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I grew up living the real 'coastal grandmother' lifestyle. Here are 7 things TikTok got right and wrong about the trend.

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Diane Keaton in the Nancy Meyers movie "Something's Gotta Give"
Diane Keaton in the Nancy Meyers movie "Something's Gotta Give" has become inspiration for TikTok's coastal grandmother trend.Warner Bros. Pictures/Columbia Pictures
  • On TikTok, an aesthetic called "coastal grandmother" has blown up over the summer.

  • Inspired by Diane Keaton, it features white clothing, big salads, outdoor meals, and hydrangeas.

  • I grew up with the real-life version of the trend; here's what TikTok got right and wrong about it.

The "coastal grandmother" trend has taken over TikTok this summer.

 

 

Back in March, a TikToker who goes by the name Lex Nicoleta posted a video saying she'd coined the term "coastal grandmother" to describe an emerging aesthetic, and explained what it means.

"You don't have to be a grandmother to be a coastal grandmother, it's for anyone and everyone," she said, listing some of the inspiration for the trend as Nancy Meyers movies, Diane Keaton, Ina Garten, recipes and cooking, and "coastal vibes."

Her video has been viewed 2.4 million times — a modest number by viral TikTok standards — but the trend itself has blown up over the summer, with the #coastalgrandmother hashtag receiving over 185 million views.

Videos showcasing the aesthetic feature bright, airy interiors, beach vacations, classic outfits in neutral color palettes, and family-style al fresco meals of Mediterranean-inspired dishes.

I've been immersed in the real coastal grandmother lifestyle my whole life.

Allison Kenien with her mother and daughter.
Allison Kenien with her mother and daughter.Allison Kenien

I grew up in the culture described in these videos — my lineage of coastal grandmothers goes back to colonial times. My great-grandmother loved to share that our family arrived in Massachusetts from England in 1652.

Every generation since then has lived by the New England coast.

Looking at the viral TikTok videos, I see a glamorized version of ocean life.

The videos glorify an affluent lifestyle that is commonly associated with seaside communities. But real coastal culture, in my opinion, is not about money — it's about experiences: combing the beach for shells, feeling the rush of big waves, breathing the salty air, watching the sunrise with the fishermen, and eating the freshest catch at sunset.

I have experienced coastal life from the Rhode Island shoreline, and the TikTok videos definitely don't get everything right.

There's more to coastal grandmother fashion than TikTok realizes.

 

The coastal grandmother aesthetic on TikTok focuses heavily on white or cream clothing, which definitely reflects the way my family and I have always dressed in the summer.

Conventional wisdom is that the colors repel sunlight and catch the breeze, keeping you comfortable all day from the sand dunes to the salt ponds. Although scientists are divided as to whether it actually works, it's certainly part of the look I grew up with.

Somethink the trending videos don't mention is that it's also very common to see coastal residents wearing shirts and hats displaying the name of our community in big, bold letters. You can score bonus points for wearing vintage yacht club clothing, which shows that you've been hanging around the water for a long time.

In reality, the aesthetic is more varied than TikTok would suggest. In the fall, winter, and spring, coastal grandmothers add color to their wardrobe — I like to keep my nautical look with blue, gray, and red clothing, gold accents, and patterns with ropes, stripes, or waves. For the coldest months, we wear fisherman sweaters, cozy socks, and a warm wool coat.

The emphasis on gardening and flowers is spot on.

Woman watering flowers
Hydrangeas are the most popular coastal grandmother flower on TikTok.Maryna Andriichenko/Getty

In a follow-up video about the aesthetic, Nicoleta described a quintessential Hamptons coastal grandmother garden as being "bigger than your first apartment."

In my experience, a sizeable garden is important to people when choosing a home in these areas, due to the popularity of coastal landscaping and growing your own ingredients.

Flowers also play a big part in coastal culture, but while TikTok seems to focus specifically on hydrangeas, coastal residents grow many other plants that thrive in sandy soil like daylilies, sea pink, portulaca, geraniums, and roses.

 

 

Coastal neighborhoods do tend to have the distinctive look TikTok has noticed.

Row of houses with American flags
American flags are common in traditional coastal towns.Grace Cary/Getty

When choosing home and garden decor, seaside homeowners consider sandy soil and salty air.

Coastal homes are typically sided in distinct cedar shingles that get a faded, weathered look over time. Compared to traditional siding, these shingles are more resistant to rotting caused by ocean air.

TikToks often show an American flag flying outside coastal grandmother-style homes. This is accurate, but only in the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The size of the flagpoles — which can be up to the same height as the home itself — is considered a status symbol in many communities.

 

A common decor item TikTok thinks of as a trend is more about practicality.

