It’s 3 am on a Wednesday morning and you’re armed with a Kermit backpack, a weak flashlight and an obsolete tourist map. Your friends are not far behind, you identify them with DIY-ed tin foil hats gleaming under the moonlight. You then pull out the old newspaper clipping that drew your squad into the local woods in the first place. “Red-eyed creature reported in West Virginia,” it reads, recounting the horrific experience of a couple whose car was followed by a huge bird-like creature with a 10-foot wingspan. Fastening your father’s old Doc Martens, you grab your Polaroid camera and head into the darkness with all the courage that you can muster.
Welcome to cryptidcore, an aesthetic focused on delving into mysteries that you believe in—but aren’t meant to discover.
Before we break down the aesthetic, let’s address the seven-lettered word attached to the ‘core’ suffix. What exactly is a cryptid? Well, just think Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster (affectionately called Nessie), Yeti, the Jersey Devil, the Goatman and the Cactus Cat. Cryptids are creatures believed to exist somewhere in the wild, usually unconfirmed by mainstream science. Typically originating from folklores, they are mythological in nature but not necessarily supernatural. Remember that there is a fine line between the two—with the former (arguably) including aliens and ghosts.
While much of the internet claims cryptids to be “obscure and undocumented creatures,” the term was coined by cryptozoology—a branch of pseudoscience dedicated to proving the existence of such entities. While biologists consistently identify new species following established scientific methodologies, cryptozoologists focus on cryptids mentioned both in the folklore records and alleged rumours. Parallels in the branch also include ghost hunting and ufology.
Cryptidcore is where all of this manifests—coupled with the glorification and idolisation of cryptids, conspiracies (not the anti-vax kind) and all-around mystery. Originating in the mid-2010s, with mood boards made on series like Scooby-Doo, The X-Files, Gravity Falls and Buzzfeed Unsolved, it wasn’t until 2014 that the term ‘cryptidcore’ was birthed on Tumblr by a user named Charlie. “New aesthetic: cryptidcore,” the post read, mentioning everything from kitschy t-shirts and keychains from souvenir shops to tin foil hats and muffled X-Files theme songs playing in the distance. The text post broke Tumblr and the aesthetic gained traction.
Borrowing visuals from the 1970s to the 1990s, cryptidcore imagery generally includes pitch-dark forests, abandoned buildings, polaroid cameras, VHS tapes, pocket knives, tin foil hats, Ouija boards, glow-in-the-dark iconography and field diaries—bursting to the seam with newspaper clippings of cryptid sightings. Cryptidcorists love researching conspiracy theories, government cover-ups and local mysteries while taking long walks in the forest, planning 2 a.m. alien-watch seshes in local wheat fields and exploring haunted places and corn mazes during road trips. They are also avid enthusiasts of garage sales, thrift stores, vintage sci-fi movies, alien documentaries and, of course, ghost stories narrated around a campfire.
You would often spot cryptidcorists decked in practical and comfy outfits with browns, beige and muted colours. Specific clothing items also include graphic tees, flannel shirts, plaid and corduroy jackets, trench coats, cargo pants and oversized sweaters featuring iron-on patches—topped off with classic combat boots and a backpack. Preferring artworks by the likes of Canadian horror illustrator Trevor Henderson, they are the native audience of television shows like Stranger Things (obviously), Dark and Invader Zim among others. Aesthetics Wiki, the one-stop-shop for internet subcultures and aesthetics, even lists podcasts like ‘CreepsMcPasta Creepypasta Radio’ and ‘Welcome to Nightvale’ as assets under cryptidcore.
From dark academia to lovecore, a new page on Aesthetics Wiki has proven to translate into a full-fledged trend with a dedicated hashtag on TikTok. Cryptidcore is no exception. With a whopping 21 million views and counting on #cryptidcore, the platform’s obsession with the aesthetic—and everything mythical—is apparent.
Enthusiasts are seen crafting their own cryptid detectors and Halloween decor by sacrificing styrofoam heads, while the rest iterate what they would wear if they were asked to tag along on a monster hunt with other cryptozoologists back in 1982. CCTV footage of cryptid sightings and speed drawings of mythical creatures are also in the mix.
A specific spinoff of the aesthetic, however, is the platform’s obsession with Mothman—a humanoid creature part of West Virginia folklore with giant red eyes and a 10-foot wingspan. The same one the couple spotted chasing their car earlier, remember? Well, he has now evolved into a romantic icon within the community, with phrases like “Mothman is real, I’m married to him” floating around on cryptidcore circles on TikTok. With 1.5 million views and counting on #sexymothman, he’s basically the ‘fuckboy of cryptids’ nowadays.
While enthusiasts are busy planning their wedding with Mothman or reality shifting their way into his dimension, I’m here to note how the shift of the aesthetic onto the gen Z-first platform has extended its ‘shelf life’. Simply put, art forms that don’t evolve, cease to exist. Not only has TikTok’s take on the aesthetic helped push it into the mainstream but it has also initiated some to seek solace within the community—a factor we all deserve given the current times, if you ask me.
So if all of this peaks your interest in the aesthetic, grab a copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children or The Mortal Instruments, blast a cryptidcore playlist on Spotify and set off with your (consenting) squad into the local woods. And if you think you’ve actually been there before, it’s just that the government made sure you forgot the first time around.