What's Driving The Obsession With The Dark Academia Aesthetic?

The Dark Academia aesthetic has swept social media in the past several years, and no wonder! The visuals are elegant yet gritty, mysterious yet universally relatable.

By Kathleen Thomas3 min read
What's Driving The Obsession With The Dark Academia Aesthetic? the-queens-gambit Netflix

Over the past couple of years, a new trend has emerged among younger generations, especially in America: finding your “aesthetic.” An aesthetic extends to nearly every aspect of life, from fashion to dining to the entertainment we consume. It certainly provides a beautiful, unifying element to our lifestyle, but it also allows us to feel that we belong to a tribe that dresses similarly, enjoys similar activities, and values similar principles.

Numerous aesthetics have grown in popularity over the past couple of years, especially during lockdown. Cottagecore, Clockpunk, Kawaii, and many others appeared on TikTok and Pinterest, grabbing the attention of both Millenials and Gen Z. One of the most popular aesthetics to emerge has been Dark Academia and the various academic subcultures that developed after it. At first glance, it doesn’t seem “girly”: too brown, too many tweed blazers, too many connections with traditionally male-dominated areas such as Victorian England. So why does Dark Academia hold so much allure for women?

Simple Pleasures + Adventure

Regarding the Dark Academia trend, Faith Brammer wrote, “Teenagers are wearing tweed and vintage cardigans, toting leather bound books of poetry. These handsome outward displays are reflections of their genuine thirst for knowledge and all things scholarly.” Likewise, classic record players are making a comeback, Greek mythology is very much in vogue, and young adults everywhere are binging movies and shows with vintage vibes like The Queen’s Gambit, Dead Poets’ Society, and Tolkien.

Living the life of a Dark Academic certainly involves sitting at a chessboard or card table, or reading poetry by candlelight, but never forget the dash of adventure. Impassioned geniuses and masterminds belong in Dark Academia just as much as the hermit who never leaves the library. That means the Dark Academia lifestyle can include combing for ghosts in Victorian ruins, sprinting (ideally over rain-slick cobblestones) to make appointments on time after reading all night, and holding roaring debates over principles both moral and intellectual. All this while drinking copious amounts of coffee and tea. 

This attracts a wide range of ladies who value the comfort of warm scones and conversations with friends, but wouldn’t mind a night of exploration in Chartres Cathedral or sneaking through the Bodleian libraries. In Dark Academia, women can enjoy simple pleasures without feeling superficial, as well as adventures far more fulfilling than your everyday adrenaline rush. 

Timeless and Flattering Fashion

Dark Academia finds some of its most unique expression in clothes and accessories, most commonly reminiscent of ‘40s and ‘50s Western European fashion. Dark, earthy tones are prevalent, as are subtle patterns like houndstooth and plaid. Dark Academia fashion “staples” include black turtlenecks, collared shirts, tweed blazers, anything that looks like you’ll be flipping through books of Shakespearean conspiracy theories late into the night with a society of fellow library cryptids. 

Accessories (of course there are accessories!) should be just as timeless, such as messenger bags, pendant jewelry, and “bookish” glasses. Perhaps the best part is that both pants and skirts/dresses are completely in line with this aesthetic, so there’s plenty of variety in ladies’ ensembles!

Dark Academia outfits combine time-proven looks with a universally flattering color palette to give an impression of elegance and simplicity that can be (if desired) even intimidating. Many women feel more powerful and confident when dressing in the Dark Academia style, wrapping themselves in an air of mystery and romanticism. 

Loyal and Passionate Romantic Interests

Speaking of romance, Dark Academia doesn’t limit itself to how people look or spend their free time, but also affects what people value in relationships. Obviously, friendships require shared interest and passion for learning, but Dark Academia romance goes even further. This is best illustrated in characters of Dark Academia literature and television, such as Richard Gansey in The Raven Cycle or Xi Men Yan in Meteor Garden (2018). 

The archetypes of these characters are attractive to women because they tend to be driven, intelligent, and principled men. They work hard thanks to their unfailing inner motivation and tend to have impeccable taste in music, clothes, and décor thanks to their natural appreciation for beauty. While they sometimes tend to snobbery because of their high standards and uncompromising principles, ideal men in the world of Dark Academia are incredibly loyal and deeply passionate, and most women are very much attracted to these qualities. 

Not to mention, Dark Academia-themed dates can range from playing hide-and-seek in the stacks of a bookstore to slow dancing in the kitchen to a Tchaikovsky record. Be still, my heart. 

Yearning for Stability

Lastly, Dark Academia provides something that’s desirable to many young adults in these times of isolation and confusion. Despite a few touches of lovely wildness, Dark Academia romanticizes stability and truth. This can take form in every part of your lifestyle, from implementing a tea-making routine in the mornings to choosing evidence over emotion in a political debate. Dark Academia also provides a sense of connection with past generations, whether visually with its vintage style or intellectually with its literary tradition spanning hundreds of years. 

A New York Times article describing the Dark Academia sensation on TikTok said, “In the halls of Dark Academia, nostalgia and a world free of modern technology reign. Many of the community members focus on what life might have been like in the 19th and early 20th century at private schools in England, boarding schools, prep schools or Ivy League colleges in New England.” This world of typewriters instead of tablets and wax-sealed letters instead of emails calls to the romantic in each of us.

This aesthetic encourages deeper connections with friends as well. Many trends have shown that today’s generation is desperate for connections with the people around them and the people who have gone before, and Dark Academia orients toward those deep “soul-connections.” For all of human history, women have tended overall to be more other-centered than men; thus, it makes perfect sense that the modern woman would value the sense of warm fellowship in the Dark Academia world.

Closing Thoughts

Of course, aesthetic is not the final word on your personality or values, but it can be an important step for some in understanding themselves. Followers of Dark Academia seek to live life to the fullest by enriching our lives with beauty and constant, active learning. We appreciate magnificence and simplicity equally, and push ourselves to our limits so that we never allow ourselves to become stagnant. 

Of course, this is attractive to women, who constantly face the dichotomy of wanting to feed our natural curiosity and have great adventures, but also nurture rich relationships and reflect on familiar comforts. The allure of Dark Academia is external in its gorgeous visuals – let’s not pretend we don’t love pretty things – but also internal in its underlying philosophy that speaks profoundly to a woman’s soul.

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