Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Dark academia is a social media aesthetic that draws inspiration from classic literature, fine art, and a general appreciation for knowledge and education. This style emulates the visual style of 19th century upper class educational institutions from European Countries and The Northeastern United States (aka American Prep.) Education at this time placed great importance on liberal arts subjects which romanticizes learning and self discovery through education. Unlike light academia, there is an emphasis on mystery, danger, and adventure. The dark moody aesthetic has a widespread appeal that quickly gained popularity during the pandemic. As more and more of our lives moved to digital spaces, the appeal of dark academia’s nostalgic philosophy centered around learning for enjoyment and self enlightenment through the study of art and classic literature, rejects the hyper technological hustle culture of modern academia as we know it. The beauty of this aesthetic is how flexible it is as a stylistic choice. It is adaptable to rural, suburban and urban communities and doesn't feel out of place anywhere, and though it has roots in traditionally white elitist spaces in western countries there are so many BIPOC creators who have made this aesthetic their own. It’s easy to incorporate this aesthetic into your daily life no matter where you are or who you are. So let's break down how you can incorporate this aesthetic into your life.
When I think dark academia I think classic, clean lines, and elegant staples. Blazers, slacks, A line skirts, button down shirts, sweaters and cardigans are the basic foundation for this style. The aesthetic borrows from the traditional uniforms of prep schools as well as the smart scholastic look of professors. The color scheme consists of earth tones and you will see a lot of patterns like plaid, tweed and fabrics like wool, leather and knitwear. This style can be tricky during the summer. A short sleeved button down and some paper bag shorts, or a sundress can often work. Key buzzwords to search for include
Button down Shirts
The schools from which dark academia draws inspiration from renowned schools in Europe and the northeastern United States. Think old libraries stuffed to the rafters with leather bound books, a professor's office with dark wood and leather furniture. The opposite of sleek modern minimalism, this aesthetic is all about walls full of art and desks cluttered with papers and coffee cups. The roots of this subculture online are distinctly gothic in appearance. Dark rooms dimly lit by soft candle light, spooky mystical relics and mysterious artifacts are key distinctions when you are specifically channeling Dark Academia. To incorporate this style into your home decor look for
velvet and leather upholstery
There are lots of books movies and TV shows that heavily inspire this aesthetic. Schools have always been a great setting for stories to take place but you don’t necessarily have to be in a school setting for these books and movies to fit the aesthetic, the themes that will serve you best are action, mystery, and adventure, bonus points if the story has some relation to academia. There is no shortage of spotify playlists and youtube music compilations dedicated to dark academia so I won’t spend too much time on those! You can find playlists that are more traditional classical orchestrations, if that's not really your cup of tea there are plenty of contemporary artists who draw inspiration from the aesthetic as well. If you like ambient/white noise you can also find youtube channels dedicated to creating ambiance that fits this aesthetic.
Movies & TV Shows:
The Davinci Code
Dead Poets Society
House of Anubis
A Discovery of Witches
I love that the whole concept of dark academia encourages taking a break from technology and embracing more traditional scholastic adventures, there's lots of activities you can do (many of them for little or no money!) That will leave you feeling like you’re ditching latin class with your friends.
Go to a museum
Go to the library
Read classic literature
Write in a journal
Paint a picture/draw in a sketchbook
Go to the theatre (when live theatre returns of course, in the meantime if you can find a local theatre doing outdoor theatre like Shakespeare in the park it's a blast!)
There are so many ways to incorporate this aesthetic into your life, these are just my personal favorites! As I mentioned before, this aesthetic does have some foundational problems stemming from elitism and white privilege that is institutionally an issue in academia as a whole. While the online Dark Academia community has faced a lot of criticism for not being diverse enough, there are so many POC & LGBTQ+ creators who have become integral voices in this aesthetic and you should definitely check them out on Tiktok and instagram if you'd like to see some of these amazing perspectives. If I left out any Dark Academia faves you have please share let me know! I also deliberately left specific books pertaining to Dark Academia out because I personally haven’t read a ton, so let us know if there are some you love, share with the class!