How Whimsigoth evolved from a ’90s fashion fad to viral TikTok subculture
If you’ve ever scrolled through “cottagecore” or “witchcore” content while perusing TikTok, there’s a chance you may have stumbled upon "whimsigoth," another trend in fashion and interior decor that's currently casting a spell across social media. Equal parts whimsical and gothic, the enchanting style often features rich earth tones that evoke a lighthearted playfulness, flowing layers, celestial iconography, and feels resonant of something Florence Welch, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, or the cast of 1996's The Craft might wear.
Essentially, the trend seamlessly blends together softer '90s grunge styles with fairy-tale-esque aesthetics — stirring them together in a caldron pot of chic modernity to create the perfect look for the present-day hippie witch.
The term was first coined by co-founder of the Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute, Evan Collins, whose early research into the Y2K aesthetic helped characterize the resurgence it’s experiencing today. To Collins, whimsigoth is best summed up as a “postmodern mélange of styles.” The style largely shares influence with its bohemian and gothic roots, embracing both the lax elements of boho fashion with edgy, gothic undertones to create the best of both worlds.
Maranda Vandergriff, artist and owner of Vagabondary, has attracted over 5 million views on TikTok with her whimsigoth content. Vandergriff explains the uniqueness of the aesthetic in and of itself. “Where bohemian fashion traditionally evokes imagery of free spirited hippies, and gothic styles tend to be darker and more elegant, whimsigoth brings an element of whimsy,” she says. “If the three styles were supernatural creatures, boho would be a fairy, gothic would be a vampire, and whimsigoth would be a witch.”
For Rebecca Kershaw, the style elicits its greatest inspiration from its '90s origins. Known as the WhimsigothWitch online, Kershaw has quickly become one of the top whimsigoth TikTok creators, amassing a following of nearly 39K. She defines whimsigoth’s distinction from goth and bohemian by “the fact [that] it embodies the whimsical side of witchcraft, more specifically how the '90s portrayed witchcraft,” which is the pop culture tie-in that ultimately sets the trend apart from its counterparts. “There was something so cool about the way the '90s did with witches,” Kershaw says. “It's something I feel so connected to that gives whimsigoth that unique name for itself.”
During its inception in the early '90s, the aesthetic coincided with the rise of gothic inspired pop and rock music. Album covers like Paula Abdul’s Spellbound, the Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore, and the Cranberries’ Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? all portray moody concept art with a dark edge. That's partially what struck Kershaw about it. “For me, [music] plays a big part into my Whimsigoth aesthetic,” she says. “Some artists that come to mind are Juliana Hatfield, Veruca Salt, Bôa, Type O Negative, and Alanis Morissette.”
Perhaps most influential to Whimsigoth, though, is Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, who famously incorporates bell sleeves, celestial motifs, flowy black dresses, shawls, and top hats into her stage looks. Since the 1975 release of “Rhiannon,” a song about a witch, Nicks has been associated with all things mystical. In 2013, she even made a nod to her signature image in American Horror Story: Coven, playing a heightened White Witch version of herself on screen.
“Stevie Nicks is the ultimate blueprint for whimsigoth,” Vandergriff explains. “She embodies the style both in fashion and in the witchy-whimsical vibes in her music.”
[Practical Magic, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures]
In the realm of TV and film, Tim Burton’s success of offbeat films that feature gothic overtones continued to propel mystical style well into the '90s. For instance, the witches of Andrew Fleming’s 1996 cult classic The Craft perfectly epitomize whimsigoth, combining both dainty dresses and long, floral skirts with black mesh and combat boots. In 1998's Practical Magic, too, Sandra Bullock wears floor-length skirts paired with crop tops and chunky shoes, while Nicole Kidman’s character dons a mix of earthy-toned slips and oversized cardigans. Even supernatural characters on TV like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch embodied the ethos of the classic whimsigothic look.
Today, TikTok has helped bring this occult-esque style into the foreground. Sitting pretty with over 88.6 million views, the hashtag #whimsigothic on TikTok has drawn in vintage lovers and witchcore enthusiasts alike. Vandergriff explains it’s all down to the algorithm. “I originally learned the term from TikTok videos that popped up on my FYP,” she says. “It’s grown in popularity alongside other dreamy aesthetics like cottagecore and fairycore, but it has an added dose of mysticism. I think people have really gravitated toward the spiritual side of fashion with witchy and astrological elements.”
[The Craft, Courtesy of Columbia Pictures]
For fans of the spiritualistic look that are eager to adopt the aesthetic for themselves, it’s important to note the aesthetic’s connection to astrology. Jewelry with sun and moon charms are perfect for capturing that astrological imagery. Styling floral patterns in dresses or skirts also shows how the aesthetic is linked to the natural world. By contrast, leather jackets, velvet fabrics, and rich colors of purple or wine red bring whimsigothic charm to any style. As Kershaw puts it, “If you can picture Phoebe Buffay [from Friends] wearing it, then you have a winner.”
Embracing whimigoth’s magical style doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either. Shopping secondhand is the best place for a newcomer to the aesthetic to find pieces to incorporate into their wardrobe. “The great thing about whimsigoth is it’s a recurring trend,” Vandergriff says. “You can find pieces in thrift stores and online resell platforms like Depop and eBay.” By setting out with a concrete vision in mind or inspiration you may have saved on Pinterest, as Vandergriff advises, you'll be thrifting the outfits of your dreams in no time.
Whimsigoth home décor can also bring a sense of mysticism to any space. For all things interior decoration, Kershaw recommends “anything celestial is perfect. To get the gothic element, you want to look out for medieval-looking pieces such as iron candle holders and baroque-style furnishings.” For example, both Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the series Charmed take place in houses that illustrate the pinnacle of whimsigothic design. Crystals, candles, plush textures, stained glass, and jeweled-tone colored walls can also add a cozy touch of whimsigoth to your home.
The aesthetic’s earthy flair, astrological motifs, and opulent staples allow whimsigoth enthusiasts to transport themselves into a ‘90s supernatural film through fashion. And while online creators have given the style a mainstream resurgence, this otherworldly aesthetic goes beyond just a TikTok trend. Whimsigoth represents the welcoming of a grounding bohemian lifestyle by practicing spirituality and experimenting with spellbinding fashion to reflect your energy — and channel your inner witch.