If you’ve ever felt inspired by stereotypically studious activities—going to the library, reading by lamplight near a rainy window—you’re going to love the “dark academia” trend.
While this aesthetic trend draws inspiration from collegiate life, you don’t need to be a college student (or ever have been one) to enjoy it. With its moody, peaceful, back-to-school vibes, it’s perfectly suited to cozy fall days. Here’s what this expressive subculture can teach us about enjoying art, learning, and self-discovery.
What Is Dark Academia?
Dark academia, like other recent visual trends (see: cottagecore), is an aesthetic popularized by young people on the internet. But even if you’re not a super-online teen, there’s a lot to love.
This trend is all about the visuals and experiences associated with traditional college life—not the partying, but the actual act of learning. It romanticizes activities like writing essays, reading literature, visiting the library, or forming a study group with friends.
The “dark” in dark academia refers to a certain goth-adjacent moodiness: Think cloudy October skies, candlelight, ivy-covered brick buildings, and tweed clothing. It’s the vibe of a historic campus in New England, as opposed to a newer college in sunny Southern California. The photo above of Princeton’s ivy-draped campus at night and photo below of the Great Dining Hall at the University of Oxford illuminated by lamplight showcase that kind of centuries-old historic vibe that flows through the dark academia aesthetic.
While the trend wasn’t born out of the pandemic, it has taken on a special significance now that schools and libraries are risky places. Many people now work and study from home, but dark academia lets students—and really, anyone—recapture some of the aesthetic pleasures of school.
Dark academia also encourages a love of quarantine-friendly non-digital activities, like playing records, learning a new language, sending handwritten notes, or organizing vintage books on a shelf. Because this lifestyle trend is ultimately about taking pleasure in learning and art, it’s a wonderful thing to get into as you’re stuck at home, looking for things to do when the summer weather disappears.
Another important aspect of dark academia is making academia accessible to everyone. College is expensive, and historically, certain groups of people (such as women) weren’t allowed to attend. Dark academia is more inclusive than actual college: It’s free, and anyone can enjoy it.
If you’re not feeling the dark semi-witchy vibes, there’s also a sister trend: light academia. Light academia is a breezier brighter version of this aesthetic—think studying in a campus field on a sunny day, or wearing vintage florals. But dark academia is especially suited to fall’s darker skies and indoor pursuits.
How to Be a Dark Academic
If you’re looking for creative new ways to take pleasure in quarantine life, here are some ways to give this aesthetic a try.
Study Something New
Dark academia romanticizes studying, turning it from a chore into a beautiful pursuit. You certainly don’t need to be in school to have romantic pleasant study sessions. Start studying a language you always wanted to learn, try your hand at floral arrangements or calligraphy, or take an actual college class for free online.
Get fully invested in the aesthetic: Try taking notes in a vintage journal, or lighting a few candles on your desk. Don’t get too caught up in the outcomes, though: the point of dark academia is to enjoy the learning journey.
Read More Literature
The Secret History, a novel by Donna Tartt, is widely considered the seminal text of dark academia. However, literature and poetry, in general, are integral parts of the college life, and reading more of anything you love fits with this trend. Take a break from social media and curl up in your favorite chair with a captivating read.
Embrace Your Inner Goth
In some ways, dark academia is goth for grownups. Whether or not you lived for black lipstick and Hot Topic in middle school, the classy goth twists in this trend are fun to play with. Put a skull candle on your desk, try a red-brown lipstick à la young Donna Tartt, or wear your favorite black, gray, or dark-toned clothes—bonus points if it’s vintage.
Dress the Part
Speaking of clothing, dark academia fashion is perfect for fall, with its blazers, thick sweaters, and long scarves. When it comes to colors, it’s grounded in earthy neutrals: browns, grays, and blacks. Lush textures, like leather, velvet, and tweed, can make for a dark academia-inspired ‘fit, as can anything traditionally “academic,” like elbow patches and leather satchels.
Have fun with it: Try dressing like you’re a Hogwarts student or a literature professor from the 1940s. If you can’t safely scour thrift store racks in person, well-loved pieces from eBay or Etsy can complete your look.
Decorate Your Space
Dried flowers, wood furniture, candles, bookshelves, globes, green-shaded banker’s lamps—there are all sorts of cool decor ideas in the #darkacademia universe. If you want to redecorate your desk area, or any space in your home, this is a great source of inspiration.
If dark academia has an official drink, it’s coffee, with black tea as a close runnerup. These caffeinated beverages can fuel study sessions, but there’s also a ritualistic aesthetic aspect to making and drinking them. Fill your favorite mug and get cozy—even if it’s secretly decaf, you’ve still got the right vibe.
Make It Your Own
As with all aesthetic trends, dark academia is at its best when you use it as inspiration and add your own touch.
Trends aren’t meant to be followed to the letter: They’re a source of ideas to be mixed with your personal style. Maybe you love the fashion but want to try it in pastels instead, or maybe you prefer lowbrow romance novels over literary classics. You can still be a dark academic—it’s an inclusive trend.
Just like actual college, an important aspect of dark academia is self-discovery and individuality. It’s an invitation to use learning and art as a way to express yourself and know yourself better, while enjoying the process. So if you need to break up the quarantine monotony at home this fall, playing with this inspiring aesthetic might be just what you need.