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The Dark Academia starter pack

Despite being popularized on TikTok, the Dark Academia trend appeals to many generations. Find out how to make it work this fall and beyond.
The Dark Academia starter pack | EDITED

With digital learning the new norm, students are yearning to return to pre-pandemic school and college life.

Move over Cottagecore, Dark Academia is the new subculture to be aware of. Built on romanticizing the darker elements of the classics melded with New England private school nostalgia, this subculture has transcended TikTok and struck a chord with consumers of all generations to dress for a new future in a time of uncertainty. Find out how to invest in this growing movement…

Get in touch to see EDITED in action and learn how to tap into this emerging profile with the world’s largest retail data source.

The Dark Academia starter pack | EDITED

Defining the trend

A passion for knowledge

Dark Academia revolves around scholarly pursuits and a love of learning driven by the nostalgia for pre-pandemic classes and an aesthetic stemming from 19th century private English boarding schools and Ivy League colleges.

Preppy with a Gothic twist

This subculture draws on darker elements, which come through in the wardrobe, making it a moodier alternative to preppy dressing. Inspiration is taken from the classic Greek arts, writing and architecture underpinned with Gothic elements and the concept of death.

Books and music

Reading is essential with Donna Tartt’s The Secret History listed as the signature text following a broad book list spanning Greek tragedies, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and the Harry Potter series. The latter serves as an inspiration for younger children’s interest in the trend. The expansive music selection attached also adds to its generational reach, where you’ll find Liszt, Leonard Cohen and Lorde all on a Dark Academia playlist.

The activities

Indoor activities resonate the most in this subculture with chess, calligraphy and card games an essential pastime outside of reading and studying. College sports serve as another way to envoke Dark Academia – think rowing, tennis, cricket, horse riding and archery. Visiting libraries, museums, art galleries and thrift stores serve as popular backdrops for this aesthetic on social media.

The Dark Academia starter pack | EDITED
Warner Bros. Pictures

Why it’s important

It creates a sense of community during the digital school era

Interest in the subculture has piqued as the season turns, making it the perfect changeover from summer-orientated Cottagecore. #DarkAcademia has racked up over 55m views on TikTok. Then over recent months, worldwide Google searches have shot up as the fate of in-person learning is discussed as students go back-to-school or college.

The romanticizing of academia reveals a yearning to return to studies with the cohort opting to dress in a style that keeps them connected and creates familiarity during uncertain circumstances. With digital learning and homeschooling now the new norm, building a community through fashion is more important than ever, making this trend a priority for retailers to adapt for all ages.

The Dark Academia starter pack | EDITED

It’s open to everybody

Like most trends popularised on TikTok, Dark Academia is size-inclusive and gender-free. It resonates with the queer community credited to a mutual love of books and films centered on LGBTQ+ characters. Despite its focus on the classics and taking sartorial cues from elitist society, the trend rejects classism and stereotypes while creating an open community welcoming all ages, genders and sexualities.

XOXO – Gossip Girl’s back!

The much-hyped return of everyone’s favorite Upper East Siders has been confirmed with shooting for the reboot slated for October. Revisiting the characters’ penchant for preppy dressing will give further longevity to the trend, appealing to Gen Z. At the same time, the nostalgia will create buy-in from the millennial consumers who grew up watching the OG series.


Earth tones are central to the aesthetic, spanning forest greens, browns, beige and soft yellows. For fall, burnt orange and deep reds are also key. While in spring, transitional greys and creams will come to the fore.

Print & fabric

Preppy checks are the go-to print, with Argyle and houndstooth popular in varying scales. Fall-friendly wool, tweed and corduroy fabrics are important, while linen and cotton tops are key layering pieces.


Inspiration: Gossip Girl • Hermione Granger • Jo March from Little Women • Jane Eyre • Dior Fall 2020 • Burberry Fall 2020 • Baum und Pferdgarten Spring 2021

Apparel: fine & chunky knit cardigans • turtlenecks • check/tweed/leather blazers • check trousers & skirts • v-neck sweaters • corduroy • white shirts & blouses • pinafores

Footwear & accessories: brogues • loafers • Mary Janes • Dr. Martens • combat boots • crossbody bags • pendants • tan belts • watches • vintage jewelry • long socks


Inspiration: Kill Your Darlings • Timothée Chalamet • Peaky Blinders • Sherlock • R.Mutt Fall 2020

Apparel: varsity cardigans • cable-knit sweaters • turtlenecks • checked trousers • pea coats • duffle coats • oxford shirts • tweed blazers • cigarette trousers

Footwear & Accessories: brogues • penny loafers • plaid scarfs • satchel bags • briefcases • Chelsea boots • combat boots


Inspiration: Harry Potter • A Series Of Unfortunate Events • Riverdale • KidzFIZZ Fall 2020

Apparel: elbow-patched cardigans • Peter Pan collar dresses • pinafores • cord trousers • Oxford shirts • turtlenecks • plaid skirts • earth toned chinos • duffle coat • pea coats

Footwear & Accessories: hair ribbons • T-bar shoes • loafers • brooches & badges • knee-high socks • grey/brown tights • Alice bands

Beauty inspiration

For beauty trends to buy into, Dark Academia requires minimal coverage. There is no need to promote under eye concealer as dark circles from staying up all night reading or studying are displayed with pride.

Lip color is either wine/berry-stained or nude and cheeks are flushed – think just coming in from the cold. For fragrances, earthy and woody smells conjure up memories of old books or sitting by the fireplace are a shoo-in with this cohort.

How to promote

For now

While retailers haven’t explicitly mentioned Dark Academia, the aesthetic is still woven into new season communications, thanks to it aligning with many of fall’s top trends. Pull items into product edits and complement them with relevant imagery to capture the aesthetic. Blazers and long coats should be pushed as hero pieces. While back-to-college promotions are in a different light this year, core items like loafers and turtlenecks should feature in relevant edits for customers to create the school look on or off-campus.

For SS21

Light Academia is another branch of the subculture that has a similar aesthetic refreshed through lighter color options and fabrics. Trans-seasonal products will be essential – think flowy dresses, white sweaters, straight leg trousers and cardigans. Comfort has been an ongoing priority over the pandemic and will remain important so promote lightweight fabrics including linen, organic cotton, silk and breathable properties. With sourcing vintage pieces a key activity within the community, push sustainable ranges for extra appeal.

Other subcultures of note

  • Scene: The E-Girl and E-Boy following grew from this anti-mainstream aesthetic, which has resurfaced under the hashtags #scenegirls and #sceneboys on TikTok.
  • Femboy: A movement of males who express their feminity through fashion, beauty and behaviors – though not always indicative of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Witchy: Witchcraft and an interest in the occult grew as an outlet of escapism during lockdown.
  • Fairy Academia: Drawing parallels with Cottagecore, this mystical subculture favors nature and fairytales.

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Contributions by Katherine Bailey, Katharine Carter and Kayla Marci