Dusty tomes, candlelit studies, and classic prep school fashion are the center of the dark academia aesthetic, an online subculture that romanticizes the ivy-covered hallowed halls of crumbling college campuses.
This trend puts academic life on a pedestal and consists of a following obsessed with classical literature, the murder genre, and gathering to discuss Oscar Wilde as an author of merit.
Unlike its notably more optimistic “sister aesthetic” light academia, those enraptured by dark academia tend to search for the beauty in pessimism and melancholy.
Design Motifs and Themes
- The moody architecture of European universities
- Book club or study group dynamics
- Maximalism, especially when it comes to books
- Sophist values and the celebration of knowledge
- Coffee, tea, pastries, and corner cafes
- Angsty, brooding characters
- Curious students, quirky educators, and institutions of higher learning
- Ivy League Schools and liberal arts education
- Secret societies, mystery, and dark university subculture groups
- Gothic architecture and color palettes
- Baroque, Renaissance, and Romantic period art
- Writing, reading, history, and philosophy
- Emphasis on knowledge, exploration, and esoterica
- The literary canon and literary criticism with a focus on predominantly Western curricula
- Writers and essayists such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, E. M. Forster, Percy and Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron
- Poets such as Emily Dickinson, T.S. Elliot, William Butler Yeats, and Charles Bukowski
- Preppy style with an edge
- Earth tones and neutrals, burnt orange, dark brown, cream, burgundy, hunter green
The dark academia style embodies classic collegiate wear seldom seen in a contemporary university. Indeed, it’s easier to imagine
This trend tells a story of moody color palettes, boarding school influences, and higher education prestige.
- Oxford shirts
- Plaid skirts
- Tweed blazers or sweaters tied over the shoulders
- Chelsea boots, Doc Martens, Oxfords, loafers, Mary Janes
- Knee High Socks
- Glasses, analog watches, ties, and brooches
- Classic literature as an accessory, i.e., bags with Shakespearean quotes, tattoos of Gothic-era imagery, etc.
- Donna Tartt’s The Secret History
“Under the influence of a charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at a New England college discover a way of [thinking] a world away from their banal contemporaries. But their search for the transcendent leads them down a dangerous path, beyond human constructs of morality.”
- M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains
“Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.”
- Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House
“Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age 20, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?”
“Reunited by their father’s death, estranged siblings with extraordinary powers uncover shocking family secrets — and a looming threat to humanity.”
“The extraordinary Baudelaire orphans face trials, tribulations, and the evil Count Olaf in their fateful quest to unlock long-held family secrets.”
“Maverick teacher John Keating uses poetry to embolden his boarding school students to new heights of self-expression.”
Resources and References
Looking for a bit of light reading (or listening) on the dark academia trend?
These resources explore the aesthetics, influences, and major talking points that will help you become an expert on the dark side of higher education.