Dark academia, an internet aesthetic and subculture, concentrates on learning, the humanities, and a romanticized version thereof. Melding 1940s Prep with murder, mystery, and maximalist Harry Potter style, it evokes Gothic Ivy league university vibes and a borderline illicit penchant for scholarship.
Moody and seductive, Dark Academia represents the new renaissance. An aesthetic of dimly lit alcoves, overgrown gardens, dusty libraries, and forbidden arts, it positions the pursuits of knowledge and creativity as exciting and provocative.
As a way of life, Dark Academia provides a sense of community and belonging for younger generations (1). In a world that can often feel chaotic and uncertain, the aesthetic provides sanctuary to academics who share the love of all things scholarly.
What Is Dark Academia Aesthetic?
Imagine yourself in a dimly lit library full of privileged Ivy League boys wearing over-priced wool blazers. You use antique fountain pens to write calligraphy in leather-bound journals.
The castle-like space, piled with books, illuminated manuscripts, and calligraphy, evokes long, sleepless nights spent pouring over ancient tomes.
Finding beauty in darkness, the aesthetic leans heavily into gothic horror, magical mystery, and the macabre. Influenced by Medieval (5th – 15th century) and Renaissance (14th – 17th century) period art, architecture, and material culture, Dark Academia highlights an atmosphere of longing for knowledge lost.
Dark Academia aesthetic fields include classical literature, history, alchemy, philosophy, the occult, ancient languages, and classical texts, as well as the study of art, architecture, and more.
Characterized by a melancholy nostalgia for a long gone culture, Dark Academia aesthetic encapsulates a grungier version of traditional prep.
Dark Academia Atmosphere & Ambiance
Muted and eerie, the mood of Dark Academia reflects the physical and mental or psychological setting of the aesthetic. Beyond old academic institutions and include dimly lit libraries the ambiance can be expressed with old abandoned mansions, medieval artworks, and the atmosphere of misty moss forests.
Grandiose cathedrals, stained glass windows, turrets, arches, gargoyles, and other elements of Gothic architecture are encouraged.
Similarly, ancient ruins, such as crumbling castles and decaying temples, add to the grandeur and mystery of the aesthetic’s atmosphere. A memento mori, or reminder of death, these ancient structures evoke a history and timelessness that adds weight and significance to the aeshetics core principles.
Dark Academia’s themes and symbols unify the aesthetic, creating haunting and thought-provoking settings that are at once otherworldly and grounding. Death, the occult, time’s passing, and the struggle between natural and supernatural make up key themes.
Woven in with haunting and brooding symbols such as dying flowers, birds, snakes, and cats, these themes bring to mind a thirst for ancient knowledge and the unknown.
The owl, associated with wisdom. Skulls and clocks, are also popular Dark Academia icons, representing memento mori, or reminders of death and the dark, unsettling inevitability of time’s passage.
Magic or the unexplained are also often represented as forces of both good and evil, depicting Dark Academia’s innate duality.
Dark Academia Art & Wall DecorDark Academia art, whether it be still life, landscape, portrait or otherwise features natural themes, architectural elements, and symbols reflective of the aesthetic’s core elements. Critical to creating the supernatural and haunting literary atmosphere central to the aesthetic, Dark Academia art includes paintings, photographs, and illustrations that feature Gothic architecture, ancient ruins, and other adventurous settings. Dark Academia art highlights knowledge and scholarship. Ancient texts, maps, globes, telescopes and other scientific instruments, as well as imagery of old libraries, museums, and other academic institutions all embody the aesthetic.
Dark Academia Room Design
Dark Academia interior design aims to create an atmosphere of opulent academic excess in the quest for knowledge. This feel is achieved by combining elements such as antique furnishings, velvet drapery, candles with vintage candle holders, libraries or bookcases, rich dark colors, natural materials, and an overall moody, mysterious atmosphere.
Dark Academia rooms highlight elements of traditional academic settings, such as eerie libraries full of books and gothic museums hung with mysterious witchy wall art.
Dark Academia interior design melds moody muted colors, such as black, deep purple, navy blue, and dark red with fairytale gothic architecture and decor in the form of pointed arches, woven tapestries, candelabra, and ornate chandeliers.
