The princess uses analytics. She owns approximately 15 tiaras and exactly two swords. She frets about whether her subjects—that is, her more than 860,000 princesscore-loving followers—are given the option to identify as nonbinary on TikTok. She hopes so.
The princess is Emily McCormick. When the pandemic hit, McCormick, 27, was laid off from her job at a graphic design firm and had to go on unemployment. “I hit a rock bottom, and I didn’t know what to do,” she says. She started spending a lot of time scrolling on a new app: TikTok. You could say that it sucked her in. But it’s more like a magical realm—it enveloped her in a new world of her own creation.
McCormick is one of the most successful interpreters of princesscore, an online aesthetic that appeals to a population that includes Disney adults, British history buffs, and Bridgerton fans. She has the ability to manipulate her features as if she is both the puppet and the puppeteer—in a charming, uncanny way, she is like a live-action Pixar character.
When she started uploading TikTok videos of herself in a floor-length velvet tunic with sleeves the size of a playground tunnel, she attracted hundreds of thousands of views. Evidently, people are feeling almost as if they’ve been trapped inside high towers lately.
On the surface, you could say that McCormick and her fellow princesscore creators do a kind of cosplay on social media—creating outfits and makeup looks, and posting content in character. But the women of princesscore say they’re doing something more: It’s not a costume. It’s a way of life.
Last summer marked the cotton-candy high of cottagecore, an internet aesthetic involving milkmaid dresses, meadows, baked goods, and frolicking. This summer, as we begin to emerge after 15 excruciating months of social distancing, we’re going full fantasy: Princesscore, royalcore, and queencore—aesthetic blends of history and fairytale—are on the rise. We already have a cultural practice of getting dressed up and taking pictures for the internet. Why stop at crop tops and summer dresses? As we come back to each other, why not dress exactly as your heart desires?
“I’ve always been a princess,” says Porsha Hall of Cleveland. “For me it’s more of a lifestyle than just a fashion aesthetic.” The 27-year-old says she has always been called “Princess,” even by strangers. When she was younger, it was sometimes upsetting. “I used to get teased about that a lot because I live in a predominantly white community,” she explains. People would accuse Hall of not “talking Black,” or of putting on airs. “I would say, ‘I don’t know what talking Black is, I talk like myself.’”
Hall was drawn to ultra-feminine presentation, but she rarely saw women who looked like her in the media. “I kind of developed a lack of appreciation, growing up, for how dark my skin was and how kinky my curls were.” Consider this—72 years passed between Disney’s first white princess, (Snow White, in 1937) and Disney’s first Black princess (Tiana, in 2009’s The Princess and the Frog).
Being a princess is a way for Hall to reclaim that missing childhood, to be, for little Black girls, the person she wished she’d had. But it’s also her most authentic self. Being a princess, to Hall, means “being peaceful, being kind, loving the earth, taking care of it.” That doesn’t just mean skipping along riverbanks. “Pretty much everything you see on my page is secondhand or thrifted,” she says. “My mother raised us on thrifting, and I’m definitely not ashamed because prioritizing the earth is important to me. When you’re thrifting, you’re practicing zero waste.”
Jordan Brown, a princess-fluencer from Kent, England, took her 126,000 followers to her COVID vaccine appointment. She made receiving the mRNA vaccine seem like both a vital royal duty and a festivity, wearing a daffodil-yellow dress with a full skirt and just a lightly boned corset. She, like Hall, believes kindness and bravery are a cornerstone of the princess life. And she too demonstrates how princesscore can be wearable, as long as you don’t mind being the most adorably dressed person in the county. Her Instagram is a who’s who of petticoat purveyors and puff-sleeve sellers.
A defining feature of princesses is a staunch refusal to buy into the idea that dress-up is for children. McCormick, a New Yorker, has spent her life in walking distance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its magnificent costume collection, which includes over 30,000 pieces spanning seven centuries of style. She believes that it’s wrong to dismiss aesthetics and style as just vanity.
“Women were not necessarily allowed a voice, especially in the western world,” she says of her favorite historical periods, the medieval and Renaissance periods. “But high-born women who had the luck of being painted and solidifying their image forever—they were able to impact the way they were perceived. And that is the power of clothing.” McCormick has been researching, designing, and collecting princess-style clothing for years.
The business of being a princess isn’t a walk in the park (though, literally, it involves a lot of walks in the park). “People say all the time, ‘This must be really easy. You just take a picture, you upload it, that’s it,’” says Brown, with a laugh. “I wish! It’s a full-time job.” Brown puts outfits together, scouts locations, sets up shots, takes and edits her own photographs, and then deals with the business side—partnerships, invoicing, and accounting. She spends about 60 hours a week on her Instagram work, plus just under 20 hours on a part-time social media management gig.
Porsha Hall models as well and runs another small business. Emily McCormick works in graphic design two days a week and chuckles over how little she nets for her TikTok videos, even the ones that get over a million views. “My average income from TikTok videos daily is maybe $15 to $30,” she says. “It’s not lucrative.” At least, she says, she can write off swords on her taxes.
The princesses of Instagram are less financially motivated than their historical predecessors. Hall was teased as a child; now she feels royal. McCormick was bullied in school—excluded, she says, even by the theater kids. Now she performs for a bigger audience than her peers ever dreamed of. Brown studied English at university—all three of the princesses attended higher education—and saw blogging as a way of combining her writing, photography, and style interests while working for herself.
It’s tempting to judge these women as frivolous, even to see them as an affront to feminism. After all, didn’t the women who came before us fight so that we could do more than look pretty? Why is wearing corsets and makeup such a great fantasy? Isn’t it troubling that we’re so nostalgic for a past age when women were controlled, brutalized, and dependent?
Talking to the Insta-princesses, it’s impossible to stay so judgmental. Their goals are only to be kind, to be welcoming, and to be themselves. They’re not human dolls; they’re self-employed models who run small businesses. Besides, is it any more frivolous to dress up in petticoats than it is to work a 9-to-5 for a large, profitable corporation? I don’t think so.
I would ask the princesses, and I’m sure their responses would be eloquent and gracious. But they’re off smelling the roses, lacing their corsets, and processing invoices. They don’t need anyone to give them confirmation of their royal status.
According to them, there’s plenty of space in the throne room for all of us.
$450.00, Lirika Matoshi
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.
Originally Appeared on Glamour