Academia Aesthetics: Light and Dark

Note: This post contains affiliate links, when you purchase a product or service through one of these links we may earn a commission on that sale. 

If you have been active on social media, especially TikTok or Instagram, you are probably already familiar with the idea of an aesthetic. An aesthetic is a subculture centered around a set of tastes in things like fashion, music, art, and literature. Most people adopting an aesthetic tend to take up the look first. In a way, aesthetics are as old as the internet. In the late 90s and early 2000s, users would remember the emo and EGL (Elegant Gothic Lolita) fashion that was all over the internet, as were pop-punk bands.
As the name suggests, academia fashion borrows from classic poetry and literature. There is an element of romanticization of learning and universities. The pursuit of self-discovery and a general passion for knowledge and learning is the underlying theme. Think updated tweeds and librarian chic. Think about professors from the 80s and 90s and what they would wear if they were fashion-forward in 2021. This is the trend that very much embodies the statement “smart is the new sexy.” The aesthetic also takes inspiration from movies set in universities in the yesteryears, such as Dead Poets Society and Mona Lisa Smile.
As the name suggests, light Academia focuses on the positive, happier, lighter aspects of the overall aesthetic. Lean into classic books with happy endings (like Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and poems with optimistic messages (for example, I wandered lonely as a cloud by William Wordsworth). The clothing includes linen shorts, Mary Jane shoes or aged leather oxfords, crisp cotton button-down shirts, and wire-framed spectacles. The color palettes are almost reminiscent of school uniforms – white, neutral browns, and navy. The much lighter tones and fabrics make it suitable for spring and summer. This is the well-read cousin of cottagecore.

Dark Academia, on the other hand, is brooding, mysterious, and prone to existential questioning. The desperate yearning of an Emily Bronte poem, the darkness of Edgar Allen Poe. The questioning of human nature and societal structures. The rebellion brewing in a dimly lit library. Tweed trousers and skirts paired with argyle sweaters, heavy leather boots, and warm brown and burgundy palette are all staples of this aesthetic. A younger, knowledge-seeking version of the goth walks around with heavy leather-bound books that they have read.

The most extensive critique of these aesthetics is that they are both Eurocentric (universities in the rest of the world, many far more ancient than their western counterparts, looked quite different) and classist – the tweed-and-leather-wearing specimens that went to elite universities that were, especially in the 20th century, an extremely affluent class. Many British and American elite universities are considered a bastion of the rich. However, the core of the aesthetic is not the clothes; it is the idea that learning- especially learning the arts and the philosophies- is romanticized. It can translate to whatever that means to you.

Must Read

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here