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Dark Academia is an internet subculture dedicated to, and in celebration of, knowledge. It revolves around reading, writing, and learning. A typical dark academia fan is obsessed with classic literature and philosophy, everything from Greco-Roman scholars to modern English masterpieces.

It is unknown exactly when dark academia emerged, but in more recent times, it has surfaced as one of the most popular aesthetics on Instagram and Tiktok. The aesthetic rose in popularity following school and university closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a way for young people to create a sense of academic purpose when education seemed unstable. 

Here are some easy ideas to incorporate Dark Academia into your life!


Reading is at the heart of dark academia. After all, dark academia is all about bettering one’s mind, and there is no better way to do that than reading. Certain books are often regarded as part of the dark academia genre; these books are usually set at schools or universities, may have a mystery or complex characters, and have an overall dark academia vibe about them.

Here are some of my recommendations:

  • A Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (or anything by Oscar Wilde)
  • The Dead Poet’s Society by Tom Schulman


The main inspiration of Dark Academia fashion comes from early to mid 1900 boarding school uniforms. Suits, sweater vests, button-ups, blazers and jumpers are some of the staples for the aesthetics’ fashion. Plaid skirts are a great option for bottoms. The most common colours worn are black, grey, beige, brown, cream, ivory, dark green and burgundy while fabric choices include cashmere, plaid, wool and tweed. Dark Academia fashion can become pretty expensive, so I would recommend going thrifting in charity shops!


For home decor, Dark Academia relies heavily on gothic and classic motifs. Colours used in Dark Academia are usually black, grey, brown or earth tones while lighting is dim, sifting through thin curtains or lit only by candles. Second-hand books piled high, cups of tea, gold picture frames, dripping candles, maps and globes all fit the Dark Academia room. Main furniture is usually made of dark wood and a desk is absolutely essential. Often, furniture can be found for cheap on the Facebook Marketplace. Dark Academia decor often has a cluttered look with small items seemingly everywhere.


Like I’ve already mentioned, Dark Academia is the romanticisation and the pursuit of learning. Signing up for classes or attending free lectures is a good way to broaden your knowledge. Dark Academia also has a very heavy emphasis on classics and philosophy, so learning Latin is a popular hobby in the subculture. Reading, visiting museums and art galleries and writing in calligraphy are just some popular activities in the niche. Many people also journal, which is not only helpful organisation-wise, but also great in helping with mental health, especially in these anxious times. 

Drawbacks of the aesthetic

Dark academia is a bit too Eurocentric for aspiring enthusiasts who are not in this part of the world. While there’s nothing wrong with idolising the English Romantic poets, seminal works from non-Western authors often go overlooked and are rarely discussed. 

Because the whole aesthetic is centred around the pursuit of knowledge, it can promote unhealthy study habits, and overly romanticise getting stressed and working late into the night. When studying, we should be mindful of our limits, and take breaks when our bodies need it. 

Moreover, this aesthetic predominantly consists of literature nerds, it can leave out people who are interested in other disciplines, e.g., STEM and business. If you haven’t read literary classics or know much about Greco-Roman mythology, you might feel out of place.

It’s important to note that despite the topics listed above as being Dark Academia, there’s no need to go out and spend lots of money, pursue subjects or read books you do not enjoy simply to fit the aesthetic. At its core, Dark Academia is about a passion for knowledge and learning. To pursue what you love, read what you enjoy and discover new things is more than enough for both achieving the aesthetic and enriching your life.

Haowei Shi

Exeter '22

your local dark academia wannabe theatre obsessed classical music fan
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