Taking a Look at Dark Academia

By: Maureen Lynch

Fashion and academics have been entwined since the beginning of the modern school system. Uniforms are an example of a school’s impact on fashion. However, the trends students wear are not always mandated by schools. The internet has contributed to the presentation of “academia” fashion; a fashion that is subtly influenced by the atmosphere a person is trying to capture about academics and learning institutions. 

I became fascinated with the trend of “dark academia.”  There is something about the moody atmosphere, the subdued color palette, and the ideologic picture it paints of education that grabs my attention. And I am not the only one; there are blogs, video essays, articles, posts, etc. dedicated to unraveling the trend. 

In this article, I want to create a guidebook for how to approach dark academia and what the appeal is. 

To begin, let’s talk basics. According to L’Officiel, the term academia refers to “a group of aesthetics that are connected to learning, primarily through reading and intensive research.” Dark academia is a subculture of academia that romanticizes a time when upper class education was more focused on liberal arts. The “dark” part of dark academia, according to L’Officiel, comes from “the members’ slight penchant for the unusual and the illicit.” This means there is an emphasis on romance languages and reading with a little spice of interest in cults and mysteries. 

The dark academia trend began on Tumblr as a sort of book club, but quickly expanded to be a full-blown aesthetic. The subculture is primarily influenced by European culture. People interested in the subculture like reading Oscar Wilde and watching Kill Your Darlings. The trendspotter.net has lists of what books, movies, clothes, and music you should get into if you want to immerse yourself in the ascetic. 

That’s not to say that dark academia isn’t problematic. Though it is inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, the subculture is typically populated by white teenagers. This could be reflective of the lack of diversity in the private schools the aesthetic tries to emulate. It also indulges the idea of pursuing academics to a dangerous end. The blog blondesandbagels.com wrote that “the dark academia aesthetic also leans into moody, dark tones, sounds, and entertainment – meaning it also can be viewed as promoting or romanticizing depression.” 

Even with it’s problems, dark academia is still embraced by many on the internet. As an English major, I can see the appeal. Blondes And Bagels describes it as a “low frequency, moody, brooding, academic vibe. Think English boarding school, Edgar Allen Poe, plaid vests, and Doc Martens sort of a vibe.” Personally, this is appealing to me because I enjoy reading, I enjoy drama movies about brooding teenage angst and dark clothes. The aesthetic is most appealing to people who love to learn and love the idea of reading deep poetry while sipping black coffees. Foryouasectics.com said it best, “in a time where it seems like science and knowledge are being treated with disregard more than any other time, Dark Academia embraces education above all.:

If any of what I just wrote sounds appealing, let me tell you how you can get your dark academia on. I would first recommend reading some of the books or watching the movies recommended by blogs to get started. This will help you see what you are getting into, and you can see what the inspiration behind the subculture is. 

If that doesn’t scare you off, you can begin to assemble your dark academia wardrobe. It is often described as a darker rendition of the “preppy” look. Which means it can be expensive. However, it doesn’t have to be. I am a big believer in thrifting and secondhand clothes. So, here are some ideas for basic dark academia looks that I think you can get for cheap. 

Dark academics are big believers in blazers. Now blazers can get expensive, but the best way to do dark academia is to get things that are oversized or baggy. So, no matter your gender, I recommend going to the men’s section at Saver’s or whatever secondhand store you prefer and look for a blazer there. Best would be plaid, but if it is a dark or drab color, you should be good. 

I would then recommend making sure you have plenty of dark shells. This means anything that is one color that are basic components of outfits- pants, shirts, socks, sweaters etc. Again, hit up the Goodwill to get these items. 

Lastly, I would get some black boots. People usually recommend Doc Martens, but any black boot will do. Again, you know where to go! 

You can always spice up any look with accessories. The best things to look for would be antique or leather. Broches, messenger bags, necklaces, can all add to the aesthetic, but they aren’t essential. 

Despite the emphasis on historic prep schools, this aesthetic doesn’t have to break your bank. I would argue that looking a little shabby adds to the whole dark side of dark academia. You can find more resources on dark academia throughout social media platforms. Just searching the word on any site should give you a plethora of information on the subject.

So, if any of that sounds appealing to you, welcome friend! If not, we can still be friends, but you will have to get over my love of low-lit libraries and lofty prose.  

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