Dark academia is a social media aesthetic and subculture concerned with higher education, writing/poetry, the arts, and classic Greek and Gothic architecture. The subculture is associated with ancient art and classic literature.
The fashion of the 1930s and 1940s features prominently in the dark academia aesthetic, particularly clothing associated with attendance at Oxbridge, Ivy League schools, and prep schools of the period. A number of the articles of clothing most associated with the aesthetic are cardigans, blazers, dress shirts, plaid skirts, Oxford shoes, and clothing made of houndstooth and tweed, its colour palette consisting mainly of black, white, beige, browns, dark green, and occasionally navy blue.
The subculture draws on idealised aesthetics of higher education and academia, often with books and libraries featuring prominently. Activities such as calligraphy, museum visits, libraries, coffee shops, and all-night studying sessions are common among proponents.
Seasonal imagery of autumn is also common. Imagery of Gothic architecture and Collegiate Gothic architecture, candlelight, dark wooden furniture, and dense, cluttered rooms often occurs. The subculture has been described as maximalist and nostalgic. Universities that are often featured in dark academia imageboards include Oxbridge, Durham University, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow and Harvard University.
The subculture shares similarities with Goth subculture, tending to romanticise the finding of beauty and poetry in dark themes. Tim Brinkhof of Big Think has stated that "moody architecture and philosophical pessimism" are key aspects of the aesthetic. Hannah Southwick of USA Today has described it as a "melancholic aesthetic," citing a fashion stylist who described it as "boarding school meets goth enthusiast."
Donna Tartt's novel The Secret History, published in 1992, which tells the story of a murder that takes place within a group of classics students at an elite New England college, has been credited as being the inspiration for the dark academia literary genre. In 2015, the genre began to grow into an aesthetic on social media site Tumblr, with the creation of a book club that centered around classic and gothic novels. The aesthetic then grew into a distinct subculture, seeing a wave of popularisation on Instagram led by Ryan Taylor and Maria Teresa Negro in 2017.
Dark academia rose in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. In October 2020 the 'darkacademia' hashtag had over 90 million views on TikTok, by October 2021 it had over 500 million,  and by October 2022 over 3 billion tiktok views. Increased interest in dark academia been credited to the shutdown of schools.
A number of classic works of literature, such as Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and Maurice by E. M. Forster, as well as the works of writers such as Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, have been cited as either influential or popular among the subculture, or fitting within the subculture's aesthetics. More recent books, such as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, and Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo have also been included.
A number of films and TV series have also been credited as fitting into the aesthetic. The 1989 film Dead Poets Society and the 2013 film Kill Your Darlings have in particular been credited as among the sources of inspiration for dark academia. Writing for Screen Rant, Kayleena Pierce-Bohen has listed TV shows such as Ares, The Umbrella Academy, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Queen’s Gambit and The Magicians as among works that fit within the aesthetics.
BookRiot writer Zoe Robertson stated that the subculture draws on "seductive depictions of shadowy extravagance" and reminds her "to see the rot in the foundations of an institution I can't stay away from, and build my own school in defiance." One writer compared it to the contemporary cottagecore lifestyle aesthetic, saying that while cottagecore requires a home in the country and leisure time for crafting, dark academia's "simple act of putting on a blazer and reading Dostoevsky is far more doable."
Some commentators have attributed the rise in popularity of the subculture as a reaction to cuts to university funding and the corporatisation of higher education. Honi Soit writer Ezara Norton stated that it "reveals a deep disillusionment with [education models that devalue knowledge unless it can be used to generate profit], and a longing for a space free to learn unencumbered by a neoliberal agenda." Writing for Jacobin, Amelia Horgan argued that the trend was in part a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in students leaving campuses to learn in their family homes where many did not have access to adequate study space, providing "a fantasy of the university experience" which they were unable to obtain. However she also noted that the world presented in the aesthetic was very different to that of the contemporary university, highlighting trends in UK academia an example of the impacts of neoliberal policies on education, including long hours and casualisation for teaching staff and students having to work multiple part-time jobs to cover their costs.
In part in reaction to the growth of the subculture, the related "light academia" subculture has experienced a rise in popularity, often featuring lighter and softer imagery and colours and more overt emphasis on optimism.
