Should You Go For Light Or Dark Academia Aesthetics?

Cosy knits and intellectual vibes

This article was first published on 2 March 2021.

TikTok has given birth to a lot of fashion aesthetics ever since it gained popularity. First, there’s the E-girl, which takes inspiration from the ‘90s grunge and 2000s emo scenes. Next, there’s the dreamy cottagecore, an ode to the simple rural lifestyle and flowy outfits. Now, there’s the light and dark academia aesthetics with cosy knits reminiscent of how university professors are depicted in Hollywood movies. Think Dead Poet’s Society, Jo from Little Women, and, to an extent, Harry Potter.

A collage showing the difference between light and dark academia outfits

Left - A "light academia" outfit uses lighter colours. (Photo from: @light__academia) Right - An example of a "dark academia" outfit. (Photo from:

What is light and dark academia?

The so-called light and dark academia are both subcultures of the “academia” aesthetic, which “takes inspiration from the sophisticated environments of established educational institutions” or universities, according to L’Officiel USA. There are other subcultures, but these two are the most popular by far. The clothing pieces featured in this fashion subculture are Ivy League-inspired ensembles, largely because it celebrates and romanticises literature and the thirst for knowledge, according to i-D.

The academia aesthetic grew in popularity during the series of COVID lockdowns that made schools pivot to online learning, according to The New York Times. At a time when uncertainty was widespread, the dark academia aesthetic offered a nostalgic escape to a “simpler” time and lifestyle. The light academia aesthetic followed later on in the year, when people became more hopeful about society and school campuses reopening.

“Light” and “dark” pertain to the colour palettes that define these fashion subcultures. The calm and soft “energy” embodied by light academia revolves around cool-toned hues like creams, whites, and light browns. On the other hand, dark academia is its moodier, more chaotic sibling that prefers to wear blacks, greys, and dark brown hues. Where dark academia is about curling up indoors with a literary tome, light academia is about exploring life and finding happiness through outdoor excursions.

Ready to learn how to style the perfect outfits from these looks? Read on to find out how.

Tops: turtlenecks, sweaters, and long-sleeved blouses

A collage showing the different types of tops to wear in a dark and light academia outfit

Left - Dark-coloured turtlenecks embody the cosy vibe of dark academia fashion. (Photo from: @geminnorum) Right - Crisp white tops layered underneath chunky sweater vests are a sample of a classic light academia outfit. (Photo from: @dxrkacademia)

When it comes to acing the light and dark academia aesthetic, the tops you wear have a major role. The tops worn by academia enthusiasts are mainly turtlenecks, sweaters, and long-sleeved blouses. While layering these with other pieces like vests can be done, these are the staples to any outfit under this subculture. In our more humid area of the world, you can adapt this by choosing the same pieces but made with thinner fabrics.

A collage showing the different tops you can buy to achieve the academia aesthetic

Left - UNIQLO 3D Knit Cotton Blend 3/4 Sleeve V Neck Sweater. (Photo from: Right - Chloé Embroidered Shirt. (Photo from:

Check out the: UNIQLO 3D Knit Cotton Blend 3/4 Sleeve V Neck Sweater (SGD49.90), a cosy top with a relaxed cut that suits most light and dark academia outfits since it can be worn on top of a crisp shirt or alone. For a more structured look, the Chloé's crisp embroidered shirt (~SGD1,830.46) has a slim fit you can neatly tuck into your trousers or skirt.

Bottoms: skirts and trousers

A collage showing the difference between the pants worn in light and dark academia outfits

Left - Grey plaid trousers embody the dark academia fashion aesthetic. (Photo from: Right - Plain coloured slacks are better for the lighter palette of light academia outfits. (Photo from: @dre_amlab)

The academia fashion culture is very LGBTQ-friendly since the clothing allows for gender-neutral dressing. Plaid and solid coloured trousers are most commonly associated with this aesthetic but other options such as skirts and denim jeans can also be styled in this fashion.

