The Coastal Grandmother Aesthetic Is a Lifestyle, Not Just a TikTok Trend

In April, Spotify reported a 660%+ spike in user-made playlists with coastal grandma or coastal…

In April, Spotify reported a 660%+ spike in user-made playlists with coastal grandma or coastal grandmother in the title or description. They feature songs showcased in Nancy Meyers movies, like Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” and classic feel-delighted artists like Etta James, Norah Jones, James Taylor, and Hall & Oates. TikTok users have expanded on the idea, identifying the sub-aesthetics of coastal granddaughter, grand millennial, and coastal chic. “I’m a Midwestern straight man but I think I’ve found my aesthetic,” one user commented on Nicoleta’s original video.

Coastal grandmother is an attempted rejection of life online and an embrace of what is real and tactile and simple. She lives the good life—fresh oysters, garden-grown vegetables, cocktails at any time, warm sweaters, a bed with good linens. Eating well, drinking well, taking walks—those things are more clearly “living” than the scrolling and typing that constitute most of our days. If cottagecore is an aesthetic that rose during the pandemic due to its emphasis on myths and fantasy and being outside, coastal grandmother offers slightly less escapism but also far less effort. Of course, neither of these aesthetics lend themselves to unplugging. Coastal grandmother is about living the good life, but it’s also a lifestyle that depends on being heavily photographed and shared.

Seafood, liquor, neutral colors, and pleasant conversation—isn’t this, essentially, rebranded WASPy-ness? I had a very loving middle-class Jewish grandmother, and she was much more “meals from a box and polyester pants set” than crab bisque and raw linen. Most people, let alone grandparents, cannot draw a single line between their lives and Reese Witherspoon’s. Of course Ina Garten, who has perhaps lived the coastal grandmother lifestyle more demonstratively than anyone else, is Jewish. (So is Jeffrey.) Coastal grandmother risks seeming like an elevation of the way certain white people live, but Oprah, with her soft knits and luxurious garden, is the only person who can rival Garten for top grandma. (And neither Ina nor Oprah is actually a grandparent.)

Allegedly, a trust fund is not a prerequisite to join the lifestyle. “I’ll get comments like, ‘I want to be a coastal grandmother, but I’m on a budget,’ and that’s completely doable,” Nicoleta says. “It’s little things, like pick up some fresh flowers or throw on my coastal grandmother playlist and make dinner with your farmer’s market finds.” The traditional coastal grandmother is a person of unlimited means, but that’s the fantasy. Getting the aesthetic can mean just playing pretend a life of easy wealth.

Old or young, oceanside or landlocked, you can become a coastal grandmother by conjuring the sea in your mind, or perhaps with the help of the right white noise machine. 

“It’s that feeling you get when you’re visiting your friend at the beach,” Nicoleta says. “It’s just this cozy, safe feeling.”

Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.