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Dark Academia: Discover the Moody Style That’s Trending On TikTok

Dark Academia: Discover the Moody Style That’s Trending On TikTok
Since classrooms closed their doors last March, schooling has come to look a little different. Students who once congregated on grassy campuses and wrote research papers in libraries now slouch behind computer screens in the confinement of their bedrooms. Learning from home has ignited a collective nostalgia for the academic lifestyle and scholastic emblems, particularly among high school and university students, and amplified an aesthetic known as dark academia. This moody, study-obsessed Internet trend developed across social media over the past few years but has shown explosive growth in recent months, as isolation-weary students seek to recreate elements of the educational setting they’ve been deprived of.

There are currently more than 630,000 posts on Instagram with the #darkacademia hashtag, and well over a million related posts on Tumblr. However, the most significant wave of interest comes from TikTokone of the fastest-growing social media platforms, with more than 93 million views of dark academia content to date.

What is Dark Academia?

The dark academia movement sees users posting photos and videos that celebrate all things scholarly. This content tends to romanticize environments of learning and demonstrate a passion for classical and literary scholarship. Picture, for example, the campus of a New England college or Oxford University, with Gothic architecture and stacks of early edition books as backdrops. Other key characteristics include textures and accessories associated with intellectualism, such as woolen tweeds and plaids, leather satchels, dark knits and reading glasses.

A dark academia moodboard might contain snapshots of classical Greek sculpture, William Blake sketches, and excerpts from ancient texts. The overall effect is one of bookishness, drawing on an idealized version of private schools and academic life in a historical setting.

Like many other aesthetics-led trends, such as cottagecore, dark academia is hyper-curated and performative on social media, transforming a simple moment of reading with a cup of coffee into an image-defining activity with an Internet audience. The movement captures a yearning for not just scholastic achievement, but, crucially during the social-distancing era, for a community of like-minded friends, scholars and bibliophiles.

The Origins of the Dark Academia Aesthetic

It’s impossible to say exactly where or how the dark academia aesthetic was born; some believe it began as a literary subgenre after the 1992 publication of Donna Tartt’s murder novel, The Secret History, and migrated into pop culture from there. Today, it’s a heady mixture of multiple key cultural works spanning cinema and literatureFar from the cheery high school color palette of sitcom Saved by the Bell or the jock and cheerleader vibes of Bring it On, this education-centric aesthetic subculture takes its cues from darker, more austere references.  

Films such as Dead Poets Society (1989) and Kill Your Darlings (2013) serve as essential influences, as do TV shows like Riverdale. The Gossip Girl reboot, with its cohort of elite prep-school teens, is expected to further the trend. 

Books like A Separate Peace by John Knowles, The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, and If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio are considered pivotal examples of dark academia in literature. Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code and its sequels are also categorized as dark academia-adjacent, given their fixation on art history and scholarshipAnd we can’t fail to mention the Harry Potter series (both books and movies); from preppy school uniforms tshadowy castle classrooms and dormitoriesthese popular thematic works have played an important role in the proliferation of the dark academia aesthetic. 

Here’s How to Get the Dark Academia Look

As an emerging TikTok fashion trend propelled by viral videos and accessible books, films and TV shows that most audiences have sampled at some point in their lives, dark academia has transitioned rapidly from an Internet aesthetic to a consumer-driven product offering. This “TikTok effect” means that retailers have rushed to stock garments meeting the trend’s criteria and now they’re readily available at a variety of price points. Thrifted and vintage wardrobe items that match the look are also encouraged by dark academia’s ethos.  

Whether you’re a would-be collegiate student hoping for a normal academic year on the horizon, or simply a contemporary aesthete that enjoys autumnal looks and patterned blazers, dark academia’s reliance on professional staples means it’s easy to make your own. Get started with the fundamentals characterizing the trend: 

Dark Academia Library Aesthetic

Dark Color Palettes

Dark academia employs “dark” in more than one way; beyond the thematic implications of investigation and intrigue, the look also builds on dull, often muddy shades to create an air of mystique. While the movement takes some of its cues from preppy dressing, it lends a darker color palette to the style. Think: autumnal hues like burnt orange, chocolate brown, camel, and foggy grays. These colors lend themselves well to plaid and checked prints, and blend into a library background effortlessly. 

Androgynous Silhouettes

Another hallmark of the dark academia aesthetic is its de-emphasis of gender when dressing. After all, if men and women are of equal intellect in the classroom, it stands to reason that their wardrobe would also reflect this parity. Think unisex blazers, loose trousers, and button-down shirts are viable across the board, as are neckties, vests, and hats.

Plaid and Checks Galore

Quintessentially scholastic patterns are in hot demand across this aesthetic subculture: all manner of plaids, checks, houndstooth, herringbone, grosgrain and similar textures stand out as MVPs across dark academia fashion. Be sure not to overdo it in one ensemble, however; avoid busy combinations so the look remains sober and scholarly. 

Layered Basics

Layering remains an important styling note for Dark Academia. Tweed blazers, knitted sweater vests, or cardigans work well over a crisp white button-down for both men and women. Trench coats make for a stylish outerwear option (and are oh-so-very reminiscent of life at a storied university in some foggy English hamlet). 

Leather Touches

Leather lends sophistication and worldliness to the dark academia look. Incorporate leather into any ensemble using accessories like a woven belt, loafers or Oxford brogues, a leather satchel or backpack. This material pairs naturally with a study-oriented aesthetic, as true leather tends to grow more handsome with age but remains sturdy and functional. Vintage or thrifted pieces can serve their purpose well here as leather touches, given dark academia’s focus on things that have stood the test of time. 

Dark Academia Fall Fashion Aesthetic

Professor Vibes

Although the dark academia aesthetic is not explicitly geared towards those in teaching positions, one good rule of thumb to execute the look is to ask yourself if you can envision a tenured professor wearing it to office hours in an ivy-covered building wing. Plaid cardigan with elbow pads? Bull’s eye. Corduroy pants in a warm walnut hue? You betcha.

Dark Academia aesthetic vibes

In addition to fashion, it’s important to keep in mind that setting, props, and accessories are central to executing a dark academia look when sharing imagery on social media. The idea is to construct an image that both reflects and accentuates your most cultured self. The look may start with the curated attire tips listed above, but the image is completed with elements like a leather-bound journal, milky coffee in a ceramic cup, old maps, antique typewriters. The setting is also crucial; architecture, furnishings, lighting, and scenery all contribute to the aesthetic. 

As an aesthetic subgenre, the dark academia movement has served to fill a void for those who feel they’re missing out on the academic experiences they should have. From TikTok to Tumblr, this idealization provides a fanciful, pixel daydream for anyone – no matter the age – who yearns for the chance to learn and explore more. And while we wait out the pandemic, dark academia’s styles and pop culture sources leave plenty for us to delve into! 

About The Author

Julia Wohlers

Julia Wohlers is a writer and visual designer obsessed with culture, travel and fashion editorial. She created Brand of People Magazine as a space to inspire creatives, entrepreneurs and culture-makers. Originally from Washington, D.C., Julia grew up all over the world, but she particularly loves Milan, where her son was born, and the Balkans, where life is uniquely authentic. You can find her on Instagram at @juliawohlers_ or follow the magazine at @brandofpeoplemag.

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