The Subculture of Dark Academia

Madeline Dorau, Assistant Editor

Different styles and aesthetics such as dark academia, skater girl/boy, and indie have been popular in the past few years and more of them are being created and exposed to our society. At first, aesthetic was a term used in describing a pleasurable appearance visually, mostly portrayed in popular culture through pictures but the more gradually we developed these aesthetics, the term aesthetic was soon used under newly created micro-aesthetics which were different types of aesthetics and soon, we began fitting them to portray and idolize certain time frames, activities, and fashion that created a subculture. And this can be very problematic.

As each decade progressed, the relevance of media and entertainment increased, thus adding to the trends people had picked up on and we’ve created cliche staples of those ‘trends’ and aesthetics. A less heard of aesthetic is dark academia which surrounds its elements around England during the 90s and emphasizes the arts and literature, especially in prestige private schools. These specific elements were inspired by the novel ‘The Secret History’ written by Donna Tartt in 1992 which followed a strange group of college students attending an elite university in New England and discussing old literature and dead languages.

It wasn’t until 2015 that this idea of dark academia became existent, still not yet the lifestyle it has become now. The term ‘dark’ was added due to the interests of those in the subculture, being forbidden and unusual (commonly being cults, murder, or secret clubs). Then, movies that were produced carrying similar traits to this fed more into the fashion of this subculture (films like Dead Poet’s Society, Mona Lisa Smile, and Kill Your Darlings)- that being of many layers, tweed blazers and corduroy, dress pants and shoes, and long coats, similarly all in earth-toned colors and shades of brown.

Fashion is only part of this aesthetic, now there are certain activities to partake in for the authenticity of dark academia. Playing a classical instrument was encouraged as well as learning languages such as Latin, Ancient Greek, and French. This subculture even embraced characteristics to fit this aesthetic, being moody and mysterious while barely speaking to anyone, and even included drug use or smoking to add to the mysterious and traditional traits of the time period. 

This subculture is certainly not problematic but it builds a lifestyle around an image and idea of how we portray and romanticize this aesthetic. These can be influential to others, leading to exposure and knowledge due to the elements of reading and learning old history. But dark academia is only part of the giant group of other subcultures our society has made.