marchioness > archive > issue 2 > emily ashcroft: lost in tokyo girls
Words by Sophie Alexandra Walsh

Softgirl Gaze

Introducing @softgirlgaze, a visual ode to softgirls and shameless romantics the length and breadth of Instagram. Curated by a lifelong romanticist, lover of long walks on the beach and unaffordable modernist furniture.

Romantics and Realists. Essentially, that’s what we humans boil down to. We are a simpler species than we care to admit. What swings the pendulum in either direction? Is it nature or nurture? Is it a predisposition to the left or right side of the brain? Is it a circumstance?


In my case, I blame Gone With The Wind.


In 2003 when I was six, the average TV supplied us with four channels plus ‘fuzzy five’. Staying with my nanna that drizzly summer, alternative entertainment options consisted of an eclectic selection of videos I can count on one hand – Blade Runner, Riverdance, and Gone With The Wind. I wonder if, had I selected another option, I'd be a retired police officer turned special agent or an Irish folk dancer by now'? But as it is, I chose Scarlett and Rhett, languid picnics and ribboned bonnets, southern belle’s, unrequited love, yadda yadda. I watched that film so many times that the tape wore out and entire scenes would jump in a haze of fizzy grey stripes. A lot of it went over my head of course – Rhett’s friendship with the local madame, Scarlett’s drinking, even slavery, and its questionable Hollywood representation. But amidst my childish confusion, there was something in the complex love story that fascinated me. Following that the seed was planted and I was ruined. The narratives weaved in my child's imagination and played out through a platoon of Bratz dolls, consisted of complex scenarios based upon half-understood situations from this false adult realm, i.e. more films involving hooped skirted heroines and mustachioed rakes. Over the years, the seed blossomed into a pair of rose-tinted spectacles impossible to remove.


In 2020, when Boris announced the UK would be thrust into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, aside from feeling anxious and fearful - there was something else. I came to quite an epiphany.


No more rush-hour commutes, I thought. No more weekends pretending to enjoy repetitive techno, no more thinking you see Hinge ‘suitors’ on the tube when you’re crushed in a carriage and your jeans are at risk of falling down because you’ve power walked and your foundation is melting from the effort. No more rude baristas or rolled up beanies resembling freshly unpackaged condoms. No more overpriced vegan diners. No more asking Uber drivers if they’ve ‘had a busy night?’ and sometimes even adding ‘mate’ if you’ve had a few. Essentially – no more reality for the time being.


Whilst ordinarily being stranded in a rural village isn’t the most thrilling prospect for a twenty-something, as someone predisposed to Romantic ideals, I thought I’d better make the most of it. And so, temporarily removed from the twenty-first century, I finally had the opportunity to live out my costume drama fantasy. *Queue Main Title from Gone With The Wind*: white cotton blouses hanging on a washing line, vases of wild bluebells picked in sun-speckled woodland, al Fresco lunches The Darling Buds of May style, earthenware pots filled with ‘parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme’ and long walks hoping I’ll be rewarded for my wholesome new lifestyle with a chance encounter involving Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in a dripping wet shirt.


It seems I wasn’t the only one who had this idea, however.


Reality finds a way to intrude one way or another and so still partial to a morning spent refreshing the explore page on Instagram, I discovered I had unwittingly become embroiled in another epidemic – #cottagecore. Oh, mon Dieu! Were people doing it better than me? Pastoral picnics concerning crochet blankets laden with mother nature’s bounty, puffed sleeves, and wide-brimmed straw hats, snap baskets artfully brimming with baguettes and gypsophila. Why did people suddenly resemble extras from a Sofia Coppola film? Why were their Instagrams looking like a costume drama set in nineteenth-century Provence with a consumption related ending? Escapism is the simple answer.


