Last Updated on September 29, 2023 by Carla Jonas
From history to literature. From literature to internet subculture. And from internet subculture to reinvented fashion aesthetic – the emergence of LIGHT ACADEMIA is definitely captivating. Arisen as a counterpart to Dark Academia, the light academia aesthetic juxtaposes the gloominess of scholarly life and inspires motivation and optimism towards learning and academics. Through bright and soft colors, warm tones, natural lighting, effortless styling and an overall positive energy, light academia is all about a poetic preppy lifestyle.
Its fashion brings earthy color palettes and pocket watches, charming pearls, vintage frames, tweed overload, cable knits and a plethora of plaid. Next, we’re taking a close look at the trending fashion aesthetic: its origins, subculture, precursor and style elements.
Light Academia: Frequently Asked Questions
Simply put, academia with all its subgenres is an aesthetic that heavily draws influence from the scholarly and portrays an intellectual lifestyle. It predominantly features a desire for learning and knowledge with a strong romanticizing of education. Influenced by the ivy league aesthetics, light academia aims to mirror preppy sophistication with a soft, optimistic vibe, reflected through imagery of classic architecture and elements of décor, lifestyle and fashion.
Light academia draws its inspiration from classical romantic literature, conveying sensitivity, joy, motivation, friendship, romance and happy endings. Visually, the aesthetic is mainly featuring neutral and earthy tones, including beige, cream, light browns, ivory, white and muted, dusty colors.
Dark academia is the aesthetic that preceded light academia. Its main inspiration is also the scholarly lifestyle with a strong idealization of the arts, but with a moodier substrate. Instead of joy and optimism, dark academia focuses on gloomier, darker themes and visuals drawn from existentialism, poetry, classical literature and architecture. Its main color palette ranges from black to dark shades of brown, maroon and greys.
Light academia fashion is reliant on soft color palettes including earthy and neutral tones, natural fabrics and knits and a wide variety of plaid fabrics. Inspired by intellectual dress-codes and classic literature, both light academia casual, school and work outfits feature a variety of elements from blazers to pearls and brooches, wool vests, button downs, pea and duffle coats, saddle and tote bags, berets, plaid skirts and other similar preppy elements.
Dark academia, romantic academia, art academia, chaotic academia and grey academia are all related aesthetics. Each draws inspiration from college-inspired aesthetics, which are reinterpreted in specific ways through different visuals. In addition, cottagecore and light academia have similar notes, motifs and color palettes.
Fun Fact: Many followers of academia aesthetics find their sources of inspiration in films like Dead Poets Society (1989) and School Ties (1992).Click to tweet
Light Academia Aesthetic – A Short History
The Story of Its Precursor: Dark Academia
At its root, dark academia is an aesthetic with a nostalgic energy, focused on the glorification of an older time period (although undefined in time) during which upper-class society proudly attended ivy league schools and promoted liberal education. As an internet subculture however, the social class element dissipates – and is replaced simply by a moodier feel that is attached to academic-inspired aesthetics.
Dark academia is a term that first appeared on Tumblr back in 2015, although many novels that exude the same aesthetic precede it. The official literary origin of dark academia comes from Donna Tart‘s 1992 novel The Secret History. The novel tells the story of a murder among a group of students attending an elite college in England. As an internet aesthetic and subculture, dark academia is focused on education, the arts and literature, all with a moody, gloomy underlayer.
Fun Fact: Darkest Academia, also named Gothic Academia and Goth Academia, is a level above Dark Academia. The aesthetic is all about finding inspiration and beauty in the darkest sources.Click to tweet
The Romanticization of a Chore
The idea behind light academia is taking something that is often a chore – such as studying and academics – and metamorphosing it into an appealing activity. Similar to starting to enjoy working out when wearing the right workout outfit, sipping from the smartest water bottle and sporting the latest smartwatch, light academia is all about enjoying the endeavor of studying when inspired by one’s surroundings and armed with the right outfits, vibe and accessories.