Fashion & Style
With a focus on layering and texture, Dark Academia fashion draws inspiration from classic and historical styles. Medieval, Renaissance, Gothic horror, Victorian, and grandpa fashion all influence the aesthetic. The style favors scholarly and whimsical outfits with a nod to old-world elegance.
The Dark Academia Fashion aesthetic includes tweed, corduroy, and other traditional fabrics; vintage or vintage-inspired clothing; and clothing in dark or muted colors such as black, deep purple, dark green, navy blue and burgundy.
Key pieces include traditional Ivy League tweed jackets, flowing pleated skirts for ladies, oxford shoes, and oversized knitwear like cardigans, vests, and wool blazers.
Old books, skulls, and maps, may be worn or carried as accessories. So can pocket watches, spectacles, scarfs, statement antique jewelry, and leather-bound journals.
Understated, simple jewelry with a focus on gemstones, pearls, delicate pendants, cameo pins, and vintage-inspired brooches complements the look.
Dark academia shoes range from 19th century school boots, to oxford shoes, boat shoes, clogs, and even Jesus sandals during summer months.
As a literary sub-genre, Dark Academia features a scholarly setting, some kind of a dark or morbid twist and themes of mystery, horror, or the occult, as well as a focus on the search for knowledge and self-discovery.
The sub-genre is diverse and can be found in many literary styles, including mystery, horror, historical fiction, and fantasy.
Many classic works of literature, particularly those from the medieval and Renaissance periods, are considered to be part of the Dark Academia canon.
Gothic literature, with its focus on dark, eerie, and macabre themes, is one important genre in Dark Academia literature. Gothic literature, such as the works of Edgar Allan Poe, often explores the darker aspects of human nature and society.
Romanticism, with its focus on emotion, individualism, and the natural world, is also influential in Dark Academia. This is seen in the movement’s emphasis on mood and atmosphere, as well as the use of natural and historic settings.
The works of Shakespeare and Tolstoy, which often have themes of magic, death, and the supernatural also play a central role in Dark Academia.
These works often have themes of magic, death, and the supernatural, which are also central to the Dark Academia aesthetic.
One of the main themes of Dark Academia literature is a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs, which turns into an obsession that drives academics to the dark part of the academic aesthetic.
Dark Academia literature heavily deals with themes of obsession, elitism, and the darker sides of human psychology.
A critique – the dark in dark academia stands for the dark side of academia, typically symbolized in literature with death, murder, or other morbid consequences.
Dark Academia Books
“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt – Published in 1992, this essential dark academia novel tells the story of a group of college students who become embroiled in a dangerous and mysterious secret society.
“The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco – A murder mystery set in a medieval monastery that explores themes of knowledge, power, and the occult.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe – A novel that tells the story of a modern-day woman who discovers a 17th-century book of magic that has been passed down through her family.
“The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater – A series of fantasy novels that follow a group of high school students as they uncover the secrets of an ancient Welsh king.
“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke – A novel set in early 19th century England that explores the world of magic and the supernatural.
The Harry Potter series, with its Dark Academia setting, a focus on magic, murder, and mystery, and sense of nostalgia for a bygone era of learning and scholarship is perhaps the genre’s most famous book.
The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, set in an ancient stone castle, complete with hidden passages and secret societies, depicts the aesthetic of tradition and old-fashioned schools.
The series features many themes common to Dark Academia such as the exploration of good and evil paired with a search for knowledge and self-discovery.
Dark Academia is a literary and aesthetic style that combines elements of gothic horror and melancholic nostalgia.
Often featuring themes of death, decay, and the occult, Dark Academia is set in settings such as old, crumbling universities, libraries, and cemeteries.
The style is associated with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and J.R.R. Tolkien.
A literary and aesthetic style that is the opposite of Dark Academia is “Light Academia” or “Pastel Academia.”
This style is characterized by themes of nostalgia and romanticism, often set in idyllic Cottagecore settings such as gardens, countryside and charming small towns.
Like Dark Academia, Light Academia also features a focus on literature, art, and classical learning, and is associated with the works of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Louisa May Alcott.
Dark Academia movies and tv shoes explore scholarship through edgy, unsettling themes, mysterious symbols, and and classic style.
One of the earliest depictions of Dark Academia on screen can be seen the 1986 film “The Name of the Rose”, which is based on the novel of the same name by Umberto Eco. The movie, which takes place in a medieval abbey, features themes of mystery, knowledge, and death.