Critics of the aesthetic have argued that the English literary canon from which it draws inspiration is an overwhelmingly white one, with Tim Brinkof claiming that associated content creators "prefer to discuss Oscar Wilde and Emily Dickinson over Toni Morrison or James Baldwin". Sarah Burton, a sociology fellow at City, University of London, has noted that the aesthetic contains little representation of "most women, working class, people of colour, fatness, people with low economic or cultural capital, disability, caring and domestic activities and labour (especially the enjoyment of these), motherhood, queerness, and the mundanity of academic life". In response to the aesthetic's lack of diversity, efforts have been made to incorporate literary works from Black authors such as Langston Hughes into dark academia.
The sub-culture has also been criticised as elitist and as an "old money aesthetic." Drawing on the threefold typology of educational traditions outlined by Raymond Williams in his book The Long Revolution, Amelia Horgan has described dark academia as being rooted in the attitudes of "old humanists committed to preserving and sustaining a traditional and hierarchical culture while preserving the legacy of humanistic study." Amy Crawford of the University of Dundee has stated that the sub-culture "tends to romanticise European upper-class education." Kevin N. Dalby of the University of Texas at Austin has stated that "its association with higher learning and Ivy League schools, in particular, creates elitism that does not enable just anyone to be a part of the group." Conversely, other commentators have noted that fashion items associated with the trend are easily and cheaply sourced from thrift stores.
Others have argued that the aesthetic places too much emphasis on the aesthetic of art and higher education instead of proper study and analysis of these works, leading to misinterpretations of the source material. It has also faced criticism for potentially glamourising unhealthy behaviours, such as sleep deprivation, overworking, and substance misuse.
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- Bateman, Kristen (2020-06-30). "Academia Lives — on TikTok". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2020-07-06. Retrieved 2021-02-03.
- "TikTok's Dark Academia trend criticised for 'whiteness'". The Guardian. 2021-02-10. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
- Ike, Noëlle (26 October 2021). "Dark academia is trending: Here's how to nail the fall fashion trend from TikTok". CNN. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
- Abdi, Amal. "Meet Dark Academia, The Bookish Fashion Trend That's All Over TikTok". www.refinery29.com.
- "Six Reasons to Explore the Dark Academia Aesthetic | Her Campus". www.hercampus.com. Mar 3, 2021.
- Slack, Megan (29 July 2021). "Introducing 'Dark Academia' – the new trend filling interiors with moody maximalism". homesandgardens.com.
- Foulston, Freddy (6 November 2021). "Nostalgia and the Dark Academia aesthetic". Oxford Student. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
- Zirngast, Lisa (2021-06-17). "Everything to know about the "Dark Academia Aesthetic" Trend". lofficiel.at. Paris: L'Officiel.
- Topacio, Justine Gianna (Mar 16, 2021). "Studying the Dark Academia trend".
- Brinkhof, Tim (22 January 2022). "What is "Dark Academia," and why is it trending on social media in 2022?". Big Think. Retrieved 6 June 2022.
Dark Academia has been accused of being Eurocentric, seeing that the style is built around European universities with predominantly Western curricula.Go on TikTok, and you will find that most Dark Academia content creators prefer to discuss Oscar Wilde and Emily Dickinson over Toni Morrison or James Baldwin, even though the latter two authors were just as insightful as the former. Talking with magazines, more than one social media influencer said they received DMs from others asking if they will fit into the subculture if they aren’t white or wealthy.
- Southwick, Hannah (18 February 2022). "What is dark academia? An explainer on Gen Z's favorite aesthetic".
- Garrett, Beata (2019-10-06). ""The Secret History" Makes Strides in Budding Dark Academia Genre". Mount Holyoke News. Archived from the original on 2019-10-08. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
- "The Rise of Dark Academia". The Insider. 2020-11-05. Retrieved 2020-12-09.
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- Salamone, Lorenzo (31 October 2021). "What is the Dark Academia aesthetic?". NSSmag. Retrieved 26 November 2022.
- Carr, Chloe (20 October 2022). "What Is The TikTok Dark Academia Aesthetic? How You Can Achieve It". Prestige student living. Retrieved 26 November 2022.
- "The pages of Dark Academia". Manila Bulletin. Jul 16, 2021.
- Price, Tirzah (Jun 16, 2021). "6 of the Best New Dark Academia YA Books to Put on Your TBR".
