Thistle and Gristle

Why 2022 is, for me, the Year of BabaYagaCore

An elderly crone, Baba Yaga, wears a head kerchief, a floral apron and a shirt with leaves on it. She smiles; she is out in her garden, caressing two jars with people’s surprised heads in them. The text under the image says “Keep your friends close and your enemies in a jar”.
Art from Baba Yaga’s Little Book of Hut Maintenance

Fashion is a fleeting beast, hard to catch and even harder to track. I’ve certainly explored many archetypes in my years on this planet — teen Goth, bright colored raver, brassy steampunk, grungy gutterpunk, pastel rococo, flowery cottagecore, mossy witch, swamp goblin, and something I can only define as “unclear, but definitely queer”. Each one gave me a collection of fun accessories and clothing bits I really liked but put aside for a different persona as I metamorphized through the years.

The pandemic was intense for many of us. Marked by isolation, grief, too much time on my hands, and not enough stimulation, I found myself drifting. I couldn’t be bothered to do my makeup when it was just for me. I lived in pajamas, because why not? I wasn’t going anywhere or seeing anyone. Weeks went by where the only person I spoke to was my housemate. I crocheted enough shawls to outfit an entire nursing home. I forgot how to “people”; smiling felt like baring my teeth in a way that borderlined on aggressive.

I became feral, in other words. And I don’t know if I’m coming back from it. Turns out, I *like* it here, in my dark apartment, cooking up stews and syrups, muttering to my cats. I like wearing muddied boots year-round, making herbal tinctures I leave outside my door for friends who need their throat soothed or their restlessness quieted. I talk to my plants about my worries and my joys, and that’s enough for me most days.

A lot of people fell apart during the pandemic, and I understand. It was deeply difficult for a myriad of reasons and I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to have struggled, or to be struggling now. I, on the other hand, felt immense guilt because I blossomed under the hardship, like a mushroom fruiting on a fallen tree, crumbling back into the earth. I discovered how to be alone during this time, reveling in the introspection time I was now afforded, getting deep with myself. I had always been afraid of being still with my thoughts, but with the chance to try it, I found that I genuinely enjoyed my own company.

I got sober during the pandemic. Not only did I quit drinking, but I quit smoking too, equally for the health benefits as for the ability to not interact with other people for even longer. Many of my unhealthiest behaviors came from trying desperately to fit in with other people, especially in social situations. Letting myself become feral meant no longer pretending. I no longer try to drink or smoke or snort something to feel included in the group. Now when I feel uncomfortable somewhere, I just… leave. And there’s something incredibly freeing about it.

Photo of an older woman in a head kerchief holding a large ginger tabby and giving the camera the middle finger with a scowl. Text over the image says “an actual picture of me in the future”

I’ve long admired the archetype of the old lady who has spent years of her life engaging in the frivolity of propriety and has no patience for it anymore. Whether she be sharp-tongued like Sophia from the Golden Girls, or a trickster like Maude from Harold and Maude, this archetype knows exactly what she’s supposed to do and has firmly said “no thank you”. I’m only 38, but I asked myself — why am I waiting another 30 years to embody this? Why not today?

I decided that 2022 was going to be the Year of Baba Yaga for me, a year where I focus on what fulfills me, comfortable and solitary in my chicken-legged hut. If what I’ve said here resonates for you, read on for my style guide.

So what is what I call BabaYagaCore?

I’m gonna be honest, I loved the idea of cottagecore. The idyllic fantasy of a cozy thatched cottage with room to have an herb garden and a fireplace with a cauldron bubbling with something delicious is a beautiful one. Or it was until the white supremacists decided it was a great entry point for getting young women accustomed to being stay at home tradwives. I mean, to be fair, it was always a little racist and classist — actually working on a farm is very very different from the cottagecore aesthetic, which has more in common with the stereotypes of Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de la Reine. Still, it was a nice aesthetic to visit, and I didn’t want to totally give up on my newfound passion for canning and baking and growing my own kitchen herbs.

I sidestepped into the world of goblincore, which felt a little closer. Incredibly queer, more mushrooms and snails than cultivated flowers and lambs, goblincore spoke to the kid in me who used to spend every summer happily tromping about in the swamps looking for frogs and dragonfly nymphs. Where cottagecore was tidy and bright, goblincore was damp and dark. Goblincore was more mischievous and messy in a way I found deeply satisfying. But if I’m going to be completely honest… I don’t like being outside all that much, other than tending to my little garden on my front stoop.

