Another week, another viral social media trend. This time we’re all talking about ‘coastal grandmother’, and figuring out if we are one or we even want to be one. What’s it all about? And is there a local version? Let’s get into it…
OK I’m interested. What’s a ‘coastal grandmother’?
It’s the latest viral trend that has taken over your news and social feed; one of those phrases ‘invented’ on TikTok that becomes a buzzword and quickly defines the online conversation for a week or so. Let’s call it the TikTok trend industrial complex that, yes, I am feeding into right now with this story.
The coastal grandmother describes an aesthetic that you already know: it’s well-loved white interiors, an oversized coatigan (always in a neutral hue) that you hug into against the chill, a bountiful garden, white wine as the sun goes down. It’s Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies is very much in the coastal grandmother oeuvre, as is Reese’s lifestyle brand Draper James), Martha Stewart, and Oprah’s garden Instagram posts.
It is a lifestyle that luxuriates in leisure; the life you dream of creating for yourself when you retire. Or the older woman in your life who you love and adore, and always pours you a hearty glass of white wine.
A viral video set off the chatter, and defined it as thus: “If you love Nancy Meyers movies, coastal vibes, recipes and cooking, Ina Garten, cosy interiors… there's a good chance you're a coastal grandmother”. The Nancy Meyers reference is key.
Where did it come from?
Lex Nicoleta posted her now viral video to TikTok in March, and it now has 2.2 million views. She’d actually first posted about the phrase in early January; she’s since followed it up with over 50 posts offering her take on coastal grandmother ‘approved’ dresses, a spring bag unboxing, wine haul, perfumes, films, TV shows, pyjama sets and many, many more. She’s also created a Spotify playlist and a Pinterest board, a sea of slim white blondes.
Hmm, seems pretty white…
Yes! It is! Let’s be honest: this is all describing the aesthetics of a stereotypical wealthy white woman.
Nicoleta explained that the ‘visual element’ is ‘aspirational’, and in one of her early videos described it as, “It’s my garden is bigger than your first apartment […] It’s five carat diamond ring passed down from your great great grandmother”. So yes, a certain and possibly unattainable level of affluence and privilege informs this ‘vibe’.
Some comments online have credited the origins of the trend to Naomi Ekperigin, a former writer for brilliant TV shows Great News and Broad City; she is also a Black woman. In the Netflix series The Standups released in December, she does a great bit about pretending to be a protagonist in a Nancy Meyers movie whenever she wants to get away - nailing the coastal grandmother aesthetic that Nicoleta would go on to give its name.
“Imagine I’m a white woman. I’m in my 50s, I’m in my 60s […] I’m wearing taupe, I’m wearing cream, I’m wearing beige. Eggshell. Ecru. And whatever I’m wearing is loose, but also fitted.”
Naomi describes Palm Springs - where she met two women who epitomised this vibe - as "Caucasian decadence”, which could be an alternative name for this entire coastal grandmother trend.
…ok, but why?
I can’t tell you why this specific phrase has gone viral, but it does reference a very specific but wide-reaching style. If I were to get deep about it, it possibly also appeals to people’s aspirations of comfort in retirement.
It’s very Tinx Rich Moms - the very popular series from the TikTok star that breaks down ‘rich mom’ personality types based on cities - and if I were to be cynical about it (and of course I am), I would argue that the creator of the phrase coastal grandmother wanted to go viral - be the new Rich Moms, or new cheugy - hence the various posts and branding as ‘coastal grandmother headquarters’.
If I was being extra cynical, I’d wonder if this was all a big marketing ploy by Netflix to promote the just announced news that Nancy Meyers, patron saint of coastal grandmothers, will release her first film in years through the streaming platform.
Will this all be over in a week?
Probably! The pace of trend cycles is ever increasing thanks to platforms like TikTok - which traffics in microtrends and aesthetics - and our collective insatiable appetite for content.
Like cheugy, ‘coconut girls’, cottagecore and Indie Sleaze - all recent microtrends that found life on TikTok before exploding into a sea of trend stories and think pieces elsewhere - coastal grandmother feeds into the current desire to be defined by our ‘unique’ personality traits or preferences (think of Buzzfeed quizzes, starter pack memes, the popularity of astrology, the aforementioned ‘Rich Moms’).
Cheugy was different in that it was a new word - reflecting shifts in language that are being influenced by social media and Gen Z subcultures - whereas coastal grandmother is really just two random words put together, to define a clearly defined, but already established aesthetic.
This is ridiculous.
I mean sure, it is a little ridiculous but it’s also meant to be fun.
These microtrends aren’t going anywhere, either - but I would like to see them be less focused on glorifying the aesthetics of privilege and wealth.
Here are just some that I’m making up right now that could literally be the next viral ‘aesthetic’: 80s suburbia-core (pastel home decor, things that were once ugly but are now super expensive in vintage stores, mirrored artworks); Just Cats (literally anything adorned with a cat); Cocaine Juicer (parties hard but only drinks oat milk); Muntercore (think of dishevelled early teenage boys who dress like skater boys used to in the early noughties; bogan adjacent), Auntycore (my friend wrote a wonderful piece when we were both at Fashion Quarterly that artfully described the sentimentality of this trend, which is about making thoughtful fashion choices and being yourself).
What things actually make a ‘coastal grandmother’?
It’s a mindset - you don’t have to live by the coast or be a grandmother - but I do think, with our proximity to the coast at all times, we all have a bit of coastal grandmother energy here in New Zealand. But I like to think that our version is bit more diverse and less focused on the aspirations of wealth. What might a local version of the coastal grandmother vibe look like? Any of the below is a good start…
Having an old, well-used copy of the Edmond’s Cookbook
Spending holidays at a bach in the Coromandel, particularly The Pines end of Matarangi
Having a hand me down crochet or woollen blanket (try Fresh Retro Love to start that tradition in your whanau now)
Being the one in your family to make the pav each Christmas
Having opinions on the best linen linens
Having a family relish recipe (or marmalade, or jam)
A shell used as an ashtray, or as art; driftwood displayed as an object (turned into a windchime, just displayed as is on a table or deck)
Everything about the fashion brand Marle
All those local influencers who love a neutral aesthetic
The Matakana Markets
Using proper straw/wicker baskets at the market, not just supermarket totes
The online store Garden Objects
Lorna Murray capri sun hats from Garden Objects
Retro Kiwiana tea towels
Jeanette Fitzsimons (RIP)
Minimalist homeware stores like Father Rabbit (Herne Bay), Ornament (Sandringham), Paper Plane (Mount Maunganui) and Sunday Home (Waihi)
Knowing what to do with a plethora of feijoa
Preserved lemons in a jar
Having a favourite local potter and/or ceramicist
Taylor Swift's folklore
Caring about the America’s Cup
Enjoying an ice cold white wine at all times of the year