The social-media born trend that Gen-Z is swooning over

If you ever pictured yourself running through a museum, recreating the famous The Dreamers (2003) scene, or simply wish to quench your thirst for learning while quarantine-cocooning, Dark Academia is the ideal trend to follow.

Born through social media, Dark Academia is the latest bookish fashion aesthetic, raising a new subculture dedicated to education, knowledge, and the need for constant learning. Amid a lockdown, when staying home is deeply accompanied by the nostalgia for a life which is yet to be lived, Dark Academia provides a digital substitute for all the libraries we have yet to visit.

We couldn’t have put the trend in words better than this quote from the community’s favourite film,

“Poetry. Beauty. Romance. Love. These are what we stay alive for.” – Dead Poets Society (1989)

What is Dark Academia?

Dark Academia is a collection of aesthetics based on the life-giving understanding of knowledge and the latest internet community to take over Tumblr, TikTok, Instagram, and almost any other social media platform. Created largely by users 14 to 25 years old, the subculture draws inspiration from the classic Greek and Latin arts, writing, architecture, deeply infused with Gothic elements. To get a comprehensive overview of Dark Academia try to imagine what life might have been like in the 19th and early 20th century at private schools in England. Movies like Kill Your Darlings (2013) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) and books like The Secret History and Harry Potter serve as essential influences.

Though Tumblr was the first media where one could find glimpses of the aesthetic as far back as 2014, Dark Academia was massively re-born on social platforms during the lockdown and the simultaneous replacement of academic surroundings by Zoom calls. Gen Z’s nostalgia and a world free of modern technology reign are depicted in over 536K posts on Instagram, over 527 million views on TikTok tagged with the corresponding hashtag, while thousands of Spotify playlists and YouTube videos are uploaded to indulge you into joining the “Dead Poet’s Society” study group.

How to become a Dark Academic

Like #studygram and #studyblr, popular hashtags on Instagram and Tumblr respectively which also aestheticise studying, Dark Academia is the new “appreciation post” to the little things that form our everyday routines, like enjoying a cup of tea, or the company of a book.

The moody aesthetic is a guide to immersing yourself in a subject nostalgic of the distant past, while dressing up as the 20th-century professors, reading Frankenstein under a full moon with candles being your only company, or sitting out on a bench in the cold and writing poetry.

It is TikTok videos embracing quarantine-friendly non-digital activities, with piano notes playing in the background. Teens film themselves making tea or vintage tea-stained paper, writing romantic letters and sealing them with a handmade candle wax stamp or tutorial videos on how to decorate your “Dark Academia” room. It’s posting an Instagram post sitting in a museum with a sketchbook in hand or in your cosiest armchair reading “The Flowers of the Evil” by Baudelaire. Posts should be edited in camel and sepia colours, whilst adding “grainy” or a dusty effect is very Dark Academic.

Pair your academic activities with turtlenecks, tweed blazers, plaid high-waisted pants, camel coats, and shiny Oxfords to complete the look.

At a first glance, it might seem like a pretentious trend, but Dark Academia is a celebration and romanticisation of literature. To join the “cult” you do not necessarily need to be an active student, waiting to get back to the pre-Zoom campus life. The potential participants simply have to have a deep thirst for learning or flirt with the possibility of accidentally falling in love with the poetry of Keats. Reading by candlelight is a must.

The trend has been criticised for influencing people to copy unhealthy studying patterns and romanticise alcoholism, just because their favourite writer did so. It has also been called out for its euro-centric and elitist approach, believed to idealise European literature, art, and languages over those of other regions. However #darkacademia can also be perceived as an escape into fantasy and fiction, into a world where fashion serves as a pursuit of knowledge.

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