If you spend any kind of time on Instagram, Pinterest, or any kind of lifestyle blog you’ve seen it. If you spend time in gentrifying, up-and-coming neighbourhoods. If you find yourself drawn to handmade, locally produced, sustainably harvested, dead-wood salvaged, cold-pressed, you’ve seen it.
It’s halfway between minimal and cluttered. Warm and cool at the same time—white walls and warm salvaged wood furniture. An easy, breezy top paired with jeans and a necklace that seem thrown on but entail lots of thought, attention to detail, money, and a certain body type.
It’s gorgois. (Rhymes with bourgeois. Gorgous + bourgeois = gorgois.)
No lie, I woke up at 2 in the morning on my birthday with this new word in my head. Gorgois. I knew it meant something but I wasn’t quite sure what—my first thought was that it describes what I call “Lauren Conrad” style, which I think is true. I think she is a great example of gorgois. But I also thought I could expand it, reveal the politics behind this very pretty trend. This very pretty, white, moneyed trend that plays at ease. That hides the copious effort and privilege that goes into conveying ease.
White privilege, thin privilege, time to work out and eat in a specific way, time to cultivate an esthetic, time to curl hair to look naturally wavy, perfecting natural-looking make-up, buying jeans with pre-ripped knees. It’s performative ease used to reinforce class divisions through overt-but-downplayed signalling.
Gorgois has taken over a lot of social media. It’s in the lifestyle gurus, the food coaches, the life coaches, the Deliciously Ellas and Blake Livelys. It’s in the gluten-free bakeries, the locally-made swimsuit boutiques, the $40 candles named after neighbourhoods that belie the poverty and income inequality contained therein. It’s in the feathers and arrows that are au courant—two items that, perhaps, call to mind an Indigenous connection to the land filtered through minimalist chic.
It’s perfectly curated items in an Instagram pic seemingly showing your meal but also showing your $100 sunglasses, a handcrafted leather wallet, and the time spent arranging your smoothie bowl just so.
It’s food photography that hides the labour that goes into food. As Celeste Noche pointed out in episode 14 of the Racist Sandwich podcast (highly recommended, btw), food photography is overwhelmingly white (both in who is featured and who creates it), and shows meals absent the labour. There are clean counters, no dirty sponges in sight. The waste is hidden, the work is hidden. What is conveyed is the free time necessary to hand roll gnocchi when you could buy a package for $2 at the store. The unspoken luxury of having a lighting set-up, just the right printed napkins to place under the funky bowl, the time to shoot multiple shots and edit as needed to convey just the right image.
It’s an aspirational thing. Pretty, easy, visually appealing. And it implies all these unspoken factors that are intimately linked to power and privilege: upper/middle class, white, thin, pretty, happy, copious free time for crafting the aesthetic, copious free money for crafting the aesthetic.
It takes different forms. In the summer it might be the perfect Coachella outfit (denim shorts distressed just so, feather headdress you really shouldn’t be wearing, gold leaf temporary tattoos). In the winter, this winter, it’s present in the all-out marketing onslaught of Hygge.
It’s a want for a neat simple solution to the messy parts of life. It’s an image of a life that cannot exist for the vast majority of us—and doesn’t exist for even those who claim it. It’s an apparition, a beautiful specter, a lie that keeps us striving, consuming. It’s a way that we set our consumption apart from the gauche consumption of poor folks at Walmart on Black Friday. We have the luxury to skip it and go outside, knowing our $50 water bottles don’t go on sale anyway.
It’s what we’ve been sold in women’s magazines for years, made seemingly more attainable by being on our feeds, in our phones, beside our friends’ slightly less luxurious photos, by being in the boutique down the street. It’s the (wealthy a.f.) area downtown whose economy seems to be made solely of eyelash bars and cold-pressed juiceries.
It’s an apparition that invisiblizes all of the boring, mundane parts of life in favour of a false reality that can be supported by eyelash extensions and $10 juice alone.
And it’s downright intoxicating. Don’t we all want the things promised in these perfectly lit Instagram photos? Don’t we all want to be loved and pretty and wealthy enough to go on a picture-perfect yoga retreat in Talum? Don’t we all want to be effortlessly thin and yet eat delicious food that appears as if by magic?
With ever-rising income inequality, anxiety, trauma, climate catastrophe, so much suffering both large and small, it’s profoundly appealing to think that maybe the right candle, a commitment to hygge, a juice cleanse, or some celebrity-endorsed meal delivery service will cure what ails us.
I have to admit, so much of the aesthetic is right up my alley. Cute mugs and salvaged wood and golden arrow prints and perfectly-but-casually-curled hair. $40 candles that smell like a world that is 50% less awful. I have to remind myself frequently to engage critically with the aesthetic. To interrogate what is unspoken, what is reinforced, and how it makes me want to consume.