Dark academia is essentially the romanticisation of the pursuit of knowledge. This theme has its roots in concepts such as higher education, archaic structures, classical literature, Greek mythology, wisdom and, curiosity. And, its recent rise to popularity is undeniable.
As an aesthetic with its basis in concepts that had hitherto been deemed “uncool”, its sudden arrival into mainstream media is an occurrence that was, for the most part, unexpected. Characterised by tweed, plaid, wine, literature, and a chaotic disposition, the foundations of this subculture lie in the past.
Academia has traditionally been seen as a driving force in society that seeks to keep us from falling into the potholes of superstition, irrational thought, and fallacies, as well as to answer questions asked by the ever-growing curiosity of humans. Academics were mocked, ostracised, and excluded from society, which makes the acceptance and imbibing of their way of life a massive change in trajectory.
The popular subculture has its beginnings in the mid-18th - 19th century. This period is characterised by the dawn of a new, more scientific world. Society had previously perceived science and religion as two sides of the same coin, but with the arrival of a new era of academics, the superstitious beliefs that society had held onto were coming under question.
Capitalism had led to the birth of an autonomous society that required the exchange of ideas and answers to long-held questions. It also brought about the mass production of textiles in this period, which led to the popularity of tweed, wools, and linens amongst academics – fabrics that we now fundamentally associate with the Dark Academia aesthetic. The exchange of knowledge and ideas had begun to occur between countries, due to the voyages of academics to different parts of the world. Proficiency in the areas of art, music, literature, debate, etc. was encouraged to a higher degree than before, making the pursuit of the same far more widespread. Wine, a drink previously only enjoyed by the higher class of society, began to be made available to classes of lower social ranking and tea became cheaper, which introduced the two main beverage constituents of the modern aesthetic.
Reading amongst the middle class began to skyrocket, and literacy rates increased quickly. With the introduction of a more extensive range of reading material to its members, society was also introduced to new ideas, concepts and perspectives. People began to read their writing out to small audiences, debates became more commonplace, and political and social knowledge that was previously accessible only to the State and religious authorities, was now available to whoever had the means to acquire it. Such an atmosphere laid the groundwork to form the aesthetic we’ve fallen in love with today.
Dark academia currently focuses less on the inherent need to pursue knowledge and seek answers to the questions one may have, but more so on the 'look' of such a personality. The aesthetics’ fashion is characterised by blazers, sweaters, turtlenecks, satchels – anything you’d envision an Ivy League-going academic of the past wearing. Its influences on mainstream fashion are obvious, with the increasing demand for wardrobes full of neutral tones such as grey, black, and brown as opposed to the vivid palette of the leisurewear rage that took over the 2000’s, or the 80’s revival period that sunk its teeth into the 2010s.
The aesthetic also holds its ground when it comes to books and films. Novels such as The Secret History, If We Were Villains, Ninth House, The Iliad, and The Odyssey are an inherent part of the subculture, along with Greek Mythology and other classical literature. Dead Poets Society, Kill Your Darlings, Maurice, and other films usually set-in prestigious schools also constitute the media prescription that describes the aesthetic best.
All in all, Dark Academia is a subculture that has grown quickly in its popularity. A way of life that was previously dismissed as chaotic, unsociable, and unwelcomed by most now influences almost all the spheres of human life- from fashion choices to the books we read and the type of media we choose to pay heed to. The increasing acceptance of this subculture, (along with others) has led to a reversal in the hobbies, interests, and fashion choices that people deem enjoyable, proving the quick pace at which trends come and go.