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Hi! I am Asta! I am a philologist and a philocalist to the heart's core. Here I share things that I consider being aesthetic and fantastic!

3 Oct 2020

What is Dark Academia and Why We Should Embrace It

As the autumn finally settles down outside our windows, it's time to delve into one of the topics that caught my particular attention. The Dark Academia. 

Considering myself as belonging to the world of academia, I decided to analyze what does this phenomenon consists of and... am I a part of it?

Dark Academia (or DA) is a term that defines a subculture and its particular aesthetic that gained popularity on social media, such as TikTok and Instagram. I would argue that tumblr also has its fair share in spreading this certain phenomenon. DA, to quote, "is a subculture for those with a thirst to learn. Be it Greek mythology, European literature, or 19th century philosophy, this aesthetic will inspire you to read beside a crackling fireplace and take in pages of ancient knowledge." [1]. In "The New York Times" article one can come across such definition: "it is a subculture with a heavy emphasis on reading, writing, learning — and a look best described as traditional-academic-with-a-gothic-edge" [2]. So, initially, it is an old-school academia image (think boarding schools, colleges, universities, Dead Poets Society, The Inklings and all that jazz...) with a dark twist (e.g. The Secret History by Donna Tartt). Because, you know, those dark halls, stuffed-to-the-brim old libraries and stone-paved courtyards just must have some secrets. However, the element of dark aside, it all boils down to the subculture that puts an emphasis on knowledge and all the attributes that represent it. Hence, first of all we have to delve into the visual side of it and discuss its...


From what I see, DA aesthetics is mostly reflected in clothing and interior (as a whole or its details). The first words that come to my mind are antique/vintage, books, tweed, candles, dim light, dried flowers, Latin quotes, and I could continue this list further, but, basically, it's the romanticized image of Victorian era and its elements (plus, some elements from the first half of the XXth century). When I say Victorian, I mean especially around the time when Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Gaskell, Brontë sisters were alive and gothic literature was gaining quite an attention (let's not forget the penny dreadful series for the wide masses!). 

The DA style, based on my research on ye olde Pinterest [3] consists of some staple elements, like turtlenecks, shirts, trousers/skirts, jackets/blazers. They all are in muted, earthy colours and tones, but dressing in black is also an option. Wool, silk and other natural fibers are what one needs to search when shopping for this particular look. When it comes to shoes, a pair of leather brogues are the go-to, but there are some other options, like loafers or sturdier dr. Martens. Mary Janes and heels are fine too, as long as they are black or in other dark colour. 

   Other accessories might include modest jewelry, spectacles (preferably round), a scarf, a leather satchel or a doctor's bag, and, of course, a book (!). 

   In general, one should aim for that old-timey Oxford university student/professor aesthetic, and it should work out just fine. The DA's goal is to look well read and cleverly dressed. 

When it comes to interior and the little details, as I understood from the images associated with the DA aesthetic, once again it's based on  the generalized impression of antique libraries and home studies. Thrifted furniture, old books, vases with dried flowers, old paintings and photographs, vinyl records, lots of candles, fountain pens and letter paper... It's all there. 

The idea of (re)decorating your home in this antique fashion sounds expensive and challenging, but there are plenty of examples, how people create this aesthetic [4] on a budget and in a small scale. DA focuses on bringing out that study atmosphere, because, as I've pointed out before, it's all about the knowledge and encouraging one to study. Well, at least on the surface. So let's talk about the...


Let's address the elephant in the room: is Dark Academia just an aesthetic that declares the want for knowledge, but carries a book around just for a decoration? Well, in my opinion, it's both yes and no.

   The yes part comes from the fact that some people can be drawn by the aesthetics or romanticized mysterious lifestyle [5], but not by the core idea itself. To look smart and to aspire to become smart indeed are two different things. As youtuber R.C. Waldun points out in one of his videos, forcing yourself to study and to read poetry or ancient Greek plays "might not align with your values. <...> There's the danger: if you want to embody the Dark Academia aesthetics by forcing yourself to learn subjects that you otherwise just would never touch - that's a common thing that I just wouldn't really recommend. <...> by God, don't dive into things <...> that you don't exactly want to learn about just for the sake of aesthetics. There's nothing aesthetic about poring over a book and hating it." This is what he calls an approach from outside [6]. 

    To engage in DA fully, one must study (hence the academia part), and (preferably) study a lot. Because as far as I gather, the whole concept of this subculture is the glorification of a life-long process of learning. And it is a marvelous thing! It's a process that brings you joy, that you feel like you live for. A book in that case must be used to make you smart, not to make you look smart. When you think carefully, DA is celebrating the (humanities) nerd culture with the cool visuals being just an upgrade, but the essence stays the same - litterarum radices amarae, fructus dulces. 


    The no part of the answer is going to get personal, so beware of subjectivity...

   From when I was a little kid, it felt that I might find my place in academia. I read books on archaeology, over and over again fell in love with Greek myths when I was in elementary school; I read and re-read a book on Tutankhamun and other pharaohs so many times, that I could quote some parts by heart. I was living in a world of mine, where studying was always what quenched my curiosity and made me go forward. I knew that I am going to study either humanities or arts, so I concentrated mostly on these subjects, leaving all the "hard science" aside. Besides reading  extensively, playing piano, learning French, English, Latin and Japanese, I was writing poetry, sewing clothes, drawing, and getting an education as good as my small town's gymnasium could offer. When I entered the university, I've spent most of my time in reading rooms, libraries, or just reading in the corridors of my alma mater and enjoying the life of a student. I went out with my friends to grab a pint of beer, but my No. 1 preferred activity always was (and still is) a book or a movie at home, accompanied by a cup of tea (or a dram of whisky, depends on the mood). My whole wardrobe consisted of thrifted items, I collected various knick-knacks, loved looking at old photographs, enjoyed turning over the pages of even older books and liked to wander the streets of Vilnius oldtown while listening to my favorite music (from System of a Down to Chopin). In 2014 I started working in the archives, and couple of years ago, before I got my PhD (thus planting myself in the context that I've aspired to see myself in), my love for old things and vintage clothing started to crystalize into a more precise lifestyle and aesthetic. And one of it's key part's is this late XIX - early XX century imagery (as well as the interwar period) and writings of people in academia. Tweed blazers, long skirts, white high-collared blouses, waistcoats, hands full of books, heads buzzing with ideas. I understood that this is my jam

   Less than couple of months ago, thanks to one particular video by Bernadette Banner [7], I came to know that my (life)style has a name. Dark Academia. At first it was strange to know that there's a whole subculture that is dedicated to this particular aesthetic. But now I am wastly enjoying it, because my approach was, as R.C. Waldun put it in the aforementioned video, from inside out. The name fit my choices instead of me trying to meet all the "requirements" of this particular aesthetic.

    But is there an element of dark in my approach to the DA style, one might inquire. 
   I research plague and other contagious and infectious diseases in folklore. 
     I think it is as dark, as it can get.

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