What is Dark Academia?

Dark academia is a popular aesthetic and subculture that revolves around classic literature, gothic architecture, libraries, studying, and an appreciation for the academic lifestyle. Though dark academia has been around for decades, it has seen a major resurgence in recent years, especially among young people on social media.

What is Dark Academia

Origins and History

The dark academia aesthetic has its origins in gothic fiction and Romanticism of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Novels like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the poetry of Lord Byron portrayed brooding intellectuals, ancient universities, and the pursuit of forbidden knowledge. This established many of the core themes and imagery associated with dark academia.

In the 1980s and 90s, dark academia gained traction through popular films like Dead Poets Society. Set in a fictional elite boarding school in 1959, the movie captured the romanticism of adolescence, literature, and resisting societal expectations. Around the same time, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series also contributed to the appeal of gothic architecture and magical boarding schools.

Characteristics and Style

The dark academia aesthetic is characterized by an atmosphere of mystery, romanticism, and scholarly sophistication. Key elements include:

  • Classic style clothing like tweed blazers, turtlenecks, Oxford shoes, plaid skirts, and pants. Lots of brown, black, gray, and muted, earthy colors.
  • Gothic architecture, old libraries, cozy study spaces, dark wood, bookshelves, globe bars, chessboards, antique furnishings.
  • Reading classic literature, studying a variety of academic subjects, drinking tea or coffee, smoking pipes or cigars.
  • Listening to classical music or jazz, especially composers like Bach, Chopin, Debussy, and Miles Davis.
  • Vintage, analog technology like typewriters, fountain pens, rotary phones.

Though dark academia originally evoked an elite northeastern US boarding school, today it encompasses academic lifestyles and aesthetics from around the world and across history. Some expand it to include ancient libraries, Victorian era scholars, and STEM researchers.

Popular Books and Movies

In addition to the previously mentioned Frankenstein, Dracula, and Dead Poets Society, other seminal dark academia works include:

  • Donna Tartt’s The Secret History – A murder mystery set at an elite Vermont college.
  • Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited – A nostalgic novel about a doomed aristocratic family at Oxford University.
  • V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy – A fantasy series featuring parallel Londons, magical scholars, and gothic atmosphere.
  • The Harry Potter series – Boarding school magic, aloof professors, libraries, and grand academic architecture.
  • Crimson Peak – Gothic romance meets dark academia in this Victorian-era horror film.

Dark academia continues to evolve and inspire new creative works, fashion, and lifestyles. It romanticizes scholarly pursuits, gothic mysteries, and the beauty of old universities. This allows its followers to experience the magic of learning in candlelit libraries wherever they are.