‘Dark academia’ is Gen Z’s favourite look – but can a grown-up wear the collegiate trend?

“It sounds silly but there’s a whole trend at the moment for the preppy, ‘private school aesthetic’,” explains Connie, 16, from Hertfordshire, who has agreed to be my youth interpreter.

“It’s romanticising that lifestyle, romanticising reading and learning, wearing Oxbridge sort-of attire… It’s what the girls are all dressing like in my sixth form. The oversized blazers and the sweater vests, the tote bag from a bookshop or something. Berets, collared blouses poking out of jumpers, black opaque tights with a miniskirt. And a coffee.” 

Caffeine is a key accessory for dark academics, needed to fuel all those late-night cram sessions and possible dionysian rituals. There’s even ‘coffeecore’ sub-sub-culture (keep up), where TikTokkers style themselves in creamy shades of brown to match their latte art. Perhaps it’s an inevitable reaction to wellness, fitspo and athleisure’s relentless green-juice energy. Sportswear is nowhere to be seen in the world of dark academia, with chunky platforms, Doc Martens and prim Mary-Janes all kicking sneakers to the curb. 

What’s more, the trend has actually made it cool to stay up late and study.  “If I have to do revision, I romanticise it,” says Connie. “Get a coffee, make my pens neat. All that stuff.” 

While it might come approved by parents and Ofsted, dark/light academia does have its drawbacks. Heavily Eurocentric in its reference points, the aesthetic has been criticised for lacking diversity – and it’s hard not to feel wary of a fashion trend that fetishises elite education, however tongue-in-cheek it might be. 

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