Dark Academia Is Coming For Fall. Move Over, Cottagecore.

This education-focused fashion aesthetic is all about tweed jackets, plaid skirts and more.

Last year, the “cottagecore” trend swept the culture (or at least the TikTok and Instagram worlds), bringing images of open fields, freshly baked pies, peasant dresses and gingham galore.

These romantic countryside vibes persisted into summer 2021, with variations and spin-offs like fairycore and princesscore. But as the season comes to a close, we’re seeing a rise in a more fall-themed aesthetic: dark academia.

Dark academia refers to a subculture that focuses on reading and learning and draws visual inspiration from European higher education, American prep schools, Greek and Gothic architecture and more.

The genre took hold on TikTok originally in 2020 and has seen a massive rise in Google search interest over the past year and a half. Now, dark academia seems poised for an explosion in the world of fashion this fall.

People have been spotted in dark academia-esque attire even outside the typical dim library settings.
Getty Images/Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Hanna Lassen/Edward Berthelot
People have been spotted in dark academia-esque attire even outside the typical dim library settings.

From a style perspective, it’s all about garments like tweed jackets, plaid skirts, button-down shirts, turtlenecks and cable knit sweaters in colors like brown, forest green, dark orange, burgundy, gold and black. And of course you can’t forget footwear like Dr. Martens, loafers and Chelsea boots.

Its emphasis on layers and overall back-to-school vibe make dark academia the perfect fall aesthetic. Devotees draw inspiration from films set at educational institutions like “Dead Poets Society” and “Mona Lisa Smile.” The fashions and locations in the new Netflix series “The Chair” are also peak dark academia.

"The Chair" on Netflix.
"The Chair" on Netflix.

(And of course the counterpart of dark academia is light academia, which includes many of the same style components, but tends to involve sunnier backdrops.)

It’s important to note that dark academia is not limited to school settings, it’s just inspired by them. After all, “Knives Out” and “Phantom Thread” both embody dark academia without the literal academia. The former is set at a house in Massachusetts and carries the WASP-y New England look and spirit, while latter takes place in dreary old England.

Indeed, there is a British sensibility to dark academia, which is perhaps why one famous U.K. family seems to sport this aesthetic quite frequently: the House of Windsor.

British royals like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Earl and Countess of Wessex are often photographed in tailored trousers, plaid coat dresses, and ample wool and tweed.

Members of the British royal family have sported their fair share of dark academia pieces.
Getty Images/Chris Jackson/Max Mumby
Members of the British royal family have sported their fair share of dark academia pieces.

The subculture of dark academia has faced criticism for inherently promoting Western colonial education and the supremacy of classical literature.

“I emphasize that dark academia’s aesthetic is not the problem, but its ideology is — the English literary canon is glorified as the master narrative,” Disha Garg wrote for The McGill Daily.

So those who wish to partake in this trend should do so with a critical eye, and with intent to center education that goes beyond the traditional Eurocentric approach. Still, as Garg noted, this speaks more to the broader subculture than the aesthetic.

If you’re yearning to wear some vintage prep school chic and find a dimly lit room to sit among antique books on wooden shelves, you have many options ― at least on the sartorial front. We’ve rounded up pieces to fit seamlessly into your style vision for dark academia fall.

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