1989’s “Dead Poet’s Society” featuring the late Robin Williams as Professor Keating and a young Ethan Hawke as one of his Dark Academic poet pupils is a classic depiction of Dark Academia. The story takes place at Welton Academy, a boys’ preparatory boarding school, and touches on all of our favorite Dark Academia elements like tweed outfits, tortured lost souls striving to find themselves through the humanities, and an architecturally
The TV Show “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” with Sarah Michelle Geller is a 90’s Dark Academia favorite.
Another example of a popular Dark Academia-themed work is the 2006 film “The Prestige”, which takes place in Victorian England and focuses on themes of magic, mystery, and obsession. The film’s dark and atmospheric setting, combined with its themes of knowledge and power, make it an excellent representation of the Dark Academia aesthetic.
In recent years, the popularity of Dark Academia has continued to grow, with numerous TV shows and movies incorporating elements of the aesthetic. For example, the hit Netflix series “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is heavily influenced by Dark Academia, featuring themes of magic, death, and the occult, as well as a moody, atmospheric setting.
Dark Academia MusicMany musical works that are considered to be Dark Academia-themed have a haunting or eerie feel to them and incorporate elements of classical music, alternative music, and even gothic or horror-inspired sounds. The classical piece “Dies Irae” by Mozart is often mentioned in discussions of Dark Academia due to its mysterious melody and ominous tone. Other popular musical works that convey the Dark Academia aesthetic include gothic-inspired alternative music, horror soundtracks, and moody soundscapes.
The History of Dark Academia AestheticDark Academia grew as a counterculture in the throes of Tumblr circa 2010. Growing largely in response to the 20th century neo-liberalization of education, which stripped humanities from modern curriculums, Dark Academia gained popularity around 2015, and fully came on to the scene in 2020. Dark Academia grew out of an interest in old, prestigious universities, romanticized notions of the past, and a fascination with death and the macabre. As a distinct cultural movement, it became increasingly popular, particularly among young people drawn to its, romanticism, and focus on personal growth. As schools around the world closed down for the Covid-19 Pandemic, and students suddenly felt a nostalgic longing for scholastic pursuits, Tumblr’s vintage academic subculture took the world by storm. Followers of dark academia are called Dark Academics. Dark Academia as a cultural and aesthetic movement has roots in many literary and cultural traditions, including gothic literature, the Romantic movement, and the picturesque.
Dark Academia Education & LearningEducation and learning are central to the Dark Academia aesthetic and ideology, which emphasizes the importance of acquiring knowledge, especially in the areas of literature, history, and the classics. To practice Dark Academia in real life, cultivate a love for learning by taking an active interest in reading classic literature, visiting libraries, exploring natural history museums, and wandering ancient archives. Libraries, museums, and archives play a significant role in Dark Academia as they serve as physical representations of the pursuit of knowledge and learning. A source of inspiration and a space to expand one’s understanding of the world, these places deepen our appreciation for the classics and help us gain a deeper understanding of the themes that are central to Dark Academia.
Dark Academia Decor & Living SpaceCreate a Dark Academia atmosphere within your living space using warm lighting, antique decor, and classic literature. Dark Academia home decor is heavy on books, providing a cozy, contemplative setting that fosters learning, exploration, and introspection. Nothing screams “I’m a well read academic” like a fully-stocked library of classic literature, poetry, and historical tomes. Use candles and other sources of warm lighting to create a cozy and intimate atmosphere, bursting with mysterious shadows and ghostly essence. Deep greens, blues, and purples, will help to accentuate the moodiness of your contemplative environment. Vintage and antique items, such as furniture, art, and other decorative pieces add character and ambiance, while evoking a sense of history and timelessness.
Dark Academia Activities & Hobbies
Dark Academia-inspired activities and hobbies include reading classic literature, studying history, practicing calligraphy, visiting museums and historic sites, learning ancient languages, and participating in various forms of art and craft, such as knitting or embroidery, photography and painting.
The appreciation of literature, art, music, and history is central to Dark Academia, and engaging in these activities is an important way to embody the lifestyle.
Reading Shakespeare, Poe, and the Bronte sisters will not only increase one’s knowledge and appreciation for literature but also help to understand the themes and influences that are central to Dark Academia.
