ith the pandemic causing a major shift in the pursuit of academic excellence among young adults and teens, it’s become difficult for students to reach their desired goal of academic achievement such as a GED, Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, and so on.

Despite all of these unexpected roadblocks, young adults still crave the ability to learn, thanks in part to a new viral community started on TikTok. A love of academia has become a part of a trend that’s based on sophisticated, ivy league-inspired fashion and the education that drives the academia industry, from classic literature to mesmerizing sonnets. 

Although Academia fashion may be new to 2021, this is by no means a new trend. For years it’s been used in literary and media depictions of private schools and ivy-leagues alike since as early as the 1990s, but it’s unclear when the trend transitioned into a growing aesthetic popular with teens and young adults of today. Some say it was brought to life on the fashion blogs of Tumblr in the early 2010s, but regardless of when it popped up on the scene--academia fashion--along with several other niche fashion aesthetics have come back in a big way in 2021. 

If you aren’t familiar with the different kinds of fashion aesthetics including academia fashion--allow us to explain. 

The fashion involved in the academic fashion trend encompasses sophisticated clothing typically associated with higher education like collared shirts, pleated skirts, and long wool coats, while also celebrating the pursuit of knowledge that academia promotes. 

There are various kinds of academia fashion from dark, light, chaotic, and romantic, but to fully understand academia fashion, you have to forget everything you think you know about fashion trends--for this is not your usual, run of the mill fad--it’s a movement.

Academia: More Than Just a Trend

The Academia Aesthetic is more than just a pair of patterned pants and a tweed coat. It’s become a subculture that focuses on the importance of knowledge and intelligence through reading, writing, and exploring classic literature and art that fits in with the overall aesthetic. 

The embrace of knowledge and continued learning is what sets academia fashion apart from other previously popular fashion trends like Boho chic and Preppy. Those trends carried an aesthetic with them, but stayed primarily focused on the physical aesthetic of fashion, instead of creating a lifestyle around the trend.

Other subcultures similar to academia fashion have also popped up over the past couple years like e-girl and cottagecore which both have a specific style, aesthetic, and overall brand they hope to promote. 

At some point within the timeline of academia fashion, subcultures began breaking off in the form of Dark Academia Fashion, Light Academia Fashion, Chaotic Academia fashion, and several others. Each holds its own specific aesthetic from the clothes worn, down to the specific area of knowledge concentrated on.

For instance, those who fit the dark academia aesthetic wear darker colored outfits, focus on existentialism, self-discovery, and tragic literary figures like those written by Edgar Allen Poe and similar authors. The mystery and dark appearance of Dark academia has had people comparing it to the style achieved by Slytherin house in the Harry Potter Books. 

Light Academia Fashion, on the other hand, is a softer interpretation of academia fashion and the polar opposite of it’s older, brooding sister--dark academia. It has been garnering attention lately for the lighter, more approachable impression it gives off. Much like the darker academic inspired fashion, the lighter side promotes a professional style, but in a brighter, more floral color scheme that dawns puffy-sleeved tops and soft pink pleated pants. 

Light Academia fashion still encourages education, but places importance on different subjects like poetry, artistic expression, and antiquated forms of learning like vintage Jane Austen novels and weathered leatherback notebooks full of scribbled sonnets and ideas. 

It also encourages a yearning for the way things were before technology ran our lives. Rolling around in the grass and staring at the clouds would be a typical daytime activity for a light academia enthusiast. Instead of going out to eat with friends, a lake-side picnic would be preferable.

In 2020, Dark Academia fashion ruled the scene, with a focus on dark schemes and even darker literary themes. In 2021, however, Light Academia fashion is taking over with pale pinks, yellows, and all of the Jane Austen you could ever hope for. But where did this obsession with Dark Academia begin? 

The Inspiration Behind the Light Academia Aesthetic 

Dark Academia fashion ran rampant throughout 2020 as the world faced the many challenges and changes brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. The mysterious feeling of the aesthetic gave students who were unable to experience the typical college lifestyle a way to escape into a romanticized version of their current situation. 

Hopes were high going into the new year as the vaccine started rolling out to individuals all over the country and restrictions began lifting slowly, but surely. As we waded further and further into 2021, the dark aesthetic began to brighten as the weather turned warmer, and the takeover of Light Academia Fashion began making its statement among Gen Z and other young adults.

