The hashtag, the reading list, the playlist, the iced coffee and that’s about it.
An aesthetic, that’s the end of the spectrum where Dark Academia now lives and
thrives. It has a specific style of clothing associated with it, certain music,
Instagram filters and if it’s your aesthetic of choice, chances are, you already
know what I’m talking about. Either way, it’s nothing five minutes and a Pintrest
mood board won’t make you an expert on. But, it wasn’t always merely an
aesthetic. Yes, the clothes and all were still a huge part of it, it used to have a little
more substance than that.
The deepest dive into the origins of dark academia (every article
up to the fourth page of Google results) accredits ‘The Secret History’ by Donna
Tartt published in 1992 as the book that gave birth to the original idea. If you
haven’t read the book, it’s about a bunch of kids in a big fancy, college and
someone gets murdered. Over time, the idea broadened to incorporate movies
like ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘Kill Your Darlings’ as part of its vital literature.
At the very base of all these books and movies is a running theme,
which is what dark academia was initially about. People who enjoyed their
intellectual pursuits, connoisseurs of thick books and artsy films who lived their
lives in sepia tones and trench coats, dark academics, if you will. It’s true, they
took simple things that probably we all did and turned them into an act, that if
you read certain things in a certain light, you would not be one of the many
anymore but that was the appeal. It had already found a home as a hashtag on
Tumblr in 2015 and those posts are still available for perusal, the relics of a time
And then, in 2020 (Ah, yes, that year! Remember that?) came the
lockdown and with it, the rise of TikTok. And as all things look better in the rear
view, so did school. While students all over the world were stuck at home,
someone somewhere had the idea to romanticize school and boy, did it take off.
What is perhaps the most interesting thing about dark academia is that the kind
of experience that is being imagined and the, once again, imagined loss of it that’s
fuelling the social media hype is something most people have never actually
experienced. Autumn leaves that crunch perfectly under your feet, reading for hours by a fireplace, not drowning in assignments, a picture perfect, college experience that is not hectic (or real) at all.
And because of how far removed from reality it is, even though it did start
out as a group of people who found studying entertaining, it has now been
reduced vintage looking Instagram filters, layered clothing in various shades of
back and beige and Lorde.
Naina Priyadarshi Mishra