Autumn doesn’t officially start until Sept. 23, but for TikToker Chasitey Pounds, it started back in June.
Pounds, 26, is one of many content creators on social media who cultivate large followings by posting comforting autumn visuals like pumpkin spice lattes, candles, chunky sweaters, and cozy couch set-ups. The thriving online niche has amassed major traction, with fans eagerly anticipating blogger Caitlin Covington, better known as “Christian Girl Autumn,” posting photos from her annual fall Vermont photo shoot and hashtags like #autumnaesthetic and #fallaestetic collectively gaining over over 7 billion views on TikTok.
“I want to create stuff that emulates the feeling of fall and coziness and just brings people some comfort in everyday life,” Pounds tells TIME.
Fall has been Pounds’ favorite season since she was a child in Ohio. Now, after previously having given up on trying to earn a following with flat-lay content, pivoting to cozy seasonal videos has enabled her to gain 100,000 TikTok followers and leave her job in the hospitality industry to do content creation full time. All it took was a simple fall-aesthetic video going viral on Instagram Reels. The video, in which she is simply sitting in a car, reading a book with tea and a blanket while rain falls outside the windows, racked up over 1 million views in a single day. The internet and its fall enthusiasts have played a big role in the commodification of the season: According to Fortune, NielsenIQ data shows that the pumpkin spice market produced more than $800 million from July 2022 to July 2023.
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And as much as Pounds is entering the prime months for viewers eager to immerse themselves in the pumpkins and changing leaves featured in her current videos, the North Carolina-based creator doesn’t just post cozy content within the three-month bracket of the season. She’s realized that the internet is interested in cozy content year-round. “I'm really good at emulating that autumn feeling even if it's like 90 degrees outside,” she says.
The history of fall content on the internet
The fall obsession itself is nothing new. Many beloved films and TV shows are memorable for their crunching leaves and ties to the season (think: When Harry Met Sally; Good Will Hunting; Silver Lining Playbook). And the internet’s love of foliage content started long before the emergence of TikTok and vertical videos.
Covington remembers first coming across the content on the websites Pinterest and We Heart It. Pounds’ obsession started as early as 2011 on sites like Tumblr. “Consuming other people’s content gave me a really warm feeling in my chest,” she says. Images related to fall eventually manifested on platforms like Instagram, with influencers and their followers using “fall presets” and filter apps like VSCO whose colors imbued their images with the feeling of fall year round.
One of the most significant contributions to fall content on the internet came from lifestyle YouTubers. A pioneer in the space was influencer Bethany Mota (known to the chronically online as MacBarbie07). With nearly 10 million YouTube subscribers, Mota was the face of the video platform from the early to mid-2010s thanks to her seasonal content. Her second most-watched video (17 million views and still counting) was a morning fall routine video in which she makes herself tea, puts on plum-hued makeup and dresses in a thick cardigan sweater before heading out to Starbucks for a pumpkin spice frappuccino.
Ten years since the video was uploaded, it’s still receiving thousands of new comments from viewers saying that they return to it for its cozy, fall nostalgia. Just last month a TikToker by the username @Gingeraleprincess99 uploaded a video with over 700,000 views pegged to the return of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte and was sure to include Mota’s famous get-ready-with-me video. She goes on to say that Mota’s cultural impact on the internet’s obsession with fall vibes has reverberated throughout time, calling the YouTuber’s casual sipping of the Starbucks drink the “fall vibes big bang theory.”
The phenomenon of “Christian Girl Autumn”
Fast forward to the present, and the reigning queen of fall content is Covington. Her dominance is thanks, in part, to her understanding that people look to her for fall content even during the long days of summer, as they dream ahead to cooler temperatures. With this in mind, she starts rolling out content as early as mid-July, sporadically posting a fall-themed video or outfit post, seemingly building hype for the main event: her yearly fall-themed photos. These pictures led to the creation of the meme “Christian Girl Autumn,” which she has embraced; even if it’s sometimes couched in a derisive tone, it has no doubt increased the amount of attention she receives on social media.
The meme satirizes a certain type of content that (primarily white) women who are obsessed with autumn post on social media: wide brimmed hats, tall neutral colored riding boots, impeccably curled silken hair, and a cozy cardigan all set against a backdrop of peak fall foliage. In 2019, Covington became the unofficial face of the meme and her content–much like the annual Jason Derulo falling down the Met steps meme that returns every May–has become a constant fixture in the unofficial yearly meme calendar.
The 33-year-old content creator has maintained her blog, Southern Curls & Pearls, since 2011. On it, she posts recipes as well as outfit photos with links to the pieces as well as lists of her favorite lifestyle and beauty products that can be purchased through affiliate links. Covington tells TIME that she noticed people’s fascination with fall content early on, somewhere around 2013 or 2014, especially when she posted photos of the fall foliage. She says she would drive around her hometown trying to find the most picturesque leaves. “There was a very clear distinction in engagement when I was standing next to a beautiful fall tree, or there were fall leaves on the ground,” Covington says. “So it became a thing where, every fall, I would try to find the best.”
For the past nine years, she has been venturing outside of North Carolina for the perfect fall scenery, including road-tripping to Vermont with her brother, an employee of her company. Her yearly pilgrimage to the Northeast has become an anticipated viral moment, akin to discussions around exactly when is the appropriate time to start listening to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” in the run-up to the holiday season. The pop culture news account @popcrave recently posted an announcement on X that she was heading to Vermont soon to take her photos, and the tweet received over 120,000 likes and over 12,000 retweets. One user on X quoted the post with a video of a motorcade with the caption that reads, “Caitlin Covington arriving in Vermont.”
Covington says she’s currently ordering outfits in anticipation of heading to Vermont in mid-October with her family for this year’s fall photoshoot. “I'm just already envisioning having a cup of coffee, it being chilly and fall leaves everywhere,” she says. “I am so excited about it.”
The craze for perfect fall content hasn’t been welcomed by all. Other influencers have emulated Covington’s fall aesthetic by making their own journeys to picturesque towns. The Boston Globe recently reported that the Vermont town of Pomfret has been overwhelmed with visitors attempting to take pictures. The number of content creators has led to an increase of traffic from tour buses and cars, with reports of people trespassing on private property, littering, and urinating in bushes. This has led the town to bar tourists from one of its most photogenic roads between Sept. 23 and Oct. 15.
Why fall content resonates with audiences
The appeal of fall is multifaceted, but for Pounds and Covington, it all boils down to a sense of inherent comfort that radiates through the screen.
“I know for myself, I deal with a lot of anxiety, and life is stressful and so busy,” says Covington. “I think fall is all about embracing moments of comfort, whether a hot coffee, a really soft cardigan, or a new book. Everybody can relate to that.”
Pounds adds that fall also reminds people of their childhoods. “It reminds them of going back to school and those happy memories that we connected with as a child,” she tells TIME. “It allows us to kind of live through that energy that we had when we were younger because it was always so exciting.”
There is a psychological element viewers are potentially experiencing when consuming the neutral tones of the fall aesthetic. “Colors that are very low in saturation, not bright and and not vibrant are typically seen as being very soothing, therefore it can also soothe our emotions,” says Karen Haller, a color psychology specialist and author of The Little Book of Colour.
“The world does this crazy thing where all the leaves turn from green to these beautiful vibrant colors,” says Covington. “I think everyone, no matter who you are, can appreciate the beauty in that.”
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