Pop culture

Everything you need to know about the “Dark Academia Aesthetic” Trend

Classics of literary history, a passion for education and a soft spot for sublime architecture combined in a preppy style. Dark Academia is the social media trend you can't miss.
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Photo: Alex Block

Social media has become the birthplace of creative movements and subcultures. Accessible to everyone - regardless of age, gender or background - and absolutely free, online platforms make it easier than ever to share interests and passions with each other worldwide.

With over 800,000 posts on Instagram and countless accounts on TikTok, the Dark Academia aesthetic can no longer be ignored. Here, we make digital browsing easier for you and summarise it all in one spot.

What is Dark Academia?




The term ''Academia'' describes a group of aesthetics that are connected to learning, primarily through reading and intensive research. The different variations of the social media subcultures are visually distinct from each other while focusing on different cultural beliefs, ideas and eras.

Photo: Prateek Katyal

Dark academia romanticises a time when the upper classes of society put an emphasis on liberal education. An interest in classical literature, languages such as Latin, Greek or French, architecture, art, poetry and fashion from Western Europe characterise the subculture. Dark academics, as the members call themselves, perceive education as something good and exciting, associated with joy instead of boredom. 

The ''dark'' in dark academia stands for the members’ slight penchant for the unusual and the illicit. Puzzles, murder, danger, cults and secret clubs provide that certain darkness that distinguishes dark academia from the more romantic version, light academia. This is reflected in their fascination for decoratively designed guns or perfectly placed bloodstains on clothing.

Origins and Background

Dark Academia first appeared on the blogging platform Tumblr around 2015. Initially, however, it resembled a book club more than an internet aesthetic. The reason for that? The 1992 novel The Secret History by US writer Donna Tartt. The book revolves around a group of eccentric students at an elite university who, together with their professor, isolate themselves from the rest in order to engage in intellectual discussions. However, a web of intrigue and secrets quickly forms.

Over the years, dark academia developed from an intellectually inclined community into a fully-fledged lifestyle concept, spurred on by the emergence of other social media platforms. Self-discovery and visual expression gained relevance, which in turn can be seen in the TikTok videos and Instagram posts.


What are the Inspirations behind the Trend?

Dark academia's greatest influence are European cultures. Renaissance, Baroque and Romanticism are popular epochs. Especially when their paintings or sculptures deal with themes such as anatomical studies, classical as well as Christian mythology or the transience of life, also known as the vanitas motif. 

Literature is also a major theme of the trend. Not only reading writers like Lord Byron or Percy Shelley, but also writing itself is important. Complexly convoluted calligraphy is tried out with fountain pens, one experiments with linguistics, and sits down to write letters by hand. 

Simple photo editing makes it possible for a handwritten note to become the background for a quote from a literary classic. The result can be found on Instagram under #darkacademia.

Dark Academia and Fashion

The passion for knowledge and learning is also reflected in the wardrobes of the dark academics. A dark colour palette of black, dark brown, forest green and burgundy is contrasted with cream, gold and orange. In general, the style can be described as preppy. Classics of the college look such as Oxford shirts, blazers, tweed trousers, trench coats, duffles and knitted waistcoats are staples. Brogues, loafers, Chelsea boots and Dr. Martens are the shoes of choice. 

Accessories include brooches, glasses, ties, watches and umbrellas. Knee-high socks are popular with short pleated skirts, while jumpers are worn loosely around the shoulders and effortlessly tied at the front.


A fashion brand particularly associated with dark academia is Ralph Lauren. Within the world of fashion, no one does preppy like Ralph Lauren. The designer always manages to skilfully combine the glamour and chic of the American upper class with a certain nonchalance. The perfect example is this look from the Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear collection. A knitted dress is worn over a white shirt and tie, all in shades of brown. The checked pattern is echoed in the coat, while the monochrome tights and high Mary Janes in smooth leather complete the monochrome outfit.

Photo: Luca Tombolini

What are the Top Locations of the Trend?

If you feel like following in the footsteps of the dark academics or perhaps want to become part of the trend yourself, there are certain places you should consider paying a visit. Museums, libraries, coffee houses and uni campuses are good places to start. Those who prefer something more special can plan a trip to a baroque palace, a Victorian street or even an English country estate. 




Many enthusiasts of the trend have already found themselves abroad at the Ivy League universities of the world. Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge have not been reblogged online the most for no reason. But it wouldn't be dark academia if cemeteries weren't among the hotspots. All in the spirit of memento mori.

Photo: Julia Kadel

Where else can Dark Academia be found?

Dark academia is present in a wide range of media. Generally, there are two approaches. On the one hand, there are the classics of both the canon of literature and art history, and on the other, a number of pop-cultural works.

TikTok and Instagram offer a variety of suggestions, recommendations and guides. More demanding works of literature such as Sophocles' Antigone can be read as well as lighter options in the form of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. Dead Poets Society from 1989 directed by Peter Weir is on the list alongside new releases like Knives Out from 2019 starring Daniel Craig and Chris Evans.

Freud, a joint production between Netflix and ORF, as well as the BBC's famous series adaptation Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch are both among TV shows that fit right in with the trend's aesthetic. In terms of music, artists from Frédéric Chopin to Lorde make it onto the Spotify playlists dedicated to dark academia.

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Photo: Netflix

Perhaps now is the time for you to dive into the exciting world of the dark academia aesthetic trend. It’s just one hashtag away.



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