Dark Academia in the Passage
How a fashion genre is born: a moment in the culture throws a spotlight on certain piece or entire looks. Often, that prominence is promoted via a popular film or TV series. Guilty as dressed! In the right year, you would instantly identify my bowler, tattersall shirt and necktie ("Annie Hall"), or yellow leggings, head wrap and black rubber O-ring bangles ("Desperately Seeking Susan").
What did you have?
The past year has introduced another fashion genre, Dark Academia, ". It is heavily inspired by European architecture, history, Greek Arts, Gothic and Dark elements." (Source: themoodpalette.com). The aesthetic extends beyond fashion, but just like the '60s flower-power prints, fashion reflects philosophy.
Take time-honoured 'academic' staples like tweed blazers, long cardigans and corduroy trousers, add bits of steampunk, goth, romantic Victorian, thirties Deco—those are the sartorial signifiers of Dark Academia. What is not: denim, fleece, athleisure, preppy stripes, bold colours and overscale pattern, logos, above-the-knee skirts or dresses, puffers, stiletto heels. This is not cottagecore nostalgia either, so no pinafores, ditsy florals or clogs.
The emphasis is on natural-fibre fabrics (cashmere, merino, tweed, linen) in dark to mid-saturation neutrals. (In summer, Dark Academia would accept linen shorts but prefer a box-pleated skirt to the knee.) One would not ruin the ensemble by being seen to check mail on a phone. Carry a Penguin paperback in a burnished leather briefcase, wear an analog wristwatch.
The top is the pivotal piece; anything tee-shirty or minimalist will not be the right mood. Look for cotton, silk or linen in colours that existed no later than the late 1950s. Or, wear a waistcoat over a classic menswear shirt, provided the shirt is not a pastel. (Dark Academia clothing is somewhat high-maintenance as it references an era before synthetics.)
If drawn to it, you probably already own the skirt or trousers, but it may be years since you bought a certain kind of blouse.
Clockwise from upper left:
Patchwork silk blouse, Brora; price, £195
Cobbler women's waistcoat; by LaneFortyfive on Wolf & Badger; price, $CDN 374
Tartan chiffon tie-neck blouse, Totty Rocks; price, £129
Just like real-life academics, there are differences according to preference and pocketbook. A young woman might be captivated by the Victorian subgenre and hunt for vintage-style lace-trimmed blouses and swoopy-brimmed hats, while her aunt may prefer 1940s Academia: dark brown oxfords and Pendleton '49er-style wool overshirts worn with corduroy trousers.
I have long cautioned myself, and I admit, others, against wearing an ensemble of vintage clothes when you yourself are vintage. On grown women, I dislike the playing-in-the costume-trunk look, but at the same time adore fine leather goods, tailored trousers, a sharp, fitted jacket and antique jewellery.
At first look, I found Dark Academia rather studied, and I thought, Do I want this? But when I realized that my favourite coat among women at President Biden's wintry inauguration was a decidedly Academic Miu Miu beaded tweed worn by Ella Emhoff, Kamala Harris' stepdaughter, that said something.
I would wear that coat blissfully, and wondered, is there Elder Dark Academia style? (There are about a dozen Academia style variants, here.)
I recalled a silver-haired woman I saw reading in a park in Paris: she wore a casual updo, a soft, long cardigan, a flowing below-knee skirt in a small check. The palette of blues and grey was thoughtful but discreet. She transmitted an air of relaxed intellectual engagement, and of a woman who took pleasure from her clothes.
Here's an approximation of her outfit. I would like to wear it now, especially after a year in androgynous basics.
Clockwise from upper left:
Cosy cashmere jacket in "jean", Eric Bompard; sale price $CDN 412
Retro-style navy silk blouse, Lilysilk; price, $US 159
Silver/navy jersey skirt, Brora; sale price, £59
I am heartened that women generations younger than mine are taking another look at quality; cheap Academia, like a substandard education, is neither stimulating nor memorable.
There is far more to the Academia aesthetic, which one guide summarizes as "influenced by learning", but less stereotypical and more inclusive than the old "prep" style I adopted for ten minutes at university, before letting the sunshine in with embroidered peasant blouses and bellbottoms.
How does this strike you? I might not major in Dark Academia, but it does point me to an option other than jeans, and neatly sidesteps the dreaded sweatpant trend.