Dark Academia SparkNotes: Put a Little Prep in Your Step With This Literary Aesthetic


Do you have all the fall feels yet? If bundling up in blankets and reaching for a book tops your bucket list, we’ve got a trend for you. Let us introduce you to dark academia. This all-encompassing movement elicits a penchant for all things literary and scholarly. We’re giving the dark academia aesthetic a warm welcome for our chilly weather woes. OK, get comfy. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s start our study session to discover if this fashion genre is up your alley.

What Is Dark Academia?

Dark academia is a subculture that evokes an enduring love of learning. It originated in 2015 by a small group of Tumblr users. Students stumbled upon the dark academia aesthetic while hunkered down at home during the pandemic in 2020. Yearning for familiarity, they sought out all things educational. From visiting libraries virtually to handwritten notes to diving into a good book, this social group fit the bill. Dark academia went on to gain popularity on Tik Tok and Instagram, introducing more communities to a new generation. 

Dark academia outfits take their cue from the hallowed halls of boarding schools. The Ivy Leagues and western universities like Oxford and Cambridge also feature prominently in the aesthetic. The unofficial uniform includes preppy mix-and-match staples—luxe fabrications like cashmere and worsted wool reign supreme. Keeping patterns to a minimum is essential, with plaid, houndstooth and argyle making the grade. Most important for dark academia fashion is the juxtaposition of light and dark colors. The palette that pops for this moody aesthetic comprises timeless black, brown, hunter green, navy and burgundy. Contrasted with cream, orange and gold, picture yourself roaming the school halls. 

Dark academia aesthetic outfits have a decidedly autumnal feel. Favorite activities for enthusiasts include calligraphy, visiting museums and libraries and passing time at coffee shops. Similar to the cabincore trend, while fireside hangs are a top priority, so is getting outside. Pastoral scenes with a dose of drizzle and fog add to the allure. Are you ready to try dark academia style on for size? Let us be your guide. Keep scrolling as we explore just a little more.

“My education was neglected, yet I was passionately fond of reading.” — Mary Shelley, “Frankenstein”

How To Dress Dark Academia

The beauty and simplicity of dark academia fashion lie in its accessibility. Borrowing from American prep staples, all you need are a few women’s wardrobe heroes. Stock up on sweaters, button-down shirts, trousers and skirts. This trend has found its way to the New York and Paris runways. Showcasing academic-inspired ensembles—the pleated mini skirt is back. Also spotted on the catwalk? Oversized sweaters and tons of tweed. Pop on a vintage piece like a borrowed blazer from your grandpa’s closet as the perfect outfit topper. Staying in to study never looked so chic. 

“Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.” — Virginia Woolf, “Orlando”

Wardrobe Wonders for the New School Uniform 

The dark academia aesthetic is easily attainable. To build a bookish wardrobe, grab a few basics that you can effortlessly combine. Start with a simple white shirt. The choice is yours. Either a menswear-inspired Oxford shirt or opt for a feminine white blouse with exaggerated details. We’re talking puff sleeves and a ruffle or two. This old-school-style staple gets an A+ in our book. 

Layering is key, and there are a plethora of possibilities for sweater season. Add a cable-knit pullover in inky navy blue over a white button-down. Go bold and make a statement with a popped collar. If your blouse features romantic sleeve details, make the vest of it. A toasty angora sweater vest will top off your look in a refined way. Are you ready to brainstorm ideas for matching your shirt and sweater set with the perfect bottom? We are, too.

Choose from an array of trousers, corduroys and plaid skirts to pair with your dynamic top duo. Incorporate patterns and textures here for the ultimate dark academia fashion aesthetic. A tactile texture like a wide wale corduroy will give off vintage vibes. For a more contemporary feel, select a pinwale cord with narrow ridges. Both will keep you warm and suit the professorial feel you’re reaching for. If pattern play is more your speed, go for a tartan skirt. From mini, midi and maxi to pleated and pencil—you’ve got options. A black watch plaid effortlessly combines the deep blues and greens often found in this aesthetic. See? All you need are a few women’s closet classics. 

Bundle up In Lovely Layers

It’s time to perfect your layering game for the ultimate dark academia fashion. Let your outerwear shine in the spotlight for trips to the café to meet with friends for book club. When considering your choices, let the weather be your guide. 