- "8 Queer Dark Academia Novels You Should Read ASAP". Nerdist.
- "Review of Ninth House-Dark Academia and Ghosts". 7 June 2021.
- "20 Dark Academia Books You'll Be Totally Obsessed With". Reader's Digest. October 10, 2022. Retrieved 2022-10-18.
- "Dark Academia: Students Romanticize College Life Again". Mar 30, 2021.
- "Dead Poets Society & 9 Other Movies For Fans Of The Dark Academia Aesthetic". ScreenRant. Jan 5, 2021.
- "15 Best Dark/Gothic Academia Movies & TV Shows On Netflix". ScreenRant. Dec 2, 2020.
- Robertson, Zoe (Feb 27, 2020). "The Scholarship of Sexy Privilege: Why Do I Love Dark Academia Books?".
- Jennings, Rebecca (2020-07-07). "This week in TikTok: Are you cottagecore or more "dark academia"?". Vox. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
- "What's Dark about Dark Academia". Mar 31, 2021.
- "Dark Academia and debt: University thrillers are the literary subgenre of the student loan crisis". 31 July 2021.
- Gentry, Amy (18 February 2021). "Dark Academia: Your Guide to the New Wave of Post-Secret History Campus Thrillers". Crimeread. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
- "Dark academia: how institutions fail learning". Honi Soit. May 9, 2021.
- Horgan, Amelia (19 December 2021). "The "Dark Academia" Subculture Offers a Fantasy Alternative to the Neoliberal University". Jacobin. Retrieved 5 February 2022.
- "Explained: What is light academia, the softer younger sister to dark academia?". UK. May 14, 2021.
- "Light Academia Vs Dark Academia Fashion Aesthetics - Womanology". womanology.co.uk. 18 October 2020.
- "Dark Academia: The Toxic Cultural Paradigms promoted by a Dark Academic Aesthetic". Her Campus. 21 September 2020.
- Floyd, Courtney (27 October 2021). "Beyond Dark Academia: The Real Horror in Magic School Is Systemic Inequality". Tor.com. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
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The subculture of dark academia has faced criticism for inherently promoting Western colonial education and the supremacy of classical literature.
- Andrew, Scottie (29 January 2022). "A guide to 'dark academia,' the TikTok-popular aesthetic with preppy style and an intellectual focus". CNN. Retrieved 6 June 2022.
- "Dark Academia, Gender, Intellectualism". Newcastle University. 16 February 2021. Retrieved 5 February 2022.
- "Finding Diversity in Dark Academia". Madame Blue. 5 November 2021.
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- Jennings, Rebecca (24 August 2021). "Are you ready for the return of prep?". Vox. Retrieved 6 June 2022.
- Crawford, Amy (19 October 2021). "Dark Academia: An emerging aesthetic sub-culture". University of Dundee. Retrieved 6 June 2022.
- Dalby, Kevin (22 February 2021). "UT Austin Professor Kevin Dalby Discusses Dark Academia: What Is It and How Is It Tied to COVID-19?". Thrive Global. Retrieved 6 June 2022.
- Edwards, Caroline (Apr 24, 2020). "Dark Academia is the witchy literary aesthetic sweeping TikTok".
At first glance the aesthetic does seem like one that might attract a community of rich white people, those with old money or interested in high society, but the opposite is true, as 19-year-old TikTok user @etherealacademia points out. “Unlike some other aesthetics, dark academia fashion and decor is really affordable,” the college student says, noting its accessibility. They often buy their books, antiques and clothes at thrift stores for cheap prices.
- "'Dead Poets Society' is a Terrible Defense of the Humanities". The Atlantic. 19 February 2014.
- "A Critique of Dark Academia: The Hunt for Beauty | Her Campus". www.hercampus.com. Oct 25, 2020.
- "A Critique of Dark Academia: The Romanticization of Overwork | Her Campus". www.hercampus.com. Nov 3, 2020.
- "A Critique of Dark Academia: The Cultivation of Relentless Focus | Her Campus". www.hercampus.com. Nov 9, 2020.
- "The Dark Side of Dark Academia: a Critique of the Aesthetic". The Teen Magazine.
- "Tämän korona aiheutti: Nuoret ihannoivat nyt vanhaa maailmaa, sivistystä ja tyyliä – dark academia -someilmiön suosio räjähti". 6 May 2021.