The ‘Dark Academician’ is clever, but sullen, and effortlessly cool, but largely withdrawn, with rings under their eyes (they spend the whole night in dimly lit libraries) and bruises on the legs (doesn’t do them well in-between courses – an academic usually has The dark experience a dark secret).
The often dark academic is a TikTok user, mimicking a look they’ve only seen on screen or in books, and living a version of a dream life where they can spend their days reading classics in a centuries-old library.
Imagine spending your days inside the Wren Library at Trinity College in Cambridge, England. Dark academics certainly do. credit: Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy Stock Images
“I believe that virtually building these ‘aesthetic’ communities through social media has allowed many people to meet friends and explore their interests despite the isolation of the pandemic,” she told CNN in an email.
In and out of school since March 2020, dressing – and living – like “dark academic” is a way for followers to integrate their military past, precarious present, and ambitious future.
The Dark Academy combines intelligence and elegance
Although “academia dark” versions permeated Tumblr and Pinterest in the mid-2010s, the trend was back in popularity when the pandemic began. Being forcibly expelled from her school due to Covid-19 made Glowacz yearn for the experience even more – she wanted to romanticize an experience she had lost.
She wasn’t alone – the hashtag gained traction on TikTok at the end of 2020 and continued to gain momentum and find fans. Soon, the young people stuck at home wore cardigans over collared shirts and knee-high stockings for looks resembling the uniforms they might have seen in the Society of Dead Poets or the Dairy Girls.
It is generally portrayed as a kind of secretive, individualistic, and intense thirst for knowledge, which is what makes it a volatile and ‘dark’ academic, Glowacks said.
In Glowacz’s videos, she shares her collection of vintage leather-bound books, and creates adorable videos of waxing envelopes from melted candle and clothing pairs for every season. While the fashion elements in the aesthetic are fun to play with, she said she’s more than happy to find friends with similar interests, not just a similar style.
Ready-made uniforms, stacks of books, an emphasis on classics—many fans of dark academics find these elements of the “Dead Poets Society” aspirational. credit: AA Film Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
Alice Sedgwick, a lifelong reader who “loves to study, write, old clothes, and old buildings,” said she didn’t “join” the trend so much as discovering an umbrella under which her pre-existing interests fell.
The Dark Academy can have a dark side
It is some of the “dark academic” elements that her followers like that make her problematic for others.
In the video, Ellis said she attended Durham University, a prestigious college whose hometown often appears in ambitious posts in “dark academia.” But her experience there did not reflect those fantasies – there, and at other universities in the UK, class made students feel unwelcome and a lack of financial support left them burdened with debt.
The historic city of Durham, England, is often seen in dark academic videos as an example of the aesthetic. credit: Albinoni / Adobe Stock
“They wear elite style and appreciate the themes of those institutions, but the long tradition of student protest and political engagement seems to be missing in many cases,” she said in the video.
Ellis said that dark academia is not inherently offensive, but that to make it an inclusive society, its adherents must reckon with the history of the institutions they value.
The trend continues to grow
“Selah and the Spades,” starring Luffy Simon (left) and Jarrell Jerome, puts lions in the position of the historically white boarding school. credit: Ashley Bean / Courtesy of Amazon Studios
The allure of the Dark Academy is broad and growing (and seasonally appropriate, too—nothing says “winter” like curling up with a book in bed or wearing a thick sweater). And even back to school mostly, Glowacz still feels comfortable in the dark academies world, where it rains constantly and there is always a cup of hot tea waiting for her.