The Lure of the Subculture of ‘Dark Academia’

Among the many subcultures that cropped up over the ages is ‘Dark Academia’ – an aesthetic or way of life inspired by classic literature. It’s an aesthetic that finds a home in movies like Dead Poets Society and Dorian Gray and books like The Secret History and A Little Life.

Dark Academia romanticises the university life and builds an aesthetic around longing and suffering. It revolves around reading classics and history, reciting poetry, writing letters, going to coffee shops and book shops, studying in candlelight, listening to classical music, spending hours in libraries and museums and being part of secret societies.

The aesthetic also has its own lookbook and, needless to say, it has a strong vintage vibe. It’s all about turtlenecks, long coats, cigarette pants, plaid skirts, oxford shoes and messenger bags, usually in dark, earthy colours like beige, brown, burgundy, dark green, grey etc. Essentially, many who are a part of the subculture play out of a 19th century lifestyle in the 21st first century.

Recently, the Dark Academia aesthetic became a major internet trend, leading to more and more people joining the community. Tumblr, Instagram and TikTok are filled with photos and videos related to Dark Academia and the literary witches and wizards are loving it. Some videos with the hashtag #darkacademia have received over 15 million views on TikTok.

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From videos and posts on Instagram that are garnering millions of hits, mood boards are also a major hit. Somebody even posted on Tumblr about their desire to start a secret Dark Academia society leading to discussions on how such secret societies already exist – which is more than likely as many universities in the US have had secret societies, ones that followed a similar aesthetic.

But it’s not a completely rosy picture. Dark Academia has been called out for being Eurocentric and elitist. Some believe that it represents white supremacy and idealises European literature, art, languages and architecture over those of other regions. It has also been criticised for influencing people to choose and follow unhealthy paths, alongside romanticising alcoholism and mental illnesses.

Interestingly, this criticism has led to the emergence of Light Academia and Grey Academia as alternatives to Dark Academia – but they haven’t been able to gain as much popularity.

And though Dark Academia has its problems, it is also about being your true self and celebrating it. It’s about strong friendships, living life freely and living in the moment. It’s about not being afraid of doing things you love. It’s about keeping poetry and art alive.

Tamanna Malik is an English Literature student at Gargi College, Delhi University. 

Featured image credit: Napendra Singh/Unsplash