For as long as there have been hard times — whether that’s a long winter or a pandemic — people have been chasing coziness. In recent years, cozy trends like Denmark’s “hygge” and Sweden’s “fika” have been embraced, both in real life and on Instagram. These trends defined “cozy” for millennials, making the word synonymous with friends cuddling around a fireplace in flannel pajamas or sipping warm cider over a casual chili dinner at a glamping site. This version of “cozy” soon approached its own obsolescence, best embodied by the Christian Girl Autumn meme that calls to mind herds of Starbucks fans in infinity scarves, sorority-posing at a pumpkin patch.
Ever since the pandemic brought about an early winter in March, though, our concept of “cozy” evolved to meet our desperate need for comfort. Our new stay-at-home lives have given birth to a New Cozy, a post-millennial aesthetic for what coziness and comfort look like, a product not only of life during a pandemic, but also Gen Z’s rise to cultural prominence.
For young people in 2020, this is what cozy looks like: Forget candlelit dinners with friends. Instead, you’re in bed under a dollop of comforter, watching something on your laptop maybe, or FaceTiming or playing on your Switch. The room around you glows red, blue, or possibly pink. There is a diffuser puffing Muji’s lemongrass scent in the corner. A chill-hop playlist thumps gently from a speaker. The hardest part of your day is when you reach out to grab the warm mug of tea or coffee that’s steaming away on your nightstand.
You probably already know what the New Cozy looks like, whether from making it a part of your own life or by seeing it when brands try to sell it back to us. But the New Cozy doesn’t just live on Pinterest and TikTok, it lives in our bedrooms, where so many of us spend most of our days. And it’s a direct evolution from the earliest days of quarantine when we were forced to acclimate to our new lives.
Think back to Season One of the pandemic: We bought monochromatic sweatsuits to add some comfort to working from home and bring some style and cohesion to our house clothes. We had more time than we knew what to do with, so we joined TikTok in droves and brought the LED lights from those teens’ bedrooms into our own homes. We made cloud coffee and cloud bread because we even wanted food that looked like pillows and reminded us of anime skies. We bought out all the Nintendo Switches so we could immerse ourselves in what might be the coziest video game ever: Animal Crossing. These were all just trends at first, but we’ve since folded them into the fabric of our lives — the New Cozy is part of the new normal.
Nowhere is the rise of this aesthetic more evident than on YouTube, where searches for “2020 room transformation” and “cozy room tour” yield bedroom after bedroom outfitted in LED lights, fluffy comforters, and minimal furniture. The preferred colour scheme isn’t millennial pink or bright primary colours — it’s no scheme at all. Twenty-two-year-old Cel Sang of Chicago chose an all-cream palette for her room in her parents’ home, one that didn’t compete with the house’s wood molding. While a cream-and-brown colour palette is almost aggressively bland, Sang feels like it does the job of creating a serene space: “Think of a warm cup of coffee or a warm cup of hot chocolate. It looks the same to me. It has the same feeling as drinking a cup of coffee and snuggling up in my room. I feel warm inside when I’m here.” The New Cozy favours neutral bedrooms that do a good job of reflecting natural light that aren’t too distracting during the workday — but that will also be transformed when it turns dark and the LED lights come on.
In Brooklyn, New York, 19-year-old Allison Nicole is a student and part-time YouTuber also living and attending school from her family home. While her room is very small, all she needs is her guitar, her Switch, and her LED lights to make it feel cozy and peaceful. “That’s number one,” she told Refinery29. “My bed is a third of my room, so this is just a place to sleep, watch TV, chill and it’s very calm and serene.” She watched a lot of productivity videos and studying from home vlogs in the early days of quarantine and they inspired her. “When I watch study-YouTube or productivity-vlogs, it keeps me calm, because our environments are similar.”
Today’s standard of coziness is unique in that it doesn’t compete with or disavow technology, it embraces it. If hygge and Christian Girl Autumn emphasize putting your phone away and reducing screen time, the New Cozy acknowledges that technology isn’t inherently good or bad. The LED lights don’t just blur the line between on- and off-screen, they also create harmony between those worlds. So when we turn away from the RGB glow of our phones or iPads, we can better relax as we sit back in a room cast in a similar glow.
And once we turn off YouTube or put away Animal Crossing, we can turn to chillhop and lo-fi playlists to ease us back into the silence. Most of Spotify and YouTube’s most-popular lo-fi and chillhop playlists come with art depicting cozy home offices and cute characters working late into the night, if not around the clock. You’re meant to play them on your TV as background music while you work on your laptop and procrastinate on your phone. These kinds of playlists boomed in popularity over the early months of quarantine and the characters wearing headphones and studying alongside millions of listeners, have become companions and memes — especially Study Girl, the animated brunette with the headphones studying diligently while her cat sits in the window. Once we all started working from home, some people on Twitter were quick to note Study Girl had been in quarantine for years.
The New Cozy, then, is all about softening life’s harsh edges: Diffusers that blow delicate puffs of steam to scent our rooms. Cloud foods for when we want something fun and whimsical — and squishy — to eat. Soft music and LED lights cast a warm haze all around us. The New Cozy is self-soothing. It’s the bare minimum we can muster when we’re too burned-out and depressed and anxious to chip away at our reading lists and workout challenges. It’s neither productive nor social. It’s an endless state of recharge that is at least honest enough to admit that, sometimes, all we want is to waste time online and in real life.