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What is the Dark Academia Aesthetic?

Updated: Mar 11

If you follow fashion trends at all, you'll have seen frequent mentions of the Light Academia and Dark Academia aesthetics. Both of these styles are rooted in a love of traditional literary culture, inspired by libraries, old universities, and bookish cafes. Essentially, when you wear these styles, you're playing dress-up as a studious yet lovely professor from the early 20th century.

As we discussed in my previous post about the Light Academia aesthetic, clothing in these styles often includes tweeds, classic lines, and muted tones, while decor revolves around books, old-fashioned accessories from various academic pursuits (like botanical drawings or vintage globes), and throwbacks like old typewriters and cameras.

What sets Dark Academia apart from Light Academia is not simply its reliance on darker shades, but the subtle addition of gothic style to the traditional preppy aesthetic.

For example, this menswear-inspired outfit features a typical Academia combination: wool pants, a classic print sweater and oxford shoes that mimic the look of a student at Oxford or Cambridge in the 1930s or 1940s.

This ensemble could be considered Light Academia, because the shirt and sweater trend toward the lighter end of the brown spectrum, and if there's anything that a Light Academia aficionado loves, it's shades of brown!

Conversely, this outfit could also be categorized as Dark Academia, owing to the darker shade of the pants, and the fact that the entire look reads as dark, especially in this dark library setting.

However, THIS outfit (pictured right) fits the Dark Academia aesthetic a bit better. The flowing lines of this skirt, coupled with the black accents against the brown separates, makes this model resemble the heroine in a mystery or a horror movie.

This woman has chosen to darken her makeup, and the gothic look of her heavy eyebrows and dark lips produces a much less innocent effect. This woman will not run screaming from a ghostly apparition! In fact, she may vanquish it with a swift strike from her book.

Here's another very traditional interpretation of the Dark Academia style, pairing a tweed blazer with a chestnut brown sweater vest, pants that look like they could be brown corduroy, and brown leather accessories. (As an aside, if you've been wanting to try out the Academia aesthetic, but brown is not your color, check out this post about how to make that happen.)

While this look is certainly academic, it needs a bit of gothic angst to really bring the aesthetic home.

This outfit (pictured at right) adds black combat boots to a preppy "school uniform" look, which is exactly the rougher, more powerful edge that the Dark Academia aesthetic celebrates.

As with many Light Academia outfits, this model has chosen to combine a traditional plaid skirt with a classic white oxford shirt and grey cable knit cardigan. On anyone over 40, this combination would look matronly, but the combination of the shorter length of the skirt and these fantastic boots turns this potentially staid look into a fun visual representation of a strong personality. When you look at this model you see someone who loves books and learning, but who won't be pushed around!

Dark Academia is also closely associated with the Harry Potter aesthetic. Imagine British school uniforms worn with a weapon, even one as seemingly harmless as a wand.

The easiest way to sharpen up your Dark Academia look is to add an unexpected, moody accessory, like a mysterious ancient coin necklace, or a pendant featuring a dragon claw clasping a magnifying glass.

The Dark Academia aesthetic actually has a sub-culture known as Goth Academia, where wearers look a bit like Wednesday Addams if she were forced to dress traditionally for school.

There are many ways to interpret the Academia aesthetics, and essentially the only thing that matters is what you feel comfortable in!

Whether you choose to create simple outfits that feature solid sweaters and plaid skirts, or elaborate outfits layered with oxfords, vests and tweed topcoats, just remember to enjoy the core principle of the style, which is a love of learning and literature :)

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