The Dark Academia Aesthetic: A Definite Guide

The Dark Academia Aesthetic: A Definite Guide

On July 15, 2020, a Wikipedia page under the name of “Dark Academia” was created due to the sudden increase in popularity of the term all over social media. With academies being shut due to the pandemic, the disciples took to social platforms to create a digital community following their niche interests and academia aesthetics by creating artistic TikTok videos, eye-pleasing mood boards, aesthetic compilations, outfits, and more!

What is Dark Academia?

Rooted in classical intellectual themes, Dark academia is an aesthetic subculture that romanticizes the endless pursuit of knowledge and passion for one’s subject. The subculture is an avid follower of art, wisdom, culture, and classic literature with dark and broody undertones. This curious cult enjoys historical facts, Greek tragedies, mysterious Gothic buildings, poetry collections, along with literary canons interwoven with homoerotism, romance, betrayal, existentialism, and death.

Pursuit of the aesthetic

Some of the activities Dark Academia scholars love to indulge themselves in daily life are Calligraphy, listening to Chopin under a dim candle seeping tea from a vintage china cup, reading murder mysteries, journaling, visiting art galleries and museums, curling up in one corner of the library reading Greek tragedies with utmost devotion, making coffee, writing in cursive on parchment paper,  handwritten notes, leather-bound diaries, philosophical debates, and more.

Dark Academia fashion

The Dark Academia looks, contrasted by the aesthetic twin Light Academia, taking to retro fashion, are inspired by the 1940s prep school uniforms with muted and earthy tones that incorporate elements such as argyle sweaters, vests, long coats, turtlenecks, plaid skirts, and tweed blazers with a color scheme consisting of blacks, tans, beige, and ivory. Accessories are kept minimal with cufflinks, bracelets, earrings paired with oxford shoes. Academia followers have an androgynous style and open approach in their community, making it accessible and affordable for every individual.

The ambassadors of Dark Academia

The famous fictional characters that embody the Dark Academia aesthetic flawlessly are Cheryl Blossom, Severus Snape, and Mun Yeong from Riverdale, Harry Potter, and It’s ok to not be ok respectively. The assorted members of both Ravenclaw and Slytherin houses carry the ambition, enigma, and thrill with mysterious secrets that the Dark Academia subculture represents.

Visual Arts

1618 – Prometheus Bound, Peter Paul Rubens

Based on the Greek play Prometheus Bound, this classic dense composition of Mythology represents the Demigod Prometheus being punished by Zeus for giving the secret of fire to mortal man. The Eagle, a symbol of Zeus, feeds upon his liver every day, while Prometheus is tied to Mount Caucasus permanently. The painting clearly symbolizes the writhing agony of Prometheus, the rich influence of Michaelangelo, the color schemes of Italy, and the allegorical orchestra of Baroque art.

c. 1490-1510 – The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch 

The Garden of Earthly Delights is the most prominent and celebrated work of Bosch. The work is an altarpiece triptych with three panels all depicting a journey of humans from abundance to sins on earthly realms.

The left panel depicts the Garden of Eden where God is blessing the union of Adam and Eve surrounded by animals, nature, mystical creatures. The central oak panel represents the rise of humanity with various mortal beings interacting in a blissful manner surrounded by abundance. In the last panel, it points towards the disgraceful fall of humanity covered in darkness and chaos, whilst the humans are in a constant troubled state.

“A satirical comment on the shame and sinfulness of mankind,” is the most popular interpretation of Bosch’s painting by José de Siguenza in 1605.

1603-04 – The Entombment/Deposition, Caravaggio

This oil on canvas painting illustrates a journey of emotional questions as the mourners carry Christ’s body to the burial. The painting progresses diagonally from disbelief of Christ’s execution, pain & agony of his departure, questions for the future to acceptance of death depicted by mourners and Christ respectively completing the emotional arc of this high renaissance painting by Carravagio.

Visual Media

Kill your darlings

An extraordinary and true narrative of Literature, Obsession, and Murder featuring Danielle Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr and their gleaming onscreen chemistry. The film follows through uneasy curveballs as the protagonists discover their way through love, friendship, school, teenage desires, and pioneering moments of the Beat generation.

The Theory of Everything

There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. However bad life may seem, while there is life, there is hope.

– Stephen Hawking

The unmatchable wit is what ties Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-winning performance and Stephen Hawking. The movie tells the tale of an extraordinary story of Hawking’s family based on the book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde – played here by Felicity Jones. The brilliant use of color, beautiful acting, and exquisite cinematography leave one with the utmost respect for the real and reel life characters.

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game is a well-paced and scripted piece on the genius of Alan Turing, the father of Computer science portrayed beamingly by Benedict Cumberbatch who deciphered the Nazi code machine and lead the English to win in World War II and saved over 14 million lives and two years worth of war. This moving biopic comprises of snappy banters, historical moments, inventions, war, mental illness, and the dreadful consequences of homosexuality in old Britain.

Black Swan

The ‘Humans are the scariest beings on this planet’ quote really comes to life in this psychological horror. Portrayed thrillingly by Natalie Portman under the voyeurist direction of Darren Aronofsky, the protagonist leaves one feeling anxious about trust in self and others, a Freudian nightmare. The movie transcends from a perfectionist artist using her art as a coping mechanism to the terrors and obsession with her art eventually throwing her on the brink of insanity and obsession.


A single dream is more powerful than thousand realities.

J R R Tolkien

Based on the fantasy forefather, J R R Tolkien, the writer of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of Rings,” the biopic is backed with a wonderful soundtrack as it revolves around love, friendship, and artistic inspiration during the outbreak of World War I. The movie dives into the deep pool of enchantment completed by three intertwining tales of one man- the making of a writer, mourning the violent monstrosity of war, and learning to love a woman.


The Secret History

“It was a clear, black morning, encrusted with stars.”

Known as the Bible of Dark Academia, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History quickly became recognized not only in the brainy literary community but also in commercial fiction societies. The Pulitzer-winner author’s work is a nerve-wracking narration of murder, sex, drugs, and menace that follows the story of a closely-knit group of six classics students who reflect on the murder of their friend and the events that led to it.


“There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.”

The Modern Prometheus is a gothic horror novel by Mary Shelley which follows a compelling journey filled with the anguish of a monster and his creator Victor Frankenstein who discovers the power to breathe life into inanimate beings which ultimately led to the latter’s miserable doom. The narrative is complex and is exceptionally well told and throws an enthralling light on the relation of the monster and his creator.

The Brothers Karamazov

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

The story concerns the Karamazov family comprising a father and his three sons who encounter murder and robbery in gruesome mid-nineteenth-century Russia. The Dostoevsky novel is a highly existential work that deals with the narration of humans and their suffering and questions the purpose of human existence and its moral fiber.

Why is it under scrutiny?

The Dark Academia subculture, however, has been under a lot of scrutiny due to the constant portrayal of Elitism and Eurocentric elements. Inherently this aesthetic culture was inspired by Ivy League colleges which resulted in it being white and rich predominantly. However, the youthquake is constantly working towards it being doable by anyone interested, resulting in the promotion of cultural inclusion amongst the subculture.