“Miles, I have holes in my pockets and no one useful on speed dial. I’m built for hiding in libraries.”
“I’m not going to lie to the police so you can ponce around in a f*cking cape for the rest of your life!”
The Riot Club (2014)
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Earlier this month, Nylon magazine published 8 Fashion Brands to Shop for the Best Dark Academia Outfits. You might have heard or read the term before, and it’s recently resurfaced as an “aesthetic.” There are a few reasons for this: cold weather, college students nostalgic for the few in-person semesters they’ve experienced, and an overwhelming feeling of dread in today’s youth due to the current state of things.
Nylon is the type of publication that watches trending TikTok hashtags to determine what their subjects will be. I’m therefore not going to shoot fish in a barrel, even though their definition of “the gothic-leaning aesthetic” is Hermione Granger. Most of the brands listed are admittedly trite: SoCal darling Brandy Melville, online retail behemoth COS, and the ubiquitous Urban Outfitters. However, the showcased garments don’t exactly miss the mark, recommending cashmere cardigans and wool blend sportcoats. Old favorites Vivienne Westwood and Polo Ralph Lauren are at least present.
Like most youth-driven publications, Nylon plays to labels, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. It’s when an aesthetic is cited as becoming a “lifestyle” that it smacks of caricature. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is one of the style’s sacred texts, and therein lies what may be the most accurate experience of buying a “Dark academic” wardrobe:
…I went into an expensive men’s shop on the square and bought a couple of shirts. Then I went down to the Salvation Army and poked around in bins for a while and found a Harris tweed overcoat and a pair of brown wingtips that fit me, also some cufflinks and a funny old tie that had pictures of men hunting deer on it. When I came out of the store I was happy to find that I still had nearly a hundred dollars. Should I go to the bookstore? To the movies? Buy a bottle of Scotch?
…Once in my room, I spread the clothes on my bed. The cufflinks were beaten up and had someone else’s initials on them, but they looked like real gold, glinting in the drowsy autumn sun which poured through the window and soaked in yellow pools on the oak floor – voluptuous, rich, intoxicating.
Yes, I did need to move an animal skull that I found in the woods to take my copy off of the shelf.
Millennials and Gen Z members certainly missed out on the experience of thrift store shopping in 1990s Vermont. Yet both of these generations are waking up to the benefits of shopping for vintage styles. Neo-prep brands like Rowing Blazers readily complement treasures found on resell apps like Depop. Let’s just hope that no Philosophy undergrads have plans to ritualistically murder their peers whenever campus life reconvenes. – ZG BURNETT