties and media outlets. Nevertheless, Cottagecore is the appreciation of the outdoor life and nature, and is a beautiful aesthetic when expressed appropriately. You can read more about Cottagecore here.

Some key characteristics of Cottagecore include open fields, flowers, picnics and English/Western foods (such as sandwiches and pies), animals, plants (trees, herbs, etc.), teas, and writing letters or reading. Colours that are associated with this aesthetic include yellow, white, orange, cream/beige, brown, green, or any soft faded colours. Activities that fall under this aesthetic are going on a picnic, cloud watching, gardening, embroidery, baking, writing letters, and reading outside. Some movies that reflect this aesthetic include Kiki’s Delivery Service by Studio Ghibli, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, and Barbie and the Diamond Castle (a personal favourite). Lo-fi music and indie music are some genres that fall close to this aesthetic. 

Animecore

Animecore, as the name suggests, revolves around Japanese animations and the Japanese culture presented in these animations. There are many subgenres to Animecore as there are many different genres of anime, but the main foundation of Animecore is the enjoyment of Japanese entertainment. Some subgenres and aesthetics that fall close to Animecore are Vaporwave, Cyberpunk, and Kawaii culture (kawaii meaning cute in Japanese). You can read more about Animecore here.

Key characteristics of Animecore are pretty self-explanatory (it’s all anime or anime related) and are dependent on the audience’s preference. For instance, a prevalent part of Animecore reflects animations about magical girls such as Sailor Moon, hence the aesthetic consists of pastel colours, glitter, playing games with cute equipment, and creating anime edits or manga drawings. Common activities for Animecore are cosplay, taking inspiration from anime for art and fashion, and purchasing merchandise in appreciation of anime. Some colours that are used in Animecore art are pastel colours and bold, vibrant colours. As for anime/anime music recommendations, you can find articles on The Vault or many other anime streaming sites. My personal favourite is One Piece and Hunter X Hunter

Art Soul

Art Soul is an aesthetic that shares a common love for artwork and natural beauty. It was first introduced by Tumblr users Mars and Jams, who created the aesthetic in order to give creative freedom for the POC (people of colour) community, especially for black people. The aesthetic has been criticized as becoming “white-washed” as the aesthetic is transforming to be more homogeneous (meaning everyone follows a certain characteristic), but the aesthetic overall is inclusive to all races and heritage and is not limited to colours, activities, or design.

The aesthetic was formally named Art Hoe; the derogatory language was used on purpose as the intention was to turn the word “hoe” from an offensive meaning to an empowering one, and this serves significant impact to the black community. The word is also meant to bring people of different minorities into the aesthetic, as it reminds people that art is diverse, and not only for a certain culture. You can read more about Art Soul here, and read more about its origin and evolution here.

The Art Soul aesthetic includes key characteristics such as painted jeans, tshirts, collections of artworks or drawings, notes or books on famous artists, plants, and animals. Colours that are used in Art Soul are yellow, peach, orange, red, pink, blue, and green. Activities in this aesthetic include reading, painting, drawing, playing musical instruments, interior design, gardening, photography, journaling, and many other artistic activities. Though there are no specific films that represent Art Soul, some films that align with this aesthetic include short films, art tutorials, speed paints and speed drawings, bullet journalling designs/tutorials, and art supply reviews, which can all be found on YouTube. There is also no specific literature that represents Art Soul, but you can read books on animation, illustration, how to draw basics, histories of art evolution and past artists, and many more to expand your knowledge and creativity in art. Music that is close to Art Soul includes folk music, lo-fi, and indie music such as mxmtoon, cavetown, and BENEE. 

Vaporwave 

Vaporwave is a very “vague” or broad aesthetic that is based around electronic music and 1980s consumerism culture to 2010s internet culture. It is very difficult to pin a definition on Vaporwave due to its many interpretations; one site describes Vaporwave as characterized by its insincere commentary on consumerism and “the soulless glamour on late capitalism,” while another site characterizes it as a meme based on laid back music. The aesthetic is more defined through key characteristics and its colour palette, though it is important to keep in mind the overall tongue-in-cheek, playful commentary that this aesthetic holds towards consumerism and capitalism, as this is what separates Vaporwave from Synthwave. The positive side of the aesthetic, however, is that it can be viewed with multiple perspectives and can be made more personal to the individual. Some aesthetics that stem off of Vaporwave are Seapunk, y2k, and Hardvapor. You can read more about Vaporwave here, and read some other articles on Vaporwave here, here, and here.

