Tweed From Hell: The Dark Academia Aesthetic

“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)

* * *

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

31 Comments on "Tweed From Hell: The Dark Academia Aesthetic"

  1. Well I read Byron and watched “Wuthering Heights” this weekend. And I love it when 500 crows fly across the sky at twilight and land in the surrounding treetops.

  2. Don’t forget a moody young man galloping across a moor somewhere.

  3. whiskeydent | December 7, 2020 at 1:03 pm |

    As usual, my mind went off in another direction, wondering if this signals a film noir reemergence in these times of dangerous, murky darkness and the search for the purity of light.

  4. A most appropriate take/call out. It’s got nothing to do with film noir, nor does this style hearken to any aspect of adulthood. As ZG Burnett sagely mentions, it’s “Harry Potter” that’s behind it. It’s just playing dress-up. As for its other antecedent: that wretched door-stop-wannabe novel? Its author’s last name identifies the value-system underlying Dark Academia’s brand-name obsession. And please don’t insult “bittersweet” by linking her with anything as complex as that flavor. Dear ol’ Donna may try ever so hard to convince us otherwise, but there’ll always be just a dab of grits on her chin.

  5. Old School Tie | December 7, 2020 at 2:59 pm |

    Dark academia….? Does that require gothic digs in Arkham whilst studying at Miskatonic, presumably with something suitably arcane such as a tome by von Junzt stuffed in the pocket of your tweed Norfolk….pipe not optional….If so, count me in!

  6. I’ve been waiting for years for some marketing type to grab the word “subfusc” and run with it

  7. Trevor Jones | December 7, 2020 at 6:26 pm |

    Another great article, Zoë.
    This is a genre I’ve never hear of, but seems to blend into the British country look or, in many aspects, Ivy style.
    The clip, from James Ivory’s absolute masterpiece “Maurice”, is one of my favorite films and is solely responsibly for turning me onto club collars.
    @Christian, didn’t know there was a “Wurthering Heights” movie. The book is always a great read. I’d also recommend the audio book version performed by Joanne Frogatt of “Downton Abbey” fame. So vivid — like a play going on in your head.

  8. I’ve had Gothic tastes all my life and since arriving in “haunted” New England have been piecing all the motifs together incessantly the past year.

    Five days after arriving in New York I met James Ivory at an artist’s reception, and was able to tell him that “A Room With A View” has always been in my top two or three films of all time.

    “Wuthering” didn’t make a tremendous impact. For Ralph Fiennes performances from that era in his career, I much much prefer “The English Patient.” In fact, isn’t he opposite Juliet Binoche in both?

  9. S.E. Massengill | December 7, 2020 at 9:53 pm |

    I live near a university town. Plenty of Neo Gothic architecture, a first-rate bookstore, and several splendid coffee shops. Old-fashioned cinemaWas there today, actually–roaming ’round town while sporting brown hued Shetland tweed, gray shetland crewneck, clerical gray flannel bottoms, and, (of course, goddammit!) Alden Leisure Handsewn Mocs. Some of it vintage (hand-me-downs); not all. Garden Variety Dark Academic.
    Chilly, dreary, and mostly abandoned. Forlorn in the best sense of the word.

    Listen closely…and you’ll hear either Tallis, Byrd, Anglican Chant…or maybe Joy Division. Bits of The Smiths. Early Cure. I heard Slowdive and Cocteau Twins. Turning a corner and sneaking into an Episcopal Church sanctuary, I flipped through a BOCP, mustering this–

    “Yes, I did need to move an animal skull that I found in the woods to take my copy off of the shelf.” This– This. This is– well, Holy Hell, this is marvelous. Along with this farcical hope (no Philosophy undergrads have plans to ritualistically murder their peers whenever campus life reconvenes)– geez. Some the best writing on I.S.
    I mean– damn.
    (does this person write professionally–for a living, I mean?)

  10. while I’m at it. another one that went radiantly with the Dark Academic vibe during my school days–

  11. What the heck. I mean hell. Beginning of a Dark Academia soundtrack:

    Official Dark Academia shoe: Alden Leisure Handsewn Moc.

    suggested DA shade of gray: clerical
    suggested DA tartan: Blackwatch
    suggested weaver of tweed: Lovat Mill

  12. Wuthering Heights ? The recent adaption is ok, but one should seek out the Olivier version from 1939. Linking Dark Academia to Harry Potter is spot on. There is a school of thought that considers Snape to be an anti hero. Of all of the characters, he would be aesthetically closest, and embracing him via DA mostly strips away the inconvenience of Dark Arts association. OTOH, I wonder is Ms. Tartt is aware of what she inadvertently started.

