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.
We’ve all heard of cottagecore, right? If you haven’t, you’ve probably been living under a rock or you most likely still haven’t downloaded TikTok. Come on, it’s time. The hashtag has amassed nearly 7 billion views on the app—yes, billion. It was during the first COVID-19 lockdown that cottagecore exploded on the internet which sparked the desire to escape the once normality of our capitalist world for a simpler, slower one in the country. Cottagecore’s popularity has since opened up the doors for a variety of new aesthetics to become viral.
Well, if you haven’t heard of cottagecore then no doubt you haven’t heard of fairycore or goblincore. Hollowfae, as they are known on Instagram—real name Sunday—sat down with us to talk about everything fairy and goblincore. The law student’s fantasy-themed fashion content and beautifully magical aesthetic has attracted over 20,000 followers, so it’s safe to say they’re a successful fairy.
View this post on Instagram
The path to these aesthetics was the same for Hollowfae, “I discovered all these little aesthetic-based communities just over a year ago at the beginning of the first UK lockdown. I actually discovered cottagecore first, my partner and I moved from our uni accommodations into their family home in the countryside. Cottagecore was becoming popular on TikTok at the time, so because of where I lived, taking part in the trend was really accessible.”
Goblincore has become an adjacent branch to cottagecore and is also often referred to as gremlincore or cottagegoth, among others. Its name has left many wanting a change in title. Morgan Sung writes in Mashable that “given the discourse over J.K. Rowling’s problematic depiction of goblins as greedy bankers in the Harry Potter franchise, at least one Tumblr user is pushing to call the aesthetic by one of its other names, so it’s not associated in any way with anti-semitism.”
From cottagecore to fairycore and goblincore—what’s the difference? Hollowfae explains that “they have some similarities—they both explore and celebrate nature and fantasy themed imagery. I’d say fairycore is ‘lighter’. If you compare the image in your head of a fairy to that of a goblin, the fairy has more of a conventionally ‘pretty’ look.”
Adjacent to other movements like cottagecore, fairycore and dragoncore, goblincore is defined as an aesthetic that aims to celebrate the elements of nature that are not typically seen as ‘pretty’. “From my perspective, I think fairycore celebrates the aspects of fantasy and nature that are deemed by most to be attractive (flowers, butterflies, pastel and bright colours), whereas goblincore seeks to celebrate the aspects that are not so perfectly curated or pristine and perhaps under-appreciated (bugs, toads, swamps, fungi),” Hollowfae explains. Think of it as cottagecore and fairycore’s dark academic cousin. Oh, you haven’t heard of dark academia either? You really need to download TikTok.
View this post on Instagram
It is because of this love for the typically unappreciated that goblincore’s culture opens its doors wide open to everyone and anyone. There is a noticeable freeing spirit in the community—one that celebrates nonconformity to society’s heternormative, binary beauty standards. It’s a fantastic fantasy-like escape from the real world and has become a safe habitat for the LGBTQIA+ community—especially for those who identify beyond the gender binary. At its core (pun intended) it’s a realm of escapism, whose members want to flee the barriers of capitalism and its norms for the freedom of the woods. Honestly, sign me up.
Hollowfae—who identifies as they/them—explains how this evolution into the “dark faircore” aesthetic makes them feel at ease. They explain that “it feels comfortable. It’s a lot less pressure for me because I don’t have to look perfect, my hair doesn’t need to be in place, my shoes can be muddy and my clothes can be ripped and it all just adds to the appeal.”
The goblincore culture merges this carefree vibe with the desire to collect unique objects. “The goal is to look like a little magical forest creature that has foraged a bunch of mismatched pieces and stitched together an outfit. I feel better about myself from this perspective, there’s less pressure to conform to normal ‘human’ beauty standards if your goal is to look like a magical, fantasy creature.”
View this post on Instagram
So, you want to cop the look? Hollowfae states that the absolute staples you need to get your fairycore or goblincore wardrobe started are: “arm warmers, knee-high socks, earth-tones, ripped tights and layer-able pieces like corsets, waistcoats and necklaces.” Once you have these, you can build on them. Another wonderful aspect of the community that I’ve noticed is that craftsmanship and sustainability is at the heart of acquiring their aesthetical pieces. Hollowfae aligns with this too.
They suggest purchasing items from places like Vinted, “I used to love charity shopping before lockdown but now that I shop mostly online, Vinted and eBay are definitely where I get a majority of my clothing pieces. My accessories are pretty much all from small businesses on Instagram and Depop—some have been kindly gifted to me but there’s loads of little shops making jewellery specifically for people who are interested in fairycore,” or goblincore.
View this post on Instagram
Of course, it’s not just about the aesthetic—it’s about the community. To really immerse yourself into goblincore or fairycore, you can find comfort in finding those like-minded to you. Hollowfae recommends finding users and following hashtags on social media like Instagram, Tumblr and TikTok. See, I told you. What are you still doing without TikTok downloaded on your phone?
They also state that “you can start posting your own content, but even just interacting with other accounts will really help to meet and connect with people who share the same interests as you. Once you immerse and surround yourself with similar people it’s a lot easier to just be yourself and express yourself freely.”
Hollowfae seems to have created a community like that—their dialogue with their followers and positive messaging has created a little pocket of safety on the internet. They humbly responded saying, “Thank you [but] I don’t see my account in that way, it’s a very personal space and outlet. The conversations I have are very important to me, and I try my best to hold open public conversations when I can.” It’s all about the community for goblincore.
Commenting on their distaste for Instagram’s ever-changing design and layout—don’t we all hate it?—Hollowfae would “prefer a dynamic where everyone can share and swap ideas and opinions on an equal playing field. […] I’m constantly learning from my peers and the wonderful people I follow, which is why I think community spaces are so much richer. We can all learn and improve together.”
I would love to be a part of this community, wouldn’t you?