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Know Your Aesthetic: Dark Academia

Dark academia is a soulful longing for a time gone by, an obscure restlessness for a time that was never yours. It is an overwhelming desire to romanticize every single aspect of your life. It is blurry pictures of sunsets, scented candles emanating an ominous, warm glow, handwritten letters that will never grace the eyes of their recipients, second-hand bookstores teeming with stories untold, piles of hardcovers as décor and gothic antiquities, haphazard poetry and ancient philosophy; it is an untamable desire to learn, to know, and to embrace the universe with all of its magnificent oddities.

It is geared towards the pursuit of knowledge at all costs and the discovery of one’s true self. Popularized by Tumblr/Pinterest/Instagram ‘mood boards,’ along with the Tiktok hashtag which sits at 26.4m views, the subculture has gained a loyal following. I asked one of my personal favorite dark academia aesthetic accounts, @stardustville, who sits at approximately 8k followers on Instagram, to elaborate on what the subculture means to them.

“The mindset of tackling life with passion, adventure, and a desire to learn from everyone, and everything really makes you appreciate little things so much more. Dressing formally also makes me feel a lot more confident,” they said.

Dark academia fashion can definitely be credited for the aesthetic’s overall popularity. The general style follows the 1940’s boarding school vibe, consisting of turtlenecks, houndstooth trousers, tweed blazers, silk blouses, oversized cardigans etcetera, all following a sepia-toned, warm and muted color palette-it aligns perfectly with the subculture’s focus on the educational/academic lifestyle. Interestingly enough, these specific undertones of sophistication and formality have often led to the aesthetic being labeled as Euro-centric, elitist, and exclusive.

There’s no denying that dark academia has its roots in European literature, history and fashion, and that adopting it as a lifestyle can amount to unnecessary expenses; this explains why it’s often associated with the wealthy and white. However, followers of the niche have continuously strived to make the community as inclusive as possible. Recent trends have seen promoting literature written by POC, alternative historic fashion guides from various regions, and the culture actively encouraging ‘dark academia on a budget.’ This includes thrifting clothes, purchasing second-hand books, adopting a minimalistic aesthetic, supporting local cafés and businesses, and so on.

“I have recently noticed a big shift in the community towards being much more inclusive which is amazing. I think it started out being very European centered in regards to both literature and aesthetic imagery, but now I see people of color on my feed every day and have been introduced to loads of great new books from different cultures. I’ve also seen multiple posts about DA on a budget, so I think there has been a conscious effort to try and be more inclusive and less elitist because at the end of the day all you need to join the community is a desire to discover and learn, and an appreciation of art. Personally I would love more people to join the community, I’ve made so many friends from all over the world.”- @stardustville

In times plagued with rampant consumerism and profit-centric capitalism, dark academia has thrived as essentially just a community of people willing to learn and grow, with a deep appreciation for art and history. At its core, the aesthetic is simply a form of escapism; with consideration towards how 2020 has progressed, it comes as no surprise that individuals are pining for the past in all its aesthetic glory. It is a celebration and romanticization of life itself, a sentiment we could all get behind.

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an inclusive list of dark academia book recommendations:

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