Dark & Light Academia: Subculture On A Student Budget
Here’s how to achieve the dark and light academia aesthetic for less.
Whether you’re starting uni, college, or simply want to switch up your look, dark and light academia is the trend that can reinvent your entire aesthetic. As fashion subcultures go, it’s garnered tons of popularity over the past couple of years, and there’s no sign of it slowing down.
Want to achieve the dark and light academia TikTok-inspired trend? We’ll show you how with not just fashion, but TV, film and other media, so you can really channel the dark or light academia vibes you’re after. Plus, we’re going to show you how to put dark academia outfits and light academia outfits together without burning a hole in your pocket.
The Hottest Health & Beauty TikTok Trends For 2023
What is dark academia?
There are many definitions for the dark academia aesthetic. As the name suggests, dark academia is rooted in study, books and institutions. This social media sub-culture draws influence from literature, the arts, gothic architecture, classics and history, hence its predominantly dark neutral colours. It’s a romanticism of education, if you will, with gothic and melancholic undertones.
In terms of where dark academia fashion came from, Oxbridge and Ivy League students’ clothes were romanticised and sought after. Think cardigans, knits, blazers, plaid pants and houndstooth patterns. When it comes to dark academia colours, they usually have a palette of browns, beiges and black. They can even pull colours from autumnal seasons.
Ultimately, the dark academia style draws influence from learning. What makes it dark is the influences it draws from ‘darker’ subjects, places and things.
What is light academia?
The difference between dark and light academia is quite stark. Light academia has the same inspiration drawn from education and literature. However, it has a more positive and romantic spin on it. It’s a lot more detail-oriented and takes further inspiration from lifestyle, fashion and bedroom design to books, movies, art and music. The same is true for dark academia, but think of light academia as the visually ‘lighter’ counterpart.
What are the inspirations behind the dark and light academia trends?
The dark academia fashion trend, overall, is quite moody. A lot of its roots are similar to light academia, but exude gothic aesthetics, history, sadness and even escapism. Overall, it’s quite sombre.
Light academia fashion, on the other hand, is the emotionally positive and visually lighter relative of dark academia. It’s the total opposite, with roots in optimism, happiness, poetry and motivation. Think cottagecore, but with a focus on education and a love for learning.
Dark Academia and fashion
You may be wondering where to get dark and light academia fashion by this point. Before we dive in, let’s look at the types of pieces you want to invest in when searching for dark academia clothing:
- Sweater vests
- Tailored trousers
- Shirts and blouses with collars
- Oxford or Derby shoes
- Long coats
- Small leather backpacks or satchels
- Plaid skirts
- Knee-high socks
- Boots (Docs, knee-highs etc).
The above can also apply to light academia too, but we’ll dive into that later. For now, let’s look at dark academia style and where to get some amazing pieces from.
Where can I buy dark academia clothes?
- ASOS: an all-rounder for dark academia fashion
- Urban Outfitters: another great all rounder for those after dark and light academia aesthetics
- Coach: if you’re after classic and/or tailored dark academia clothes
- schuh: a shoe store with tons of options including Dr. Martens, a staple that completes a dark academia outfit
- PrettyLittleThing: super affordable with basic and statement dark academia pieces
- boohoo: a fast-fashion brand with reasonably-priced dark academia clothing and tons of choice
For now, let’s look at some brands selling seriously cool yet budget-friendly dark academia-style clothes.
Pretty Little Thing Chocolate drop collar faux leather blazer — £14.25
We’re huge fans of this brown faux leather blazer because it fits the dark academia aesthetic and also looks on-trend. You can pair this with an all-black outfit, or a white shirt and light brown skirt. A great series of start outfits if you ask us, especially if you want to know what to wear with Doc Martens.
Get a PrettyLittleThing student discount
boohoo Striped wool trench coat — £37
This stylish long coat makes for the perfect dark academia coat to keep you warm while channelling the aesthetic. It’s perfect for AW22 and can be worn on and off duty. Pair over a black or navy blue outfit to make it a statement piece.
Get a boohoo student discount
ASOS Heartbreak tailored mini skirt in brown check — £18
It’s not dark academia without a dark brown plaid skirt! We’re huge fans of this mini brown skirt that can be paired with some thin black tights or knee-high socks and a pair of boots. If skirts aren’t your thing, there are tons of plaid pants in this exact style over on ASOS.