The two subcultures have amassed popularity from social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Tumblr where light and dark academia have grown a large audience of like-minded teens who use the aesthetic as a form of escapism to a more wondrous reality. But where did the Academia Aesthetic really begin? 

Academia fashion, primarily the darker side of the subculture, found the basis of its style and academic inspiration from the Donna Tartt novel, The Secret History. The book tells the story of an elite New England college where the well-dressed students search for a more exciting existence and end up falling down a corrupt and malevolent path to irreversible damage. Tartt’s characters have impeccable style and horrible decision making qualities, getting them into destructive and toxic circumstances that have seemed to draw the intrigue of the boundary-pushing Gen Z crowd. 

Light Academia fashion spawned from the Dark Academia fashion as those interested in the trend who preferred lighter, less sinister subject matter and clothing choices decided to create their own view of Academia fashion. 

Light Academia fashion does focus on the retro ivy-league outfits students would’ve worn in the 19th and 20th century, much like Dark academia, but unlike certain vintage trends that have come in gone as time has passed like shoulder pads and MC Hammer pants, dark and light academia fashion doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. The long wool coats and fashionable pants have become a staple in most adult women’s closets. 

How to dress in Light Academia Style

Light Academia Fashion revolves around a pink/neutral color scheme that is full of beige, white, mauve, light brown and other natural colors that depict a sophisticated, yet soft appearance. 

Light academia color scheme
Just some of the colors included in the Light Academia color scheme. Photo Courtesy of Canva

Every light academia wardrobe contains a few key pieces that help bring the wistful, intelligent vision to life:


Blazers are a must when it comes to any academia fashion, light or dark. When picking out the right blazer for your light academia wardrobe, it’s important to focus on neutral colors that will fit with lighter color schemes. Since blazers often act as the focal point of an outfit, you’ll want to go with a beige or soft pink to commit to the light academia aesthetic. 

White Cable Knit Sweater

Cream colored cable knit sweater
A classic staple for any light academia style. Photo Courtesy of Womanology.co.uk

A great white sweater can become one of your most-worn items during the fall and winter as a light academia hottie. They pair great with pleated plaid pants or a beige wool coat. If you want to get really academic with your outfit, you can wear a colored halter underneath the sweater to give the illusion of a layered colored shirt. 


We know both of Taylor Swift’s new albums have a much more cottagecore vibe to them, but she doesn’t own cardigans! Cardigans are a great piece to incorporate into your Light academia outfit, especially if paired with a sweet blouse or turtleneck underneath. 


Overcoats have been all the rage over the past year or so. During the winter months they’re great for staying warm while also appearing classy and stylish no matter where you’re going. The most popular overcoat colors we’ve seen have been beige, cream, and dark brown which go well with the light academia aesthetic. 


Beige cashmere turtle neck top
This look is so cute and classy. Photo Courtesy of Tumblr.com

Beige and cream colored turtlenecks are a great addition to any light academia closet. They can be paired with a darker colored pant and a light or beige wool coat. 

Cigarette pants 

Cigarette pants are one of the hottest new trends around. The slim cut at the ankle adds so much class to any outfit. Pants are one of the best parts of the light academia fashion trend because there are so many fun plaid colors and patterns to choose from. 

Doc Martens 

We <3 Doc martens! They have so many versatile boots and shoes that work for a number of different aesthetics. For this light academia fashion, though, we recommend pairing your Doc Martens with a cute plaid skirt and turtleneck combo. 

Square neck tops

Square neck top blouse with puffy sleeves in white
Square neck tops with puff sleeves are the perfect light academia combo. Photo Courtesy of Nordstrom.com

Something about a square neck top just says classy. The neckline creates the perfect frame to accentuate your collarbones and neck, which gives you the perfect opportunity to accessorize with some cute necklaces or earrings. Stick with gold accessories, though. Pairing beige colored clothes with silver...as if! 

Light Academia Backpacks + Bags

Like dark academia (and any other academia-based aesthetic), backpacks and bags are a huge part of light academia fashion. We like these sleek and subtle crossbody bags and backpacks from Day Owl. Why? Not only to the fit the light academia trend perfectly with their grays, browns, beiges, and peach colors, Day Owl also uses recycled plastic to craft their bags, so you can rest assured you're making the sustainable shopping choice.

That's it for our crash course in light academia fashion.

If you want to find more light academia style inspiration, there are full blogs and instagram profiles dedicated to academia fashion and the subcultures that make it one of the biggest style trends today. 

Mar 25, 2021