A mild day with a gentle breeze calls for a blanket scarf in a warm wooly windowpane to keep snuggly. Are rain clouds threatening your day with a sprinkle or two? If so, a women’s trench coat is in order. A heritage trench is the go-to layer in-between seasons. Wear it over a belted shirtdress, fleece-lined tights and tall boots. Or, style it with a monochromatic look featuring a black turtleneck, wide-leg trousers and ankle boots. A trench adds sophistication and poetic style to your wardrobe.

For bone-chilling wintery days when you need your layers to work overtime, don’t be afraid to double up. Think comfy cardigans paired with pea coats or oversized tweed blazers worn under long-line wool coats. When shedding your outerwear upon arrival at your destination, you’ll be happy to sport a bonus layer. The name of the dark academia fashion outfit game is all about mastering the art of layering. Are you up to the challenge?

Dark Academia Shoes: These Boots Are Made for Walking…to the Library

For long walks across campus to get to the library, you’re going to need a comfortable pair of shoes. Ready for your cheat sheet for selecting the proper footwear for the dark academia aesthetic? Boots are the universal pick for wearing with all of your intellectual ensembles. The perennial favorite of the dark academia community is hands down a lace-up boot with on-trend lug-soles. Runner-ups include Chelsea boots, Mary Janes, feminine Oxfords and women’s loafers. Stick with neutral colors like black, brown and burgundy for versatility. We adore a slouchy and scrunched-up patterned sock paired with ankle boots for personal flair.

Is a slip-on shoe more your speed? No need to fret over penny or tassel when selecting a lifelong loafer to include in your collection. Either brand new or pre-loved, both styles will cover a lot of ground. Complete the sartorial picture with knee-high socks and a pleated skirt. This timeless look harkens back to your old-school uniform that will perfectly capture the dark academia style. 

“Seek the fashion which truly fits and benefits you. You will always be in fashion if you are true to yourself, and only if you are true to yourself.” — Maya Angelou, “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now”

Academic Accoutrement Must-Haves 

Say goodbye to the digital age. Accessories of the dark academia aesthetic include trading in your e-reader for leather-bound books and swapping your keyboard for inkwells. Get ready. When digging deep into classic literature, journaling with fountain pens and perfecting your cursive can quickly become new hobbies. Along with studious accessories like wire-framed glasses, timepieces are essential to the trend. Reserve your digital sport watch for workouts and opt for a timekeeper with a leather band. Or, bring in a little pop culture and take a page out of Hermione Granger’s book. After all, this style is giving us all the Harry Potter feels. Accessorize your cozy knit turtleneck sweater with a pendant à la the infamous time-turner necklace. Dark academia is all about turning back the clock to bygone eras on a pursuit of self-discovery. 

“See where she comes, apparell’d like the spring.” — William Shakespeare, “Pericles, Prince of Tyre”

How To Dress Dark Academia in the Summer 

Wondering how to bring this preppy-meets-gothic style into sweltering summer months? The tweed blazers, cable-knit sweaters and corduroys that define dark academia fashion may not work in summer. Depending on where you’re located, you’ll need to lighten up your colors and fabrications. Add linen and crisp cotton blends to the mix when the mercury rises in your thermostat. The style essentials remain the same, however. Tuck a short-sleeve linen shirt into paper bag waist pants. For finishing touches, select loafers and grab friends for an alfresco poetry jam. Swap dark forest greens for sage and deep blues for sky hues. Go ahead and borrow nap dresses from the cottagecore trend. Stick with antique prints, but for summer, trade trusty tartans for delicate details and ditsy florals. These style hacks offer a bit of whimsy during summer while still evoking the academic look you seek.

Light Academia: The New Trend on the Block

Like the dark academia aesthetic, light academia includes a passion for the arts and literature. This romantic aesthetic has an optimistic approach with a sunny outlook on life. Literally. You’ll find enthusiasts outdoors at a picnic, socializing, laughing and partaking in chess matches en plein air. The iconic sweaters, plaids and trench coats still take center stage. Simply incorporate lightweight fabrications to the mix and a fresh palette of colors. We’re pairing pastels like blush, lavender, cornflower and seafoam with traditional autumn and winter hues to capture the trend. You don’t have to save light academia for warm weather. Take this cheery approach to scholarly staples year-round.

Are you ready to dip your toes in the dark academia aesthetic? Our team of style experts are ready to lend a helping hand. Take your style quiz and request an outfit suited for all of your literary liaisons. Or, instantly buy curated pieces for your style using Stitch Fix Freestyle™. Sit back, relax and get five pieces delivered directly to your doorstep. Buy what you love, return the rest. Shipping, returns and exchanges are always free. 

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