Lemons and lemonade on kitchen table.
Lemons are very common in coastal kitchens.VICUSCHKA/Getty

One common decor item mentioned on TikTok that is definitely accurate is having a bowl of lemons to decorate the kitchen counter. This isn't just about aesthetics though, it's because we frequently eat seafood which is traditionally served with lemon in order to neutralize the "fishy" taste and give dishes a fresher flavor.

Similarly, vases of fresh flowers from the garden are as common in the coastal homes I grew up with as TikTok makes them seem, as is — in my family — having a piano in your home, which is a frequent feature of coastal grandmother TikToks. (Yes, my grandmother had one.)

The food TikTok thinks coastal grandmothers eat isn't entirely accurate.

 

I was surprised to see heavy pasta dishes and garlicky salads presented as coastal recipes. In my experience, these meals are tough to stomach after a day of sun and sand, and coastal cuisine tends to center around fish and seafood.

My great grandmother's favorite meal was Block Island swordfish, which is locally sourced from Rhode Island. Nearly a century later, we still serve it to guests and share stories about my grandmother's tradition of eating swordfish with gherkin pickles.

Lobster boils and clam bakes are also common staples of summer cooking in my family. We hold these feasts to celebrate the start of summer, Independence Day, or other special events.

TikTok is right about the coastal grandmother love of tea parties and antique china.

Summer garden tea party.
Antique china is common in some coastal families.Bignai/Getty Images

Several of the TikTok videos recommend serving tea and using "casual china." One video specifically recommends a lavender tea recipe, which may be because some types of lavenders naturally grow on the coast.

My family picks mint from the garden to make "sun tea." We chop the mint, place it in a pitcher of water with black tea bags, and leave it in the sun all day.

I also found coffee cake and lemon loaf recipes on TikTok, which do look impressively similar to the cakes my coastal grandmothers served. I've spent many happy mornings sitting on the patio, drinking sun tea, eating baked goodies, and listening to the hum of the waves.

Nicoleta mentions serving these coastal recipes on china, which is spot on in my community, where coastal families often have special serving dishes, usually passed down through the family.

At our house, we can't wash most of the crockery in the dishwasher because it's very delicate and at least 100 years old. Our china, like most of the items in our house, usually has a story to go along with it: gifted from a distant royal family, saved from communists during the Russian revolution, used during the civil war, and so on.

All these antiques can make beach vacations with young children a bit challenging since I'm constantly worried my kids will break something. One of their favorite items is a little chair that belonged to my great-great-great grandfather, so it's from the 1800s. So far, we've managed to keep it intact.

My real coastal grandmother would not be impressed by the Spotify playlist attached to the trend.

Spotify's coastal grandmother playlist
Spotify's coastal grandmother playlist.Spotify

To round out the coastal grandma aesthetic, Nicoleta created a playlist on Spotify that has racked up over 65,000 likes and the songs are frequently used in the background of TikTok videos about the trend. From "This Will Be" by Natalie Cole to "Save Room" by John Legend, to my mind the playlist is more Nancy Meyers rom-com soundtrack than oceanic song collection. It might be a good choice for falling in love by the ocean, but that's all.

My grandparents never listened to the modern pop artists on Nicoleta's playlist like John Legend or Colbie Caillat. And they absolutely wouldn't touch a band named Fine Young Cannibals, which they would have found shocking and ill-mannered. (They would have been very polite if you were to play it for them, though.)

I already revealed that my coastal grandmother had a grand piano, and as you might expect, she loved classical music. Her ocean house was filled with Mozart and Tchaikovsky. For more modern music, the tunes I heard by the sea included Pavarotti and Lawrence Welk.

Above all, we love to listen to the ocean from our house on the shore. We keep the windows open so we can eat, sleep, and play while listening to the seagulls and crashing waves.

Overall TikTok has captured the spirit of my coastal-grandmother experience.

Writer Allison Kenien with her coastal grandmother.
Writer Allison Kenien with her coastal grandmother.Allison Kenien

It's easy to see why TikTok has fallen in love with the coastal grandmother lifestyle. Research shows that time in nature reduces stress and even salt air can improve mood health.

From daily walks to community mixers, spending time outside drives the mood and mentality of a coastal grandmother. I love running along the shore early in the morning, when fishermen reel in the first catch and surfers ride waves before work. These moments connect your heart and soul to the sea.

And it's not just in summer. Being on the empty beaches in the off-season creates an unparalleled inner calm and quiet. As a child, I'd go for long walks along the frosty shores, and then I would return to my grandparents' house, which was always warm with good smells and noisy laughter, even on those frigid days.

My grandparents made the ocean magic last all year long, even when the glitz and glimmer of the summer season had ended.

At the heart of the coastal grandmother is sharing the spirit of the seaside with others. You can carry that warmth and love anywhere, through any season. Nicoleta did capture that on TikTok, and I'm glad she encouraged everyone to experience it.

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider's Digital Culture team here.

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