The Artistic Origin of the Viral Coquette Aesthetic

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The Artistic Origin of the Viral Coquette Aesthetic

Around the beginning of 2024, social media was filled with photos of bows tied around various objects, from croissants to tampons. The bow on these objects illuminates a disruption in placing lighthearted femininity into the everyday. During New York Fashion Week, bows were extremely popular on the runway. These trends represent the latest fashion and social media trend: the Coquette aesthetic. This style, characterized by pastels, lace, bows, Lana Del Rey, and all things feminine, has interesting roots in a particular artistic movement. 

Nicolas Lancret, La Camargo dansant, crica 1730, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Nicolas Lancret, La Camargo dansant, crica 1730, National Gallery of Art, Washington

The allure of the Coquette aesthetic lies in its whimsical blend of pastels, lace, and unabashed femininity, captivating audiences across social media platforms. While the term "coquette" dates back to 17th-century France, where it denoted a woman skilled in the art of playful flirtation, its contemporary interpretation has taken on a new dimension. The genesis of the Coquette aesthetic as we know it today can be traced back to the 2010s when Tumblr blogs became a breeding ground for disseminating hyperfeminine imagery. Icons like Lana Del Rey and cinematic references, such as Adrian Lyne's "Lolita" (1997), played pivotal roles in shaping the visual landscape of this burgeoning trend.

Lana Del Rey became the face of the aesthetic during this time, although her personal style leans more towards a bohemian or casual Americana vibe. However, her music and fanbase centered itself upon hyperfeminine aesthetics, with cinematic grandeur, vintage glamour, and romanticism. Today, the aesthetic seeks to validate femininity without sexualization. It celebrates aspects of femininity that were once ridiculed. Despite the modern label of “coquette,” this specific style has its roots in art and fashion from over 300 years ago. 

The Coquette aesthetic owes much of its essence to the Rococo period, an era of artistic exuberance that flourished in 18th-century Europe. Emerging as a departure from the solemnity of Baroque art, Rococo embraced frivolity, sensuality, and ornate decoration. Key elements of Rococo find resonance in the Coquette aesthetic.

Elements of Coquette

Ornate Decoration

Both Coquette and Rococo represent a desire for refinement and opulence. Rococo art features intricate designs, delicate lines, and swirling curves. Coquette embraces lavish attire, luxurious fabrics, lace, and embellishments. 

Potpourri vase, 1757, The MET via Artsy
Potpourri vase, 1757, The MET via Artsy

Sensuality/Romance

Rococo art and the coquette aesthetic embrace romance lightheartedly and playfully. Rococo explores themes of sensuality, romance, and courtly love, depicting scenes of flirtation, leisure, and amorous encounters. Coquette music and fashion celebrate the pleasures of love and romance, with the coquette girl herself serving as a hopeless romantic.

Pastel Colors

Rococo art is known for its usage of soft, pastel pinks, blues, and ivories, contributing to a light and dreamy atmosphere. Similarly, coquette fashion incorporates soft colors and fabrics in the same colors.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Stolen Kiss, late 1780s. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Stolen Kiss, late 1780s. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Indulgence and Leisure

Rococo paintings frequently depict scenes of leisurely activities such as picnics, concerts, and masquerades, while the coquette character embodies a lifestyle of indulgence and pleasure-seeking. Both Rococo art and the coquette aesthetic celebrate the pursuit of beauty, pleasure, and enjoyment in life.

The indelible influence of Marie Antoinette, the quintessential icon of Rococo opulence, permeates the Coquette aesthetic. The Austrian-born queen, thrust into the lavish world of Versailles at the age of 14, became a beacon of fashion and sophistication. Marie Antoinette embraced her era’s luxurious fabrics, embellishments, and popularized trends that continue to inspire Coquette fashion today. Her love for extravagant attire, adorned with frills and bows, epitomizes the ethos of the Coquette aesthetic. 

Mantua (court dress), 1740-1745, Gryffindor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Mantua (court dress), 1740-1745, Gryffindor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“… fashions should be followed in moderation but should never be taken to extremes. A beautiful young woman, a graceful queen, has no need for such madness.”

Marie Antoinette

When Marie Antoinette’s mother was sent a portrait of her daughter dressed in French finery, she wrote back, “… fashions should be followed in moderation but should never be taken to extremes. A beautiful young woman, a graceful queen, has no need for such madness.” These fabrics and styles live on in the coquette aesthetic. Additionally, a popular movie about the Coquette aesthetic is Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film, which is praised for its fashion and cinematography, winning the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 2007. Interestingly, during the French Revolution, the particular style of Marie Antoinette was ridiculed as people strived to move closer to minimalism and silhouettes of menswear. Similarly, aspects of the Coquette aesthetic, such as pink and hyper-femininity are also ridiculed and rejected for their frivolity. 

François Boucher, Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, 1756 via Artsy
François Boucher, Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, 1756 via Artsy

In tracing the origins of the Coquette aesthetic, a rich landscape of artistic and historical influences is unearthed. From the whimsical flourishes of Rococo art to the extravagant wardrobe of Marie Antoinette, the Coquette aesthetic emerges as a celebration of femininity in all its forms. As social media continues to shape our cultural landscape, the allure of Coquette endures as a timeless expression of beauty, romance, and playful sophistication. 2023 was a massive year for women. Pink was a trending color in fashion and design. Women were able to connect with girlhood in pop culture like never before. This coincides with the rise in popularity of Coquette. 


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