Dark Academia Travel and ExplorationTravel and exploration allow individuals to experience the beauty and mystery of historic and cultural landmarks that embody the mood and atmosphere of the genre. Dark Academia is heavily influenced by the grandeur and essence of ancient ruins, Gothic architecture, and picturesque landscapes, throughout the world. To experience the beauty and mystery of Dark Academia through travel, individuals can visit destinations such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh. These cities are renowned for their historic universities, rich cultural heritage, and architectural beauty. Oxford and Cambridge, in particular, are well known for their ancient architecture and eerie rolling landscapes, which have been a source of inspiration for many Dark Academia enthusiasts. In addition to visiting historical and cultural landmarks, individuals can also explore abandoned ruins, old graveyards, and ancient castles, which immortalize the aesthetic’s melancholic atmosphere. These types of experiences can be especially impactful, as they offer a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage and the passage of time that is central to the Dark Academia aesthetic.
Dark Acadenia FAQsGet the answers to Dark Academia’s most frequently asked questions.
Dark Academia is an aesthetic and subculture characterized by a fascination with knowledge, learning, literature, art, and classical civilizations. It is a blend of academic, gothic, and vintage styles, often featuring dark or muted colors, tweed, black turtlenecks, high-waisted pants or skirts, loafers, blazers, and accessories such as scarves, gloves, and berets.
Dark Academia enthusiasts romanticize the idea of attending an elite university or boarding school and enjoy activities such as reading, writing, studying, and discussing philosophy. They also appreciate art, music, and films that have a melancholy or intellectual tone, or occult and supernatural themes.
While Dark Academia is primarily an aesthetic and cultural movement, it has also been associated with criticism of the elitism and exclusivity often present in academia, and with advocating for greater accessibility to education and knowledge for all people.
Dark Academia is a fashion style that is inspired by classic literature, academic settings, and the moody, brooding aesthetic of Gothic art. The style is characterized by its use of dark, earthy colors, tailored pieces, and vintage-inspired accessories. Here are some tips for dressing in the Dark Academia style:
- Start with the basics: Dark Academia outfits typically involve tailored pieces like blazers, trousers, and skirts. Opt for classic cuts and muted colors like black, gray, and brown.
- Layer up: Layering is an essential part of Dark Academia fashion. Combine different textures and fabrics to create a multidimensional look. For example, layer a collared shirt under a sweater or cardigan.
- Accessorize with vintage-inspired pieces: Add a touch of vintage to your outfit with accessories like suspenders, pocket watches, and brooches. Choose pieces that have a timeless, classic feel.
- Choose dark, moody colors: The Dark Academia style is all about dark, moody colors. Black, navy, gray, and brown are all great options. You can also incorporate muted jewel tones like burgundy and forest green.
- Embrace academic themes: The Dark Academia style is inspired by academia, so don’t be afraid to incorporate academic themes into your outfit. For example, you could wear a tie or a bowtie, carry a satchel or messenger bag, or wear a pair of classic loafers.
- Play with textures: The Dark Academia style is all about texture. Mix and match different textures like tweed, wool, and corduroy to add interest and depth to your outfit.
Remember, the most important thing about dressing in the Dark Academia style is to have fun and express yourself. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different pieces and make the style your own.
Article References & Further Dark Academia Reading
- Bennett, C., Rascoe, F., & Givens, M. (2023-01-27). “What Is Dark Academia?” smartech.gatech.edu. Georgia Tech Library. Retrieved 2023-02-06.
- Edwards, Caroline (2020-04-24). “Dark Academia is the witchy literary aesthetic sweeping TikTok”. i-d.vice.com. Vice Media. Retrieved 2023-02-06.
- Ranasinghe, P. J. (2022). An exploration of the dissemination of knowledge through the “Dark Academia” aesthetic. University of Colombo Review, 3(2).
- Adriaansen, R. (2022). Dark Academia: Curating Affective History in a COVID-Era Internet Aesthetic. International Public History, 5(2), 105-114.
- Fleming, P., Rudolph, J., & Tan, S. (2021). ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’. An interview with Professor Peter Fleming on dark academia, the pandemic and neoliberalism. Journal of Applied Learning and Teaching, 4(2), 110-120.