The aesthetic finds its origins in a Tumblr text post. Back in 2019, user ‘plantaires’ wrote the following: “you’ve heard of ‘dark academia’, now its time for ‘light’ academia… wearing light linen sundresses in foreign countries, eating picnics and pastries in the afternoon sun while reading poetry and laughing with your friends, the 99burning passion and excitement when you finally make a breakthrough in your research, falling asleep in your lovers arms sunkissed and happy… everything is beautiful and hopeful and no one dies.”, followed by ‘”did I… accidentally coin a term?”
Light Academia Color Palette
Colors are highly important in the light academia aesthetic – after all, the name ‘light’ represents the preference towards lighter and softer hues. As a juxtaposition to dark academia that conveys darker energies with deeper themes and visuals, light academia is a breezy, more effortless and enthusiastic romanticizing of education, which is conveyed through its characteristic color palette.
In general, light academia is all about neutral colors and lighter earthy tones. At the other end of the spectrum, dark academia features predominantly darker tones like black and greys and darker earthy shades, especially of the brown variety.
Here is a typical light academia color palette:
- Ivory, champagne and other off-whites
- Beige, taupe and sand
- Light greys and steel greys
- Khakis and dusty greens
- Dusty pink and desaturated blush
- Maroons and chocolate browns
LIGHT ACADEMIA JEWELRY SPOTLIGHT
Incorporate light academia vibes in your look with the right jewelry pieces in soft, light hues. Featuring overtones of rose, white, champagne and ivory, pearls have been the symbol of preppy aesthetics for centuries. Offer them as anniversary jewelry, or as a special gift to yourself! Pair them up with tweed, plaid and solids in soft beige, dusty and earthy shades for a light academia look that can’t miss the mark.
Light Academia: Elements of the Aesthetic
Like any aesthetic, light academia comes with its own set of inspirations ranging from architecture to art and philosophy, manifested through its curated imagery.
Light Academia Settings / Locations
- Museums and art galleries
- Castles and palaces
- Quaint coffee shops
- Nature and the outdoors
Light Academia Inspiration
- Photography: Natural lighting, warm, sepia tones
- Art: Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical
- Architecture: Classic Greek and Neoclassical design
- Ideology: Idealism, Renaissance
Themes and Philosophy
- Love for learning, studying and academics
- Studying as leisure and passion
- Gaining knowledge seen as a main virtue
- Intellectual stimulation
- An affinity for pleasing aesthetics derived from classic architecture and literature
Elements of Style: Fabrics, Clothing Items, Accessories and Shoes
Light academia fashion is poetic. It’s preppy, yet without being overly neat. It features many paradoxes – from combos like ultra-neat button-downs and perfect locks tied with velvet bows to artsy, weathered bags that succumbed under the pressure of carrying heavy classic novels. After all, the fashion in light academia is both a cause and a result of the academics – they generate each other.
The perfect preppy girl look outfit is a source of motivation for an afternoon spent learning or wandering in the perfectly curated museum with white marble floors. Similarly, a life dedicated to academics reflects in the wearer’s fashion choices: a half updo is both practical for reading yet perfectly aesthetic. An old, unpretentious saddle bag is the perfect way to carry one’s literature collection.
Light Academia: Fabrics and Patterns
Light academia features a wide range of fabrics and patterns in the characteristic color palette. The range includes a wide variety of European materials, weaving techniques and patterns, especially originating from Great Britain. Some fabrics present an understated charm (such as linen or madras) while others are considered luxe fabrics, such as silk or cashmere. The light academia aesthetic is a middle ground for these eclectic textile combinations.
A type of tightly woven wool that presents a typical weave pattern. It is rough, warm and mainly used in outerwear, winter pants, blazers or suits as it is designed to be weather resistant.
A type of textile that presents a raised ‘cord’ texture that is visually made of parallel lines. It is usually made of cotton or blends including polyester.
A type of textile pattern that presents broken checks in contrasting colors.
A type of cloth that is made of woven wool and that includes various types of plaid, mostly with a Scottish origin.
A type of woolen fabric that features a woven design that combines both large and small checks (typically of the houndstooth variety).
A duotone patterns in contrasting colors that is mostly made of cotton and blended yarns which are dyed before woven.
A durable and flexible textile made from animal skins that are treated for optimal preservation. Both real and faux leather, as well as suede (napped finish leather) appear in the light academia aesthetic.