Key characteristics of Vaporwave include glitches, Renaissance statues, early 2000s computer image, Japanese anime designs, use of the Asian languages, holography, and 3D graphics. Colours seen in Vaporwave are mostly pink and purple, with some blue, orange, black, and red. Some activities that relate to Vaporwave are listening to music, video editing, graphic design, photography, sculpting, painting, playing video games, writing stories, and anything related to electronics. Music for Vaporwave can stem from electronic and EDM to jazz and R&B. An iconic song that displays the Vaporwave aesthetic is “02 リサフランク420 – 現代のコンピュ”, also known as “2 MACINTOSH PLUS”. The video can be found here.

Author’s note: I like to view Vaporwave as an aesthetic that reminiscences on old internet culture (such as the box computer, pixelated monitors, etc.) and mixes it with the new technological era of memes, anime, games, and many other online activities. 

Grunge 

The Grunge aesthetic first came from Seattle, Washington, as “grunge” was the label for the hard rock bands that existed in the 1980s. Due to the large amount of attention these Seattle rock bands received, people responded by making Grunge a movement of anti-consumerism and rebellion against the norms. As Grunge soon grew mainstream, it led to many retail businesses using Grunge to sell products, and the anti-consumerism and rebellion meaning was lost. Nowadays, Grunge has become an aesthetic that has a more edgy and darker style that represents hopelessness for society. You can read more about Grunge here.

Key characteristics of Grunge are vinyl records, chains, glitches, neon lights, and band logos. Colours seen in Grunge are mostly black, though other colours that compliment Grunge are grey, red, purple, blue, orange, and yellow. Activities that fall into Grunge are listening to music, skateboarding, night activities such as spontaneous road trips or visits to the park, going to concerts/raves, photography, or art activities such as spray painting. Movies that depict the Grunge aesthetic are Sid and Nancy directed by Alex Cox (1986), The Doom Generation directed by Gregg Araki (1995), Gia directed by Michael Cristofer (1998), and old horror/thriller movies. (Warning: these movies are not for the weak-hearted.) Music that is associated with Grunge includes punk rock, heavy metal, rap, and hip hop.  

Soft Aesthetic

The Soft Aesthetic is a youthful, innocent aesthetic that inspires people to look as cute and feminine as possible. Despite the feminine depiction, this aesthetic is for all genders and races. The Soft Aesthetic is more formally known as Softpeople (soft girl/soft boy), and is part of “a trifecta of aesthetics, alongside VSCO and E-people” (e-girl/e-boy). You can read more about Soft Aesthetic here.

Key characteristics of Soft Aesthetics are blush, lip gloss, sparkles, water, comfy oversized clothing, and plants/flowers. Colours seen in the Soft Aesthetic are pink, purple, blue, yellow and any light pastel colours. Activities that fall under Soft Aesthetics are practicing makeup, going to coffee shops, studying, travelling, playing sports, or going to thrift shops. Movies that show the Soft Aesthetic are The Sound of Music directed by Robert Wise (1965), The Grand Budapest Hotel directed by Wes Anderson (2014), Everyone Says I Love You directed by Woody Allen (1996) and feel-good movies or romance movies. Music to listen to includes pop music and indie music. 

Minimalistic

The Minimalistic aesthetic follows the minimal art movement that began post-World War II. This movement started when late 1950s artists such as Frank Stella used minimalist art to respond to abstract expressionism. Overall, as the name suggests, the Minimalistic aesthetic reflects the simplicity and harmonious perspective of beauty. You can read more about Minimalistic and the origin here, and here.

Key characteristics of the Minimalistic aesthetic are coffee cups, tote bags, plants, pillows and blankets, stationary, sunlight, line art, and space (not outer space). Colours used in the Minimalistic aesthetic are brown, black, cream, beige, pink and all light, neutral colours. Activities to do are studying, going to coffee shops, bullet journalling, sleeping, cooking, and cleaning. Artwork that illustrates the Minimalistic aesthetic are from artists such as Frank Stella, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Dan Flavin, Agnes Martin, and Anne Truitt. Music to listen to for the Minimalistic aesthetic includes instrumental music and R&B/contemporary soul. 

Conclusion

Phew, that was a long list. Yet this is just a small overview of the hundreds of aesthetics that exist and are yet to come. In addition, though there are specific traits to each aesthetic, this does not mean you have to follow everything to fit into a certain aesthetic. In fact, you can mix aesthetics and join multiple kinds of groups! The most important thing to take away from this article is that there are all kinds of different peoples and aesthetics, and you can join any aesthetic you want. Hopefully, by learning some of these aesthetics, you’ll be able to understand other people’s aesthetics, too. 

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