I was hoping the hot “coastal grandmother” trend — inescapable over the summer — would cool and fade with the changing seasons. But dozens of headlines on “How to transition coastal grandma chic to fall” prove this disturbing lifestyle craze isn’t going anywhere.
A little background for the blissfully out-of-the-loop reader, the coastal grandmother aesthetic was born where all the greatest cultural movements come about: on TikTok. Twenty-six-year-old influencer Lex Nicoleta explained in a viral video that you might be a coastal grandmother if you love Nancy Meyers movies, coastal vibes, recipes and cooking, Ina Garten, and cozy interiors. “And no,” she adds, “you don’t have to be a grandmother to be a coastal grandmother.”
Listicle-makers quickly became obsessed with the blossoming trend and promoted it with endless link-affiliated posts on home décor pieces and “very neutral, classic staples” for the aspiring coastal grandmother. And though, with its comforting color schemes and tidy styling, it’s easy to see the coastal grandmother appeal, it’s the attitude behind the largely young, nowhere-near-grandmother-age social media users embracing this trend that’s disquieting.
The list of women upheld as icons personifying the coastal grandmother aesthetic includes Diane Keaton in “Something’s Gotta Give,” Diane Lane in “Under the Tuscan Sun,” and Keaton, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Maggie Smith (and Ivana Trump as herself!) in “First Wives Club,” among others. What all these characters have in common is that they’re middle-aged (at best), separated or divorced, and are often enduring the painful antics of their ex-husbands moving on with much younger, more attractive women by finding solace in their careers and in curating their perfect homes.
“In the 2009 movie It’s Complicated, Meryl Streep plays a successful Santa Barbara baker in a love triangle with her ex-husband and the architect remodeling her immaculately stylish home,” Buzzfeed News writes in a piece explaining why “TikTok Is Suddenly Obsessed With Living Like A Middle-Aged Divorcé.” “She flaunts a wardrobe full of flowing tops in neutral tones, indulges in regular self-care rituals, and frequently gathers with her gaggle of adult children.”
The fact that young women — remember, a 26-year-old started it all — are so eager to skip the messy but beautiful marriage and child-rearing stage of life, and jump right to the part where they have time to indulge in “self-care rituals” and to spend hours at a boutique furniture store deliberating over the exact shade of plush oatmeal for a living room sectional, is sad.
The Guardian reported in 2021 that the number of women choosing to be single is growing. “The Office for National Statistics shows that women not living in a couple, who have never married, is rising in every age range under 70,” the paper noted. “In the decade-and-a-half between 2002 and 2018, the figure for those aged 40 to 70 rose by half a million. The percentage of never-married singletons in their 40s doubled.”
Women who do have children are waiting longer than ever to do so (and the number of children they are having is way down, too). The average age of first-time mothers is now 30. When Spectrum News reported on this phenomenon, they quoted a woman who fit the demographic saying, “One thing that was very important to me was to be at a certain point in my career before having children.”
There’s a lot going on here, culturally speaking. Maybe women value their careers because they don’t feel they can, or should, rely on a man for support. Life is also increasingly expensive, and they may have no choice but to work a lot before bringing a child into this world.
Or perhaps more women choose to be single because they’re hedging their bets. We live in an age in which nearly half of marriages end in divorce or separation. Coastal grandmother types probably figure, “Why go through the heartache and financial strain of a marriage that’s likely going to end when I can avoid all that and instead invest in my career and in making myself happy?”
Except it seems that no one is very happy. Vice reported earlier this year that “Young people are lonelier than ever.” NBC News sounded the alarm back in 2018 with a report stating, “Americans are lonelier than ever — but ‘Gen Z’ may be the loneliest.”
You know who also seems really super lonely? All those middle-aged, divorced coastal grandmothers looking for meaning in “a bottle of red wine at 4 p.m.” and “solo long walks on the beach.” So why are we exalting them and their empty lifestyles with imitation lives that are even more hollow? Remember, we’re constantly reminded that the coastal grandmother fashion trend “doesn’t require grandkids,” and that its focus is on a “slower, easier lifestyle.”
It’s obviously fine to aspire to a life that’s relaxed and perfectly put-together, but the “real” (they’re mostly fictional) coastal grandmothers earned their lifestyles by a) being married and giving birth, and b) working hard to afford their luxe, slow and easy retirements. Furthermore, these women are, for the most part, disguising disappointment and loneliness with such things as a showy beachfront home and a lot of Botox sessions. They’d surely rather not be divorced and prefer not to have to find pampering ways to fill their long, lonesome days.
To want to “change my entire lifestyle,” as one young female blogger put it, to something that completely bypasses all the challenges, hardships, and immense rewards of a youth spent on raising a family is perhaps a little cowardly. It’s also deeply concerning for our society. Why do women feel compelled to distract themselves with creature comforts instead of embracing the instincts of being a wife and mother?
The coastal grandmother aesthetic may just be another social media trend people employ to give the world the impression their lives are perfect. But if fashion is “a reflection of who we are and what we believe,” as blogger Carla Jonas writes, then a deeper analysis of coastal grandmother fashion suggests millions of young American women value retreating to a picture-perfect property and indulging in fancy food, clothes, and furnishings — alone. And it’s not a good thing.
Teresa Mull is an assistant editor of Spectator World and writes from the Pennsylvania Wilds.