A type of soft fabric that is woven from yarn, wool, cotton or synthetic fibers. Predominantly used in the making of blankets, sleepwear and shirts.
A fiber known for its superior softness, made from high quality wool from cashmere goats and pashmina goats.
A natural fabric made from the fibers of the flax plant. Lightweight, comfortable and absorbent, linen is a strong fabric that is primarily used in the making of summer attire.
A type of needlecraft that is used to create fabrics from yarn loops. Used in the making of blankets, sweaters, vests and accessories.
A natural fiber that is produced by insect larvae. Soft, smooth and lightweight, both real and imitation silk are found in light academia hot weather garments, ranging from button-downs to dresses.
A type of check pattern that features vertical and horizontal stripes that form squares and alternate two different colors.
A type of fabric obtained from the fur of sheep, rabbits and goats. Warm, soft and durable, wool is suitable for all kinds of apparel, predominantly winterwear and outerwear.
A type of fabric made out of yarn thread in a weblike pattern. Various types of lace exists, including knitted, crocheted, needle lace and bobbin lace.
A type of knitting that results in textiles with a cable-like texture due to the crossing layers knitting technique. Predominantly used in the making of blankets, scarves, cardigans and sweaters.
A type of pattern that features diamonds in contrasting colors, used in socks and sweaters.
A lightweight fabric made of cotton that presents a pattern similar to tartan, known for its soft and muted colors.
Light Academia Accessories
Parisian style-inspired, berets find their place in the light academia aesthetic through their nostalgia-filled charm and chic appeal. Made of wool or cashmere and paired with pea coats and trench coats, berets covey that sophisticated flair that exudes light academia vibes.
From classic pearl necklaces to bracelets, earrings and pendants, light academia is all about classic jewelry pieces. Diamonds are considered too showy and sparkly for the muted palette of the aesthetic, so pearls become a favorite gem due to their subtle radiance. With a long tradition of being regarded as symbols of prestige and strength, pearls are an academia must-have, not only as jewelry, but often found as embellishment on clothing and accessories or displayed as part of décor.
Made of knit wool or cotton, crochet or cable knit, thigh-high socks are an academia-favorite, alluding to school uniform aesthetics.
Unapologetically preppy, headbands witnessed a revival through shows like Gossip Girl in the early 2000s, where the scholastic aesthetics reigned high.
Watches are a must-have accessory in the academia-inspired aesthetics, including delicate wrist watches, pocket watches and vintage chain watches (a more costumey interpretation of the aesthetic).
Hairpins and Clips
Similar to headbands, hairpins and clips, often decked with pearls or draped in fabrics like velvet and tweed are a symbol of scholastic visuals, worn for decorative purposes.
Vintage brooches and pins in aged metals are often found in light academia afficionado’s jewelry boxes. Typical motifs include butterflies, cameo and gold leaves.
Vintage and retro style frames are a trademark academia accessory. Associated with learning, studying and general scholarly-inspired aesthetics, glass frames are both part of décor (as a symbolic prop) and academia style outfits.
Large and oversize, made of velvet or silk, statement bows are an academia favorite. Paired with loose – yet always neat – curls and soft waves, hairbows are typically worn in the back, holding up half updos.
While some light academia accessories are predominantly neat and sleek (think pearls and bows), others are intentionally weathered, bohemian and showing signs of prolonged use (think pocket watches and vintage pins). Saddle bags are part of the second category. The stamp of time and use is a mandatory chic accessory – more so than the design of the bag itself. Bags are used for carrying books and their weathered appearance is the mark of an inclination towards study and reading.
Similar to saddle bags, tote bags are, perhaps paradoxically so, unpretentious. Made of cotton or linen and simple in design, totes in light academia come in muted neutrals, often inscribed with quotes from famous books.
Sweaters and tweed pants pair well when accessorized with leather belts. Either sharp and modern or beaten down and vintage, leather belts are an academia favorite.
Fun Fact: In December 2022, the number of pinners tagging Light Academia fashion posts on Pinterest was 236 times greater than in December the previous year.Click to tweet
No true light academia look is complete without the perfect bling. And nothing conveys preppy vibes better than the right types of necklaces