Dark Academia: The Romanticization of Learning

Imagine this: You’re sitting in an empty library. The turning of pages echoes through the room. Candles flicker to show the rows of books and rain pounds against the huge windows. If you’ve scrolled through TikTok these past few months, you may have come by a scene like this tagged Dark Academia. The subculture has grown rapidly, especially with many students unable to physically go to school due to the coronavirus. Dark Academia is an aesthetic trend dedicated to school, tweed, gothic architecture and the pursuit of knowledge. It is the romanticization of learning and school. Movies such as Dead Poets Society and the Harry Potter series are perfect examples of the Dark Academia environment. This article will outline the basics of the subculture in fashion, decor and lifestyle.  


The main inspiration of Dark Academia fashion comes from early to mid 1900 boarding school uniforms. Older individuals may want to emulate the dress code of a humanities teacher or professor during that time. Suits, sweater vests, button-ups, blazers and knit sweaters are some of the basis for the aesthetic’s fashion. Dress pants and trousers are great options for bottoms. The most common colors worn are black, gray, beige, brown, cream, ivory, dark green and burgundy while fabric choices include cashmere, plaid, wool and tweed. Dark Academia fashion can become pretty expensive. Many people in the niche are able to circumvent breaking the bank by thrifting most of their pieces or getting them second-hand in garage sales or from family.   

aisle between bookshelves in library Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash Decor

For home decor, Dark Academia relies heavily on gothic and classic motifs. Colors used in Dark Academia are usually black, gray, 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, antiques, dripping candles and Persian rugs all fit the Dark Academia room. Many decor items have themes of death or memento mori. 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 or Craigslist. If you’re willing to retouch, many vintage pieces such as golden full length mirrors or oak bookshelves look perfect in this aesthetic. Dark Academia decor often has a cluttered look with small items seemingly everywhere, however, it should feel orderly as well with the owner knowing exactly where everything is. 


Like mentioned above, Dark Academia is the romanticization of school and learning. Signing up for classes on sites such as Skillshare or attending free lectures may pique your interests. Dark Academia also has a very heavy emphasis on classics and philosophy. 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. Authors such as Donna Tartt and Jane Austen are pivotal for Dark Academia. Many people also journal, which is not only helpful organization-wise, but also great in helping with mental health, especially in these anxious times. 

Please bear in mind that Dark Academia leans towards Eurocentrism, but be encouraged to incorporate reading literature and studying histories from that of your own culture. For example, I am Chinese and have found The Art of War (an ancient Chinese military treatise) to be both an intriguing read and fitting to this aesthetic as well.

It’s important to note that despite the topics listed above as being Dark Academia, there’s no need to go out and spend money on them, 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.

girl reading on train Photo by Will Tarpey from Unsplash