A collage of where to buy bottoms suited for the academia aesthetic

Left - Pomelo Houndstooth Slit Hem Pants. (Photo from: Right - Pomelo Front Wrap Mini Skirt - Black. (Photo from:

Check out the: Pomelo Houndstooth Slit Hem Pants (SGD47.90), a classic pair of academia bottoms. You can also wear a high-waisted skirt, in a colour that suits light or dark academia, like this front-wrap mini skirt (SGD43.90). (P.S. You can apply Pomelo coupons at checkout to get even better prices.)

Outerwear: tweed coats, blazers, and chunky cardigans

A collage showing how to wear blazers for dark and light academia outfits

(Left) Grey blazers are a staple in dark academia fashion. (Photo from: @nirvahnna) (Right) Warm brown or cream-coloured outerwear are essential to a light academia outfit. (Photo from: @almostrachelle)

Light and dark academia outfits are very cosy if you think about it! Layering pieces and thick fabrics may remind of autumnal fashion, and it’s exactly what this style asks for. Coats, blazers, and chunky cardigans may be optional in our case, but it certainly completes the look.

A collage showing the different types of outerwear for academia outfits

Left - Love, Bonito Aurianna Plaid Double Breasted Blazer. (Photo from: Right - Love, Bonito Ambria Double Breasted Blazer (Photo from:

Check out the: Love, Bonito Aurianna Plaid Double Breasted Blazer (SGD89) to inject timeless elegance to your outfit with the help of its classic double-breasted front and notch lapel collared neckline. If you want a more casual piece, the Love, Bonito Ambria Double Breasted Blazer (SGD69) exudes effortless confidence and stays true to the aesthetics' androgynous roots.

Shoes: Oxfords, loafers, or Mary Janes

A collage showing the different shoe options for the light and dark academia aesthetic

Left - Dark academia calls for thick, black leather Oxford shoes. (Photo from: @palomabarcelo) Right - You can stray from utilitarian colours and opt for more fanciful whites and creams with the light academia aesthetic. (Photo from:

As for shoes, practical designs are a requirement for academia fashion. While classic and chunky Oxford shoes are most common, these can also be swapped for Doc Marten-style boots, loafers, and Mary Janes. Simple designs are preferred — you won’t find any glitters or stilettos in these outfits.

A collage of shoe options for the light and dark academia aesthetics

Left - Clarks Orianna Edge Black Leather. (Photo from: Right - Clarks Orinoco2 Edge Ivory Leather. (Photo from:

Check out the: Clarks Orianna Edge Black Leather (SGD179) for a casual dark academia outfit. For light academia lovers, the Clarks Orinoco2 Edge Ivory Leather (SGD179) fit the bill perfectly.

Accessories: satchel bags and eyeglasses

A collage showing the essential accessories in a dark or light academia outfit

Finish up your dark or light academia outfit with the right accessories, like a satchel bag or some sleek eyeglasses. (Photos from: @theschoolofsatchel and @haffmansneumeister)

Light and dark academia fashion isn’t complete without some smart-looking specs and a handy bag where you can “keep” your books. This goes back to the “thirst for learning” inspiration at the core of this fashion subculture.

Light and dark academia outfit accessories

Left - NEWHEY Messenger Bag Mens Canvas Leather 15.6 Inch Laptop Bag. (Photo from: Right - OWNDAYS +NICHE. (Photo from:

Check out the: OWNDAYS +NICHE eyeglasses (SGD158) , which are Boston glasses frames and are typically less overwhelming than the classic round frames seen in light and dark academia outfits. For satchel bags, the NEWHEY Messenger Bag Mens Canvas Leather 15.6 Inch Laptop Bag (SGD107.50) is a modern and practical option that still suits the academia social media aesthetic. 

Now that you know more about the light and dark academia aesthetics, which one fits your style better?

(Cover photos from: and @light__academia)

Next, try your hand at making your own pinafore dress from scratch.

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