A Comprehensive Dark Academia Aesthetic Guide

The dark academia aesthetic is raging in popularity across social media, from Instagram to TikTok to Pinterest and beyond. And like, it’s quite a look. It’s more of a vibe, really. A low frequency, moody, brooding, academic vibe. Think English boarding school, Edgar Allen Poe, plaid vests, and Doc Martens sort of a vibe.

The dark academia aesthetic is romantic and beautiful. It’s taken over many of my feeds and I’m not even mad about it – I’m pretty obsessed. As an avid reader and Ravenclaw myself, anything “academia” is right up my alley. I’m also low key into witchcraft right now, so really not minding the dark and moody vibes that come with the dark academia aesthetic.

As I tend to do when I get fixated on a trend – I dive in deep. So here’s my guide on how to achieve the dark academia aesthetic ASAP, and to perfection.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

First & foremost: the problems with the dark academia aesthetic.

We’ll keep it 100 right up front: dark academia can absolutely be problematic. The dark academia aesthetic romanticizes studying and “the intellectual,” often to the point of self destruction. The dark academia aesthetic also leans into moody, dark tones, sounds, and entertainment – meaning it also can be viewed as promoting or romanticizing depression. Dark academia, particularly on social media, is also very white. The lack of diversity isn’t a standard any of us should look up to.

I think when celebrating an aesthetic and wanting to dive deeper – we also need to be aware of its problems. And hopefully push the aesthetic to be better (more inclusive, for example).

How to embrace and adopt the dark academia aesthetic.

Read these books & papers.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

This book has pretty much been hailed across social media as the dark academia aesthetic bible. But really. The Secret History has dark academia written all over it. The book takes place at an elite New England college and is packed with adventure, mystery, and secrets.

Honestly, my favorite Amazon review for this book is this amazing two star review: “I went to college during the years this seems to have been set, and almost none of it rang true. NO ONE wore fancy suits around campus, even for dramatic effect or as a pretentious affectation. And I went to a massive and diverse university. The characters run around in a drug and alcohol-soaked haze.”

I’m not even being sarcastic by saying this review is my favorite – it is. Because it touches on so much of what actually makes The Secret History a dark academia aesthetic must have…for better or worse. Elitism, drug and alcohol abuse, and plaid wool blazers.

Dead Poets Society by N.H. Kleinbaum.

Why did no one warn me how absolutely soul crushing the Robin Williams movie of Dead Poets Society was? I feel like someone should’ve warned me – so consider this my warning to you. Like truly all the posts about dark academia that I’ve seen say watching Dead Poets Society is a must do, so I did it, and I cried. Be prepared.

The Dead Poets Society is actually a book written by N.H. Kleinbaum. The story takes place at an elite school for boys called Welton Academy where the new English professor, John Keating, stirs up passionate lessons in non-conformity. Which, of course, is everything an elite school for boys hates. A group of his free thinking students form their own secret society, meeting over poetry readings and an appreciation for art, romance, and literature. The school hates it, the boys love it, and a whole lot of trouble ensues.

The entire aeshetic of Dead Poets Society, both the book and movie, hit dark academia on the nose. The story is sad, morose, brooding, and romantic. The location for the book and film is elitist and academic. The wardrobe in the move specifically has dark academia fashion written all over it (loads of plaid, wool, and muted tones). Even the music within the film exudes dark academia (with classical music galore). Even if you’re not diving down a dark academia rabbit hole, Dead Poets Society is worth both a read and a watch. Just like…bring some tissues.

The New York Times.

Want to look well read? Just carry around a copy of the New York Times. That’ll do it. Lolz.

But seriously – read the paper. Part of the dark academia aesthetic is being well read and informed, so keeping up with the news is a huge part of this lifestyle. One way we as a community can help widen the inclusivity, diversity, and breadth of the aesthetics is to read news not just from one source, but from a wide range of sources.

The Harry Potter Series.

No, Harry Potter isn’t technically part of the dark academia aesthetic. But it is fairly common to love Harry Potter and also really love dark academia. Harry Potter sort of reeks of dark academia. I mean – it’s literally about a dramatic, magical school. From the moody vibes of the house common rooms to the old, withered spell books, to the architecture of Hogwarts itself – it’s all got dark academia all over it.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

Build a dark academia wardrobe.

