You might have seen it scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or Tumblr. And if you're on MySpace, you might have seen it there, too. (Just kidding. MySpace doesn't exist anymore… does it?) Dark Academia aesthetic and Dark Academia clothing, outfits and inspo, mood boards, and playlists, there seems to be no shortage of academia-related content. So what is the Dark Academia Aesthetic anyway?
The Academia Aesthetic, which is not really new at all, is an aesthetic that appreciates intellect, education, literature, and everything of the sort. Dark Academia, then, is a newer subculture that gleans its aesthetic not only from the Greek classics that influence academia, but also from the Gothic style of architecture, literature, and most importantly— color pallette. To picture the Dark Academia aesthetic, simply conjure into your mind the classic Harvard professor look, and then update it to fit a generation of young high school and college students. It is a sort of stylistically nostalgic subculture reviving all at once the styles of Northeastern universities and dreary English boarding schools of the 19th and 20th centuries.
In fact, the Academia aesthetic has been around informally for decades. The clothing style of Dark Academia, in particular, is reminiscent of the 1920s and 40s: tweeds, camel-colored sweaters, modestly pinned-back hairstyles, scarves… the list goes on. Some attribute the origin of the Dark Academia aesthetic as it appears today to be "The Secret History," a novel written by Donna Tartt in 1992. This captivating mystery novel, along with films glorifying the ideal Ivy League college aesthetic such as Dead Poets Society (1989) and Wilde (1997) are some of many pieces of media to which Dark Academia can be attributed.
So why is this seemingly arcane style so on-trend in 2020? The answer is simple: nostalgia, indeed. Since March of 2020, schools and universities across America (and indeed, the world,) have been shut down as humanity faces the worst plague we have seen in more than 100 years. Young people are missing the comfort that can be found in the order and structure of a regular college campus and non-zoom classes. An uptick in the popularity of the Dark Academia style since Spring of 2020 can be seen as a yearning of this generation to an idealized version of school, as influenced by our literary favorites. Indeed, it can even be seen how Harry-Potter-style fashion has influenced the younger Dark Academia enthusiasts, as that magical world echoes the gothic and classical styles.
One of the pleasant aspects of the Dark Academia aesthetic is that it is widely accessible. Hear me out: you do not need to have studied at Oxford, New Haven, or Cambridge to fit in. You simply need to be self-taught and have a thirst for knowledge. In terms of clothing style, Dark Academia is open to people of all genders and can be styled in a manner that is feminine, masculine, androgynous, and anything in between.
So how can you achieve that Dark Academia look— and on a budget, too?
For clothes, seek out your local thrift shop or, as it is more responsible to do during the pandemic, visit thrift sites like Thredup.com and small Etsy stores. Even H&M can do in a pinch! Look for tweed skirts and straight-leg pants, especially those earth-toned ones with little accented checks. Wool sweaters in cream, camel, olive, and burgundy tones are another staple, as are cardigans and fall-colored blazers. For footwear, Oxfords, loafers, and boots are a safe bet. Round, gold-toned glasses are a lovely added touch, and you can find these frames for relatively cheap even at your local Walgreens pharmacy. Similarly, inexpensive gold-toned jewelry, like thin chain necklaces and smooth, round rings are a go-to if you like to include accessories in your look.
To make your setting reflect those Dark Academia vibes, consider stacking books nearby, hanging up dark-toned photographs and painting prints, and surrounding yourself with ivy-green plants. Make yourself some strong tea. Consider reading some poetry to reflect your Academia-inspired soul. Or, if novels are your preference, enjoy some of the following Dark-Academia-Esque books: The Goldfinch; Jane Eyre; The Picture of Dorian Gray; Frankenstine… the list goes on. Or if you'd rather unwind with a movie, consider Portrait of a Lady on Fire; Heavenly Creatures; Kill Your Darlings; and lastly, A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Put on your round glasses, dim the lights, and join the thousands of students enjoying the Dark Academia vibes.