Dark Academia

“[M]edicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” These were the resounding words from John Keating from the movie “Dead Poets’ Society” (1989). 

Keating’s words not only move characters in the film, they also left an impact on many viewers, including those who classify themselves as Dark Academia fans.

Dark Academia, as stated by the Aesthetics Wiki, is an aesthetic that revolves around self-discovery, passion for learning and existentialism. Stemming primarily from European cultures, it is also well-known for its connection to classical literature.

This aesthetic falls under a category called “Academia,” which is distinguishable because of its focus on learning and studying. Dark Academia in particular is unique and popular because of its cynical and gothic overtones. On the other hand, Light Academia, which is another popular aesthetic that is part of the Academia subgenre, consists of brighter and more optimistic themes in comparison to its counterpart.

The fashion aspect of this aesthetic has swept the world off its feet, as many incorporate this style into their outfits for a more elegant look. The primary color scheme of Dark Academia fashion consists of earthy tones, along with cream, ivory and gray.

A Dark Academia inspired outfit, featuring a gingham blazer | Photo courtesy of Society19

Because Dark Academia is inspired by the romanticization of 20th century preparatory schools, outfits derived from the aesthetic are more on the classy side. For example, upscale fabrics such as cashmere and Egpytian cotton or wool are popular in Dark Academia fashion.

To help newcomers start their journey exploring Dark Academia fashion, a blog post by The Mood Palette lists some must-have pieces to imitate this aesthetic — for example, blouses, turtlenecks and polos are often worn as tops and paired with plaid skirts or slacks.

In order to layer up or just for aesthetic purposes, blazers, trench coats and cardigans are common choices of outerwear. Many people also carry leather backpacks or satchels, and minimalistic jewelry, usually in gold or silver, is sometimes added as a finishing touch.

A Dark Academia inspired outfit, featuring a blazer and pinstriped shirt | Photo courtesy of @GlennSanmann on Pinterest

However, fashion is not the only field in which Dark Academia has left its mark — it is also widely popular in various forms of entertainment. “Dead Poets’ Society,” published as a novel in 1988 by Nancy H. Kleinbaum and released as a movie in 1989, is popular amongst Dark Academia fans. 

A scene from “Dead Poets’ Society” (1989) | Photo courtesy of IMDb

The book follows the story of John Keating, who has recently been admitted as a teacher at an elite, all-boys preparatory school called Welton Academy. Immediately, it is evident that his beliefs and teaching style stray from the traditional Welton methods. 

As the novel progresses, Keating encourages his students to break away from the orthodox methods of learning Welton Academy employs. Because this literary work discusses elitism, classism and breaking away with conventions and takes place in a Dark Academia setting, many readers have come to associate the novel and movie with the aesthetic.

Other popular media that are associated with Dark Academia are “The Secret History” (1992), “Kill Your Darlings” (2013) and “The Riot Club” (2014).

Dark academia has also made its mark in other ways, moving many admirers of the aesthetic to create social media accounts. While some accounts portray the aesthetic through fashion and decor, others create blog posts on how to immerse one’s self in the world of Dark Academia. The variety of Dark Academia content allows those who stumble upon the hashtag to engage with this fascinating aesthetic.


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Yet, in spite of all the great things Dark Academia has brought, there are some glaring issues with the aesthetic. For starters, Dark Academia is centered around the idea of a white society, which may lead to those who are people of color to feel unable to participate in the trend, as addressed in this r/DarkAcademia thread

Additionally, because of its foundation of elitism, Dark Academia promotes intellectual elitism, which leads to the classification of menial work as inferior. It also furthers the idea that only the rich may truly engage with this aesthetic.

Lastly, Dark Academia is intertwined with the romanticization of mental illness, smoking and alcohol abuse. Through this, Dark Academia could potentially encourage people to participate in such activities, sacrificing their personal health for education. 

Dark Academia, keeping in mind its flaws, has ultimately offered a captivating way for fans to reignite their love for learning and discover more about themselves.