Get an ASOS student discount
ASOS DESIGN shower resistant trench coat in brown — £55
When searching for dark academia outfits for men, we couldn’t pass up this. This trench coat can go with just about anything. We recommend pairing it with some beige trousers, a pair of dark Oxfords or Derby’s, and a dark tee or shirt to keep the dark academia vibes strong.
Get an ASOS student deal
boohoo jumbo rib notch neck midaxi dress — £13.50
While this midaxi may look simple, think of all the ways you could make this your own! Pair this dark academia dress with some boots, multiple belts, a long coat, or even a chunky cropped turtle neck.
Get a boohoo student discount
schuh Dr Martens black 1490 bex 10 eye boots — £179
Dr. Martens are somewhat of a staple for both dark and light academia styles. They go with everything and add grunge yet youthful touches to an outfit.
Get a schuh student discount
Coach Willow shoulder bag in colorblock — £395
This coach bag is perfect to match any dark and light academia outfit. It comes in an assortment of colours, and even if you pick a darker shade, it can add an edge to light academia outfits or complement a dark academia look.
Get a COACH student discount
Light academia and fashion
If you’re wondering how to put together light academia outfits, then look no further. They really aren’t too dissimilar to dark academia outfits, but instead, we want to make the light academia clothes you wear exude a softer aesthetic. Here are some light academia fashion ideas you can take inspiration from.
Where can I buy light academia clothes?
Light academia clothes are easier to find than you think. In fact, you may be buying them without even knowing! Here is a list of brands to buy light academia clothes from:
- ASOS: your one-stop shop for light academia (and dark!)
- New Look: a shop for all your airy and light academia clothing
- boohooMAN: a hidden gem for light academia mens fashion
- Oliver Bonas: curated lifestyle brand with hidden light academia pieces
- Koi Footwear: Great for cheap dark and light academia shoes.
ASOS Bershka cropped knitted vest in camel — £19.99
This cropped knitted vest in a gorgeous light shade can be worn alone or over a white shirt to elevate an outfit. To really make it light academia, you could pair it with a pair of beige tailored shorts, a white skirt or wide-leg trousers in a light shade.
Get an ASOS student discount here
New Look white button front mini smock dress — £23.99
This cute white smock dress with button front is the perfect base for a light academia outfit. Later it up with a belt to sinch in the waist, or a tweed blazer and beige Oxfords.
Get a New Look student discount here
boohooMAN skinny check suit trousers — £17.50
When shopping light academia clothes for men, you’re gonna want a pair of light check trousers as a staple piece. You can pair it with a matching blazer jacket, or a shirt, brown satchel and long taupe trench coat.
Get a boohooMAN student discount
Oliver Bonas ribbed camel brown knitted midi skirt – £27
This ribbed camel skirt from Oliver Bonas is so versatile that it can even be worn on a day you’re feeling a little Dark Academia. Pair with a loose knitted crop, a tied up white shirt and long beige trench coat.
Get an Oliver Bonas student discount
Koi Footwear Amabalis white flower platform boots – £50
These super comfy (and vegan) white flower boots add that extra bit of detail to a light academia outfit without overpowering it. These light academia shoes from Koi are complete with little flowers which just adds to the whole light and posi-vibe. If boots aren’t your thing, the best light academia shoes are ones in lighter shades of white, beige, camel and taupe.
Get a KOI footwear student discount
Dark Academia in TV, film and books
Dark academia, as we mentioned, is a culture with a heavy emphasis on education that spans to reading, writing and learning. So with that logic, dark academia movies, shows and books should be part of your repertoire. After all, it’s the romanticization of learning that’ll form your dark academia aesthetic.
Here are some dark academia books, movies and TV shows you’ll love:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre by renowned British author Charlotte Brontë was probably a book you studied in school. It follows governess Jane Eyre, who is hired by Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. As the story unfolds, we begin to see a romance form between the two characters. A book of education, secrets, love and lies, it’s one of the best dark academia books to add to your collection.