  13. Wilde. Shakespeare. Siouxsie. Late 80s/early 90s Depeche. Bits of Morrissey.
    Bronte. Dark Leather. Dark Green. Scotland. Stags. Tea. Scones. Carrying a book everywhere you go– everywhere.
    Classics Majors. Reading in a library. Turtlenecks, fuzzy crewnecks. Literary societies. Handwritten notes–good stationary.
    Alden Leisure Handsewn’s (already mentioned).
    William Byrd. Thomas Tallis. Anglican Chant. Book of Common Prayer.
    “hic sunt dracones” uttered frequently

    One of the best I-S posts ever.
    Thank you, whomever you are. Brilliant.

  14. Rosemary Cross –the teacher in Rushmore.
    Better than Black Watch: Black Watch Weathered.
    Moonlight Sonata
    West of England flannel (Fox)
    New England autumn. New England Winter.
    Tattersall. All day.
    Cavalry Twill, Whipcord.

  15. An admirable reaction to nursery school/crayola colored GTH trousers and neckties, as well as–dare I say it–pink OCBD shirts.

  16. Real misery and hell for students is being locked down in halls of residence (in effect house arrest) whilst watching online lectures. In Britain, the universities barricaded the students in their halls. Many literally starved because they were not allowed their rooms to buy food. Those who disobeyed were fined or subject to other disciplinary measures.

    Real dark academia is being subjected to such Covidiotic fascism in our supposedly liberal institutions of learning. And God help you if you don’t toe the woke lines too! Free thought and speech are long dead in academia. Boris and Donald did nothing to free our students and academics. It will only get worse under Biden and his puppeteer Harris who is the one who pull his strings.

  17. Dutch Uncle | December 8, 2020 at 7:32 am |

    University students “watching online lectures”?
    More likely watching NETFLIX, I daresay.

  18. Caution is advised lest the whole DA movement pitch itself into full-blown depression. Move on into that fine darkness . . .

  19. An intentional injection of DA in the preppy/trad aesthetic is called for. Especially now.

    Morose as it sounds, it may be the perfect look for this moment. Pandemic Prep or some such thing. There’s nothing affected about wearing rustic brown/tan/green hued tweeds, gray sweaters, and brown/tan/green corduroy pants all the time. It’s as slouchy-and-casual as the athleisure horrors our neighbors prefer, after all.

    Preferred shades of green: Loden, Olive, Moss, Bottle. When you’re feeling cheery, Forest. A current favorite is Lovat.

    Not sure the connection with all things explicitly “Gothic” is necessary or even accurate. Some of the best stark and somber (collegiate) architecture is Georgian, Colonial, and Stone Farmhouse.

    I think of DA as more NEW England than European–maybe it’s The Secret History influence. Ichabod Crane meets old Brooks Brothers. Lots of Dickinson, Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Cooper, and, of course, Poe.

  20. I’ll take P.G. Wodehouse, thank you.



  21. Charlottesville | December 8, 2020 at 9:58 am |

    I’m with you, Will.

  22. Apologies if I missed it in the posts above, what library is it in the photo at the top?

  23. Trevor Jones | December 8, 2020 at 11:55 am |

    @Elder Prep, comes from James Ivory’s 1987 film “Maurice”

  24. Trevor, thanks.

  25. @Trevor, thank you again!
    @SE, you’re incredibly kind. I’m working on starting up a writing career, but so far it’s been copywriting work when I can get it. Thank you!

  26. Keep at it. Good Lord, you have a way with words. Truly. I’ll now sound like the worst of snobs, but plenty of online forums are littered with slapdash prose and slipshod commentary. Your offerings are a deep breath of fresh air– you manage the not-always-tidy melding of the droll, the informative, and the sardonic with great aplomb. More posts– please-oh-pretty please.

  27. “the drowsy autumn sun which poured through the window and soaked in yellow pools on the oak floor – voluptuous, rich, intoxicating.” Too purple? It was a dark and stormy night, and the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets…

    I’m tempted to paraphrase Princess Margaret: We had to put a stop to it. Every Tartt in London was getting in.

  28. Evan Everhart | December 10, 2020 at 10:08 pm |

    Drove about in my Mercedes on an errand, betweeded, briar firmly in the corner of my mouth, dowdy old dun colored Shetland enveloping me, still sand hosiery at the onset of Winter in the briskly blustery early cerulean gray chill which pushes out the dregs if the Sun. A 1st edition compendium of Clark Ashton Smith short stories shoved in my hip pocket, and a printed lading bill on my Hickman Cthulhu statuette which is in the midst of international shipping stuck in my breast pocket as my anticipation and excitement continually grow whilst awaiting Cthulhu’s arrival. No black clothing was worn in the composition of this moment or remembrance.

  29. A Christmas Carol (2019) on Hulu, Guy Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge, dark through and through

  30. I immediately recognized the text from Secret History…Bunny didn’t deserve his fate

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