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A Dark Academia Guide to Get You Inspired for the Semester

Hello, it’s me, your aesthetic investigative journalist ready to take another deep dive into the somewhat elusive world of internet aesthetics.

This time we are covering dark academia, an aesthetic solely based on academics, literature, and living out your dream of being a hot, crazy intelligent professor who wears many tweed blazers.  

Before we get into the guide, let’s first establish more of what dark academia is.

Dark academia is a fashion and lifestyle aesthetic, a sister to the previously covered cottagecore. There are also different branches of the academic aesthetic, such as light academia or romantic academia. Still, for this article, we’ll focus on dark academia, the most well-known of the branches. It is unknown exactly when dark academia emerged, but some Internet historians say around 2014. It was born out of a branch of a more gothic aesthetic, mixed with the rise of bookish aesthetics and teenagers consuming large amounts of literature. In more recent times, it has surfaced as one of the most popular aesthetics on Instagram and Tiktok. The aesthetic rose in popularity in the past few months, following school closings due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a way for young people to create a sense of academic purpose when school and university seemed unstable. The aesthetic, like cottagecore, provided an escape from the stress of the news.  

Most followers of Dark Academia are teenage or college-aged girls (although dark academia is gender-neutral and very inclusive). Most are students who have a love for learning. The aesthetic goes beyond fashion and extends to pursuits, such as reading classic literature, studying history, creating art, and letter writing. Dark academia followers also have a specific fashion sense that revolves around tweed, plaid, and neutral colors. The aesthetic is often considered to have Victorian and Gothic inspirations and is heavily associated with school culture. As such, dark academia is usually considered a fall or winter aesthetic (although summer versions exist). 

Dark academia is unique because, unlike other aesthetics or styles, dark academia romanticizes and encourages the pursuit of knowledge.

It is an inspiring aesthetic for many who maybe are shyer or more inclined to wondering a library than anything else. It also takes school, studying, and reading and makes it cool, creating a good influence on some of its younger followers. And for its older followers who already may be in higher education, it reminds students why we love to learn. That is why it is the perfect aesthetic to follow for finals season; it makes it fun again. When all may be stressful or exhausting, dark academia is a reminder of what learning is genuinely all about. So without further ado, here are some easy ways to incorporate dark academia into your life.  

1. Read! 

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. Books like The Secret History by Donna Tartt are central to the dark academia aesthetic. Poetry, specifically the romantic era poets, is also heavily read in the dark academia movement. Take time to wander around your local bookstore or library and find inspiration in the pages of literature.  

2. Study history or philosophy for fun 

No, I’m not telling you to pick up an extra course just for the aesthetic but simply take some time to watch documentaries or read up on different parts of philosophy. Again, dark academia is all about oozing intellect. The study of classics is also quite crucial to the dark academia movement. Just dig deep into whatever you find interesting. Take parts of your favorite philosophers and myths and wear them on the tip of your tongue. Let the literature and history sink in and become part of you.  

3. Travel (or at least, learn about far off places) 

This one is a bit difficult now, but understanding other cultures and broadening your worldview is also a vital part of the academic aesthetic. Instead of traveling (seriously, be safe!), read travel books and dream about cultures unknown. Read memoirs of world travelers. Also, with this comes studying a language. Use language learning apps to expand on your high school level, Spanish or French. And finally, learn about different cultures and customs. Not only will it better yourself, but it will also help the world become a more understanding place.  

4. Create (literally anything!)  

Creativity can often be overlooked in academic contexts, but dark academia isn’t just about being book smart or getting perfect grades! It’s about putting your mind to work, and that means creating. And I do mean anything. Draw, write, sing, design, build, the possibilities are endless. Again, it will better both you and our world. Similarly, make sure to consume art. Go through and tour virtual museums. Listen to some new music (Florence and the Machine and Hozier are very much dark academia approved.) Fill your mind with inspiration, and creativity will flow right out of you.  

5. And finally, dress the part!  

I decided to end on this because while most people associate with dark academia, there is so much more to the aesthetic. However, fashion is how we identify and present ourselves to society. So, for a dark academic wardrobe, look for turtlenecks, wool sweaters, plaid pants and skirts, tweed blazers, cozy tights, boots, and classy gold jewelry. Look for inspiration on dark academia social media accounts, and most importantly, be yourself! 

So alas, we have come to the end of our dark academic journey. To me, dark academia (and academia aesthetics in general) is not just a black turtleneck, but it is bettering your mind, body, and soul. It is feeding yourself with education and words and never giving up on the pursuit of knowledge: no matter how difficult it may be. As the activist and icon Malala once said, “one book, one pen can change the world.” That is what academia is all about. So go out and conquer your finals and change the world!  

For more information on dark academia, check out:  

New York Times article on dark academia  

Refinary29 article on dark academia 

ArtOfAcademics on Instagram  

MyFairestTreasure on Instagram 

CosyFaerie on TikTok 

IndigoAndDust on TikTok 

Ruby Granger’s Dark Academia Guide YouTube video (she's done a dark academia series you can check out too!)

Elena Johnston is a national writer for Her Campus and an assistant editor and writer for Her Campus at LUM. She is a Global Studies and Communications double major with a focus in PR at Loyola University Maryland and is the External Relations and Communications intern at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Washington Center. You can usually find her in a bookstore or library listening to Taylor Swift.
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