Get a WH Smith student discount
The Theory of Everything
One of the first dark academia movies on your list must be The Theory of Everything. Released in 2014 in the big pictures, it follows the life of English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, from his youth to his schooling at the University of Oxford, the discovery of his motor neurone disease, as well as romance.
Universities, books, romance, schooling…nothing says dark academia more than this.
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The Queen’s Gambit
An absolute must for dark academia enthusiasts, The Queen’s Gambit is an extremely successful mini-series on Netflix that follows a young yet incredibly skilled chess player, who battles many hardships, including addiction. Her intellect and penchant for reading is something to be marvelled.
‘Confessions’ by Kanae Minato
Confessions by Kanae Minato practically call to the dark academia in our hearts. Without revealing too much, it’s a book about a teacher and student, murderous intentions, revenge, punishment and tragic love. The Japanese psychological thriller was also created into a film directed by Tetsuya Nakashima back in 2010.
Get a World of Books student discount
‘Ace of Spades’ by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Are you a fan of Gossip Girl? Then you’re going to love Ace of Spades to read in your spare time. The main characters, Chiamaka and Devon, discover a secret society after getting unsettling texts from someone called ‘Aces’. It’s a book about sex, lies and power. Oh, and it takes place in a school.
Get an Amazon student discount
Other dark academia books, TV and film
- Secret History by Donna Tartt
- Mary Shelley
- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Book Depository student discount
Dark academia on TikTok accounts to follow
You may be wondering which social accounts to get dark academia inspiration from. From fashion to book TikToks, these guys are bound to get you feeling all academia-like.
Light academia TikTok accounts to follow
If you’re after the light academia aesthetic, TikTok accounts for light academia are a little hard to come by. Fortunately, we dug out a few that you should follow for all of your light academia inspo.
We honestly think they channel both dark and light academia, but overall, their aesthetic really exudes the latter.
How to style a turtleneck
Want to incorporate a turtle neck into your dark and light academia outfits? They’re certainly a staple when it comes to dark academia, but some people still shy away from them. We’re here to show you different ways of styling them to compliment your dark academia aesthetic
Under big coats
Under a blazer
Under a sweater
Under a waistcoat
Cropped with a statement jacket
With stacked necklaces
Under a dress
How to break in Doc Martens
Wearing Dr. Martens as part of your Dark Academia vibe? You may have heard they can hurt if they’re not broken in properly. Here’s how to get your Doc Martens feeling comfy for all-day wear with your dark academia outfit.
1. Put them on inside the house
You want to break them in when you’re not wearing them outdoors. Just a few mins to an hour a day walking around your home can help ease up the leather.
2. Wear thicker socks
Thin socks and docs aren’t a match made in heaven, sorry! If you’re prone to your shoe rubbing in sore spots, simply wearing a thicker pair of socks can make all the difference (and also help stretch out the leather too).
3. Massage your docs
Get your hands in there! By massaging your shoes. Bend them in all sorts of directions to really loosen up the leather.
4. Stretch the uppers
If you’re not wearing your docs for a while, the uppers of Dr. Martens can rub on the back of your heel. Loosen them up by stuffing them with socks or newspaper to keep them stretched out.
What to wear with Doc Martens
Dark academia clothes are complete with a set of Dr.Martens (or similar). If you want to know how to pair your grungy boots with dark academia clothing, here are a few dark academia outfit ideas with Doc Martens to get you inspired.
Doc Martens with a shirt dress
Or any dress! The key is no tights here and really letting the Docs do the talking.
Doc Martens with patterned socks
If you have Doc Marten shoes as opposed to boots, why not inject some personality into your dark or light academia look with some patterned socks? Clash some prints with a pair of tights or trousers if you’re daring.
Doc Martens with skirt and tights
Tights, dresses or skirts compliment Docs really well. Just be sure to double up your feet with socks to minimise rubbing.
Doc Martens with blazer dress
This outfit just screams light academia! Be sure to invest in light-coloured Doc Martens for light academia outfits instead of the standard black boots.
We hope you got inspired by our dark and light academia fits, media and recommendations to help you channel this subculture in your own way. If you’re after light academia style, or dark academia outfits for less, sign up to Student Beans and look out for our fashion student discounts to save cash on your fashion subculture pieces!