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Dark Academia 101

Dark academia is an aesthetic and pseudo-genre of media that has become popular in the past few years, mainly because of TikTok. The best way to describe dark academia is an aesthetic with a focus on pursuing knowledge, consuming media in an academic setting. It is the romanization of learning. The key motifs and values in dark academia are culture, curiosity, existentialism, learning, and wisdom. Trying to find one definition of dark academia is difficult because it is not something that has been around for long, and dark academia is only a subgenre of the “academia” aesthetics. It often plays off of man fashion of the 1920s and 1950s. 

When entering or learning about a new aesthetic, there may seem like there is an overwhelming amount of rules that need to be followed to be a part of the community. But in reality, it’s all up to you. An aesthetic should make you happy and feel confident. If you take aspects from many aesthetics and mash it all into your own thing, that’s great! There is nothing aesthetic about doing something that makes you unhappy. The only “rules” that should be followed to consider yourself a “dark academian” is to stick within the color palette and keep a love for learning. That’s it; that’s the only thing you need to do. Other than that, have fun with it. Remember, just because this aesthetic works for some, does not mean it works for you, so if you are looking for an aesthetic, go explore! 

Finding dark academia has brought so much joy to my life, especially in quarantine. I always liked the idea of having one central style. But I had not had a lot of luck with other aesthetics I had found. Everything felt like it either did not fit my personality or did not make me feel comfortable. But, one day, I was scrolling on my Instagram explore page and saw a post tagged #darkacademia, and I was curious to see what it was about. Once I saw the posts, I fell down a dark academia rabbit hole. I then looked into my own closet and saw I had some pieces that fit the aesthetic, and when I put them on all together, I knew it was right for me. I already liked books with a school setting, and now, my clothes could match that. I genuinely love learning, so mixing my love of fashion and my love of learning was the perfect fit. Dressing this way and incorporating these “vibes” into my life has boosted my confidence. I love incorporating my own little spins and aspects of myself into the aesthetic. Fashion has become another creative outlet for my life. I have found myself and my style within the dark academic community. 

As much as I love dark academia and the community, there are lots of issues I feel need to be brought to light. It is not a perfect little community of support, joy, and cooperative learning. There is a huge class divide that excludes people based on their previous education. Not everyone has the same opportunity for education as others and shaming those who want to learn is something to celebrate, not belittle. But that is not everyone’s feelings in the community. There are so many snobs that feel like their opinion is more valid than others because they attend a prestigious university or have a fancy degree. People also have a certain disdain for those in the STEM field or who have an interest in STEM. Many people in the community are humanities majors and frown upon those who are not. Anyone can love knowledge, whether it be philosophy or engineering. The gatekeeping within the community is dangerous and unkind, and it needs to stop. Shaming someone for wanting to be a part of a community and trying to learn about it is not okay. But there are many wonderful people in the community. If you run into nasty gatekeeping, remember that there are so many others around who are happy to help and support your journey into this world.  


There are some staples that fit into the dark academia aesthetic. Of course, new clothing can be expensive. So, before you go out and buy a whole new wardrobe, remember to try it out first. Raid your parent’s closet or ask a friend to try on some clothes to see if this aesthetic would even fit for your personal taste. If you want clothes for cheaper and want to be more sustainable, make sure to check out your local thrift shop or an online second-hand shop. This is just a guide to get you started so that you can try and see if you’re even interested. And if you are, here are the staples to keep in your closet. 

1. Blazers 

2. Sweaters and sweater vests 

3. Plaid anything 

Remember, try not to mix different plaid prints. But if that’s your vibe, go for it!

4. Nice-fitting Trousers

5. Turtlenecks 

6. Button-Ups Under Sweaters and Sweatshirts  

7. Pleated Skirts 

8. Coats

9. Gold Accents

10. Leather Accents 

11. Extra: Wire-Rimmed Glasses 


Color Palette

Along with the style, there is a certain family of colors that is associated with dark academia. This mainly consists of darker earth tones. Besides that, there is also an association with navy blue, crème, burgundy, and deep mustard. As long as you stick to earth tones and jewel tones, you’re set.  

Movies and Books 

If the style is not your thing but you love a school setting, then, you might love to consume media in the dark academia setting. Dark academia is not an actual genre, but people use it as a pseudo-genre to describe school-based stories. Many of these stories have a lot of trigger warnings, so please look them up before diving into these stories. 


  1. “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt 

    This is seen as the number one book for dark academia. While it is incredibly problematic, and many people do not like this book (I personally love the book), it is the most common book that pops up when researching and looking up dark academia. 

  2. “If We Were Villains” by M.L. Rio  

    This book is quite problematic, but it is highly regarded in the dark academia world. So, read at your own risk. 

  3. “Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas 

    This is a weird book. Many people do not know how to make sense of this book. So, if you don’t like weird things, this book would not be for you.

  4. “Bunny” by Mona Awad 

    This is also another weird book, but this time with cults. If you hate weird things, I would not recommend this book.     

  5. “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo 

    A Yale secret society is always fun, right? 

  6. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

    The only classic on this list, but there are many other classics in the dark academia realm. 

  7. “Truly Devious” by Maureen Johnson

    This is a series, but an elite school trying to solve a mystery hits the spot. 

  8. Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates 

    A game at Oxford with six people. Things, obviously, do not go according to plan.


  1. “Dead Poets Society” (1989) – Rated PG

    When a long-term substitute uses unusual teaching techniques at an all-boys prestigious boarding school, he not only teaches about English, but he teaches the boys about themselves. 

  2. “Kill Your Darlings” (2013) – Rated R 

    This is a historical film about the Beat generation following Allen Ginsburg. It also follows Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr, and William Burroughs. This film is a beautiful story with amazing minds of the Beat generation.   

  3. “Little Women” (2019) – Rated PG 

    This classic tale follows three sisters on their own journeys right after the Civil War.  

  4. “Tolkien” (2019) – Rated PG-13 

    This is a biopic on J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, just to name a few. This is a beautiful, atmospheric piece following a young author. 

  5. “Indignation” (2016) -Rated R 

    A Jewish student falls in love at school while trying to figure out his professors and elders. 


I love the dark academia aesthetic, and if it fits you, it can be an amazing world to be a part of. It is a fun community if you are able to avoid the classism and gatekeeping. Do what makes you comfortable, and hopefully, dark academia will feel comfortable for you. Remember, there are no real rules for aesthetics, so let your creativity run wild. If you love learning, and you are in constant pursuit of knowledge, check out dark academia.

LMU Class of '24 Political Science Major
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