Dark Academia


Ah, it’s another lovely summer day in the middle of a pandemic (or is it just the beginning? who knows). I’m sitting here thinking, wow, I haven’t written a blog post for What Professors Wear in ages even though I’ve been professoring (made up that word) it every day this summer. Am I on contract; am I teaching summer classes? No, but I am working every day–working on designing three new classes for fall, stressing about the two articles I am supposed to write this summer, wondering where I’ll find the energy to complete my tenure application, etc. etc.

Then, this article was sent to me by a friend. Then I saw it on Facebook. Then I knew I had to blog about it.

This article is about “dark academia.” Full title and opening image are shown below:

Academia Lives — on TikTok

School may be out indefinitely, but on social media there’s a thriving subculture devoted to the aesthetic of all things scholarly.

OK, y’all know I’m going to disagree with this, right?

Known as Dark Academia, it is a subculture with a heavy emphasis on reading, writing, learning — and a look best described as traditional-academic-with-a-gothic-edge; think slubby brown cardigans, vintage tweed pants, a worn leather satchel full of a stack of books, dark photos, brooding poetry and skulls lined up next to candles.

Yeah…no. It’s not my subculture. Sorry not sorry. I love to read, write, and learn, but I’m definitely not one to wear brown cardigans, tweed pants or blazers, leather satchels (and that word–really??), or anything gothic. I don’t have a HP house. I don’t subscribe to one personality type. But I am a Taurus. 😀

Don’t get me wrong. I own black clothing, a lot of it. If you see me wearing a black shirt, it’s because I am offsetting polka-dotted or leopard-print pants. If you see me wearing black pants, it’s because I am wearing a turquoise and pink hummingbird shirt. I own a couple of cardigans. The one I just bought is an oversized lemon yellow sweater! And I plan to wear Jane Austen pins all over it or don my pearl-tie or gold bowtie.

Frieed Women V Neck 3/4 Sleeve Knitted Button Up Cardigan Sweater

So what’s being posted on TikTok or Instagram that fits the bill of “dark academia”? According to the article’s author, Kristen Bateman,

A typical post may involve teens showing off their argyle sweaters to classical tunes, followed by a series of photos of leather-bound books, handwritten notes, a page from “Wuthering Heights” and a shot of classic Greek architecture.

Oh….Wuthering Heights you say? Greek architecture?

Here’s another image from the article to show how you too can be a part of this subculture:

But what do I know? The Dark.Academia Ig page has 13.6K followers! And if anyone still cares about Tumblr, here’s that page.

Bateman dishes on what is so appealing to many people about “dark academia” and how you can become a part of it.

Though it can sound niche, part of Dark Academia’s appeal is the fact that it is both more approachable aesthetically than other popular internet subcultures — one example being Cottagecore, the internet aesthetic inspired by a romanticized interpretation of rural life — and also emphasizes inclusivity and gender fluidity.

To be part of Dark Academia, you don’t have to have access to a country house, a field of flowers, a big kitchen for baking or an expensive prairie dress. Most of the clothing Dark Academia fans wear is vintage and can easily be found in secondhand stores or sites.

I’m a fan of secondhand stores, and I support inclusivity and gender fluidity. Does that mean I should join the “dark academia” club? I don’t think I’m the actual audience for this subculture. According to Bateman:

As study halls, workshopping essays and round table discussions go virtual, and many students are left wondering when they’ll be able to dress up and go to classes again, Dark Academia is filling the void.

“I think a good part of Dark Academia is aesthetics, but it’s also a community,” said Declan Lyman, 15, who posts Dark Academia videos on TikTok. “The more you get into the whole vibe, the more you feel connected to other people in the tags. The main point is a desire to learn.”

I’m all about finding ways to fill the void right now. I mean is this pandemic ever going to end? When will I have f2f relationships again? But I won’t be falling into the “dark academia” camp for a few reasons:

  1. It doesn’t fit my personality. I like bright colors and designs!
  2. It valorizes a dead poet’s society kind of vibe (white men + boys club doesn’t feel inclusive or gender fluid to me)
  3. Calling it “dark academia” feels problematic. But to explain what I mean by this will be complicated. Instead, I ask you to think about it.

But maybe you are looking over this “dark academia” attire and thinking, oh, that’s my vibe! Maybe you’re thinking, I love to wear tweed, brown, black, and gray exclusively. Maybe you’re wanting to say, hey, who are you to criticize me?

I’m not criticizing you, but I am responding to the idea that this palette and certain traits associated with the “literary” or “scholarly” is being pitched as a subculture built on what seems to be nostalgia. But for what?

And why would we want to subscribe to the idea that professors–aka scholars–only dress a certain way and that we’re trying to fit into a certain mold? I don’t find this inclusive or helpful.

Chew on that! 😀

One response to “Dark Academia”

  1. Hi! I totatlly get where you coming from with this whole aesthetic dark academia, and its ok if it doesn’t fit your aesthetic! Its just that, personally, My style is dark academia i’ve been that way ever since it was labeled. And personally I don’t see anything wrong or problematic about it I just think that if your doing the aesthetic/style/way of like and your happy thats all that matters!! So its ok if you don’t do it but a lot of people do, and so far I’ve been on tiktok and nothing scandalous or rude or problematic has been made about it that i’ve seen.


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