Save, like, save, like, save, save, like. I’ve used the save feature on Instagram like a Pinterest board for a couple of years, dividing my saves into the categories fashion, art, travel, and decor (I know lol). Recently, however, I’ve been saving more than ever due to this new bevy of bucolic content – and because – like everyone else I know, I am planning to emerge from my lockdown cocoon a Scandi goddess sheathed in Ganni and floral garlands (during the height of Midsommar, I like to think). So, inspired by the ‘coming-out’ of my fellow Romantics and being incessantly informed one must ‘stay creative’ - between freelance writing and my new embroidery hobby, I decided to share my extensive ‘archive’ of Instagram saves. Voila, @softgirlgaze was born.


‘An ode to my fellow softgirls and shameless Romantics’, the bio reads. A visual curation from the perspective of a self-identified softgirl, i.e. the Romantic generation 2.0, the female order of the softboi but very much minus the mansplaining and narcissism. Yes, you will find the odd lemon grove like on any self-respecting mood board account nowadays, but I didn’t want this to be another regurgitation of Valencia filtered day beds and pressed wildflowers in tattered copies of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Taking full advantage of an under-utilised Art History degree, experience working in fashion editorial and love affair with 1960s steel-framed diner chairs, I wanted to share lifestyle content that was still essentially ‘Romantic’ but within a contemporary context. 


You actually only see 1 percent of the content I save and my phone is currently full of screenshots concerning twentieth-century poufs and wiggly mirrors. Home decor is an important aspect of the account, particularly as we are spending more time indoors at the moment. Always retaining a sense of Romanticism, my home decor taste currently can only be described as post-war starlet attempting to make it big in L.A, meets provincial farmer who happens to be a collector of Matisse reproduction prints. My favourite homeware shop is @abigailbellvintage, a Brooklyn based ‘halfway house for vintage and contemporary pieces’ and I’m pretty sure they get sick of me reposting images of their decorative ashtrays with irreverent captions. Likewise, Elsa Hosk’s Swedish bostad and the Joshua Tree home of photographer Sisilia Piring send shivers down my spine like a young Henry Cavill in I Capture The Castle (if you don’t know, I highly suggest you get to know).


In terms of fashion – approaching my mid-twenties, I feel like I’m finally brushing off my naughty habit of panic buying from Urban Outfitters before any Tom, Dick, or Harry event. If there’s something to be gained from lockdown, it's the slowing down of our spending habits, with more time to consider each purchase. With this new moral high ground, Charlie big bollocks attitude in mind, I aim to highlight smaller brands with an ethos of handcrafting. Pura Utz is a special favourite, selling beaded fruit jewelry designed in Copenhagen and handmade by a team of Mayan Women in Guatemala. The brand aims to create a sustainable income for the women as well as honoring their weaving tradition, skills, and individuality. Fashion East affiliated designer, Yuhan Wang is also someone I’ve spotlighted on the account due to the fact her whimsical designs remind me of CBC’s 90’s classic Road to Avonlea and what I imagine the youthful widow of a billionaire octogenarian to look like.


That JACQUEMUS lavender field S/S 20 show, sun-bleached cotton, Liv Tyler in Stealing Beauty, silky ruffles, Florentine based AVAVAV’s mastery of puffed sleeves, freshwater pearls, hair gathered in embellished bulldog clips, co-ords the colour of David Hockney swimming pools, puritanical necklines and seventeenth-century oil on canvas paintings are also key inspirations. Looking backward for inspiration is just as important as looking forward in my eyes.


@softgirlgaze is essentially a manifestation of my over-Romanced brain, a place to organise and share a fanciful yet wry perspective. If it can prove a source of inspiration or even escapism, that’s a bonus. Most importantly though, it’s an ode to the modern Romantic AKA the softgirl; the ‘complex’ dreamers, the beauties with acne scars, stretch marks and freckles, who fill their vases with cow-parsley and violets, the overthinkers, the red wine drinkers (that rhymed), the lovers of old paintings, the devourers of erotic historical novels and spoonfuls of jam, who party blackout and walk it off the next day, who cry at film soundtracks and pine for more than a ‘spoons date and feel nostalgia as a physical ache between the rib cage. These ones for you.