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What is the 'dark academia' aesthetic? Here's where to shop for it in Vancouver

If you love tweed blazers with leather elbow patches and ghost stories on rainy nights, read on.
Dark academia outfit
The dark academia aesthetic is rooted in literature, history, and classical studies with preppy 1930s/40s style clothes in broody colour palates.

In recent years several distinct categories of style have emerged as reflections of people's hobbies and interests. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram have ensured that even the most niche passions are fleshed out into complete aesthetics. We have already tackled the cottagecore and coastal grandmother styles, now it's time to look at the world of "dark academia."

What is dark academia?

This one is for all the people who love a good library, a cozy coffee shop on a rainy day, and who dream of cobblestone streets but also get a thrill out of Bram Stoker's Dracula or The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It's intelligent and sophisticated but also a little sexy, brooding, and twisted (in other words, dark).

Not to be confused with its counterpart "light academia" (which we'll get to) that focuses on more uplifting themes like optimism, friendship, self-improvement and adventure, the dark academia genre takes a more intense approach with existentialism, escapism, and risk.

The 1992 novel The Secret History by Donna Tartt has been credited as one of the first instances of dark academia and it takes place on the campus of a New England arts college and details a murder and its effect on the classics students.

Dark academia's roots are founded in literature, classical studies, history, and the liberal arts but recently an entire subcategory of contemporary novels has emerged dedicated to the aesthetic.

How to style dark academia

Stylistically, dark academia takes the hallowed halls of a British boarding school or East Coast university where the weather is perpetually autumnal and translates it into clothing. The "dark" aspect of it is found in the colour palate and Gothic elements that make it a little more edgy and sexy than traditional academic fashion. 

It's also very connected to the silhouettes of the 1930s and 40s and tries to imitate the fashion while still contemporizing it. So dark academia takes patterns like tweed, plaid, and houndstooth, and garments such as cardigans, blazers, and oxfords but shortens the hemlines, tailors the pants, and adds heels to the brogues or throws a touch of vampy goth in there for good measure.

The clothing items are very vintage and preppy with lots of layering of sweater vests over crisp white shirts and then adding an oversized blazer overtop. Clean lines and pleats are great paired with leather details and some gold jewellery. Pinafores also work well if you're not a fan of dresses more than trousers. Browns, blacks, and navys are colour staples but they can also be paired with dark rich tones of green and red like heavy velvet curtains compliment a four poster mahogany bed in the haunted manor home of a professor hiding a dark secret.

Dark academia means dressing for candle-lit studies overflowing with books and sleuthing down stone hallways. Needless to say it's an aesthetic that's very popular with writers and bookworms.

How to achieve the dark academia lifestyle in Vancouver

Where to shop for the look

You've probably heard enough about the Aritzia effortless pants by now but they are the perfect base for a dark academia outfit, as are many other pieces at Aritzia since they started playing into their preppiness more. It's also a great place to shop for dark academia looks in the summer since much of the aesthetic is based on fall and winter clothes that aren't practical in warm weather.

Thrifting is also a great way to find pieces that have a bit more personality which really is the bedrock of dark academia; it takes preppy clothing and gives it more dimension and story to go along with the sumptuous background of the aesthetic. Some aesthetics are harder to thrift for than others but dark academia is the easiest in my opinion.

Otherwise, Zara, H&M, and Urban Outfitters will also have pieces to help build up the wardrobe.

Places to visit

For peak dark academia vibes the obvious places to visit would be book stores and libraries. Specifically, EC Rare Books in Gastown, The Paper Hound Bookshop and MacLeod's Books both on Pender Street, and the Irving K. Barber Library at UBC. The Vancouver Art Gallery with a book tucked under your arm is also a great option.

For coffee shops, Aperture Coffee Bar on Broadway has dark wood panelling, worn couches, and - crucially - bookshelves for doing book swaps.


A post shared by EC Rare Books (@ecrarebooks)

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