I’m really passionate about sustainability and capsule wardrobe dressing – luckily building a dark academia wardrobe is pretty darn similar to building a capsule wardrobe. Dark academia is definitely elitist and pretentious, but that’s more in overall vibe than brand name. Dark academia aesthetic clothes don’t necessarily need to be designer – but they are super specific. There are a handful of key pieces you’ll need to nail down the perfect set of dark academia outfits.

Mix and match muted tone tops & bottoms.

Dark academia style is all about muted tones. You won’t find pops of color here. Opt for black, white, grey, brown, and other neutral shades when selecting tops and bottoms. I recommend leaning into the capsule wardrobe philosophy of these items being “mix and match” – multiple tops pair well with multiple bottoms. This means you’ll get a ton more mileage out of your clothing than picking specific statement pieces that only pair well as a singular outfit rather than with many outfits.

To create dark academia aesthetic outfits, collared shirts, button down tops, and sweaters give off the academia vibe more so than a t-shirt does. Denim also isn’t often worn in dark academia, but rather/trousers slacks for men and slacks, skirts, and dresses for women. Black tights under a wool skirt is very dark academia. Extra points if the wool skirt is plaid.

*Fancy* shoes.

No one ever said dark academia would be comfortable. Lolz. I personally am such a sneaker girl myself, but the dark academia style guide calls for more chic foot ware. Think brooding artist: Doc Martens, mary janes, oxfords, sleek books, etc.

A plaid blazer.

I’ve honestly been looking for every excuse to add a plaid blazer to my wardrobe for ages now. I’ll take a page out of the dark academia book and use this blog post as my excuse to purchase one. Tax write off? Just kidding. Sort of.

But in all seriousness, the blazer is the dark academia aesthetic wardrobe staple. A blazer reeks of academics, boarding schools, elite ivy league colleges, and…well…privilege. Very dark academia.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

Give your home decor some dark academia flair.

Create an at home library or reading nook.

Those dark academia kids love their books. I’m curious if all the dark academia TikTokers actually read all the books they walk around with in their videos? But I digress. Building a library in hour home – even a modest one – is very dark academia aesthetic. You can pack your book collection with dark academia books, like those we listed above. But you can also pack it with fun fictional reads, the classics, whatever your heart desires. The key here is to have a space in your home dedicated to physical, not digital, books. Dark academia loves nostalgia and a Kindle doesn’t really fit the vibe.

Ballsy? Use dark academia aesthetic wallpaper to transform a room.

May I suggest a moody powder room? Such a vibe.

Wallpaper is really making a comeback. We recently wallpapered our guest room/office and have been loving the personality it’s added to the room. We also created a dark powder room downstairs by installing black and gold wallpaper – very dark academia aesthetic approved. Wallpaper is definitely a bit of a commitment, but it can totally transform a space. Our very average looking downstairs half bathroom is suddenly looking like a powder room you’d find in an upscale bar. I’m not opposed.

Infuse a little dark academia into the rest of your life.

Read more.

Reading is obviously a huge theme throughout this dark academia aesthetic guide – but it’s honestly a big piece of the aesthetic overall. Because dark academia romanticizes academics, reading is a key component. If you’re wanting to lean into this lifestyle, you’ll want to pick up some books (physical or digital). I’ve recently fallen in love with our local library. I’m able to use our library app to reserve books from any of the libraries across our county and pick them up from my local library, an easy ten minute walk away. I’ve been able to read so many amazing books for fun – and for free.

Learn a new language.

Again, romanticizing academics. Dark academia kids love to learn (maybe why so many of us are Ravenclaws?). Learning a new language and appreciating linguistics is a very dark academia thing to do. I’ve used Rosetta Stone for a few years now and found it gives a pretty great introduction to a new language. I’m currently dabbling in Italian.

Learn from those who live a different life than you.

This point is one I hope to see the dark academia aesthetic community grow into: an appreciation for diversity. Dark academia does romanticize elitism. Elite institutions are, at their core, white institutions. By romanticizing this type of education, we are in some ways romanticizing a lack of diversity and inclusion. It’s not cute – and I think the dark academia community can do better. If you want to live the dark academia lifestyle and lean into the aesthetic – but do it in a healthy, modern way – search to include those with different perspectives from your own.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

The dark academia aesthetic is everywhere. This guide contains the ins and outs of how to live into this moody, brood aesthetic.

Don’t take the aesthetic too seriously.

Stay healthy, my friends. As my favorite wise old wizard once said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” The dark academia aesthetic is just that – an aesthetic. Life is out there waiting for you. Curate your home or bedroom the way you like. Read all those books, watch all those movies. But also don’t forget to live. There’s more to life than academics.

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