Adjacent to goblincore is, of course, witchcore, which was extremely trite feeling and boring to me as someone who was raised as a bonafide pagan. Crystals and incense, Gothic vibes, and spiritual leanings… witchcore wasn’t really my Thing, though I appreciate it for what it is. Also, I had already done my time as a romantiGoth, and I was kind of over the lacy sleeves and velvets. They just weren’t practical for the kind of stuff I liked to do.

Finally, I thought about what I actually already dressed like and what I spent my time doing. And the fact was, I play Scrabble, watch Murder She Wrote and go to bed at a reasonable hour with a cup of herbal tea. Grandmacore, with its cardigans and doilies and staying in knitting, really spoke to something in me. But it was still just too…. NICE.

That’s when it struck me. There was an icon where these inspirations meet, and that icon was Baba Yaga. A crone who was famed for cannibalism, impossible tasks, riding on a mortar and pestle, and living in a hut on chicken legs, she was everything I was looking for from an aesthetic and from a lifestyle. Baba Yaga was an interesting case of not being “good” or “evil” in many of her stories — she was often both even in the same folk tale. I appreciated that nuance, as many of us are often equally complex. And so, I started figuring out what BabaYagaCore meant to me.

5 photos of a fat white woman in various outfits, usually with multiple necklaces, layers of sweaters or jackets, a head kerchief or a wide headband, and glasses — she holds her phone up to take a mirror selfie.
#BabaYagaCore, as envisioned by me

The Look

Ok, ok, I know, enough background! How do you embody this look?

Pattern mixing — I am really enjoying mixing patterns, especially florals and paisleys, for this aesthetic. Folk art patterns, also, really communicate this specific look and make it less pastoral. I find inspiration in all kinds of folk art patterns and styles — Scandinavian, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Appalachian — though I do tend to avoid folk art patterns primarily made by Indigenous POC as I don’t want to be appropriative.

Scarves — Scarves definitely help solidify this look, whether you’re tying them around your waist, wearing them to protect your hair, or wrapping them around your shoulders. I have lots and lots of scarves now, and I find them ideal for growing out my quarantine pixie cut and adding a pop of color to an otherwise plain shirt or skirt.

Jewel tones — One of the things I really love about folk art is how bright it is! The colors are vibrant and striking, and that definitely is fun to translate into clothing. It makes pattern mixing a little easier too — as long as a few colors match both items, you can wear them together and it’s a Look.

Aprons — I am really loving aprons, especially little half aprons with fun patterns. I got some great vintage ones on eBay and Etsy, and I’ve had good luck in the past finding aprons at vintage stores. I err on the side of aprons I’ll actually wear and use — a little flour and splatter of soup fits the aesthetic, after all.

Layers — I live in California, so layers are extremely useful. It can be sunny and warm one minute, windy and foggy the next. I often like to carry a sweater with me, and this aesthetic definitely benefits from the idea “more is more”. Also notable additions- arm warmers and fingerless gloves.

Accessories — This is where I think the BabaYagaCore aesthetic gets really fun. I’ve gone for lots of different things when putting together these looks — lots of bracelets, multiple necklaces, hairpins to keep my scarves on, big brooches.

Symbols — life, death, and the space between; raccoons; bones; herbs; bears; dried flowers; eyes; multicolored beads; feathers; cats; mushrooms; skulls; cauldrons; chickens; teeth; tea kettles; foxes; moons; the occult; forests; antlers; snails; moss; musk; whatever you like.

Style Inspo: Baba Yaga herself, Midsommar, Grýla, Granny Weatherwax, Strega Nona, Buranovskiye Babushki, kitchen witch poppets, hedge witches, the Witch from Into the Woods, my Instagram

Thank you to Instagram user IShallGoIntoAHare for starting the hashtag #babayagacore, and IG user YagaSara for also offering a lot of inspiration under the tag with her art! Also thank you to Baba Yaga’s Little Book Of Hut Maintenance, Or, Chicken Legs For The Soul over on FB for being a source of joy.

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Professional Bleeding Heart. Sick & Tired. Patronize me: http://t.co/RSd5cSVGE5 Image by @mayakern

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Professional Bleeding Heart. Sick & Tired. Patronize me: http://t.co/RSd5cSVGE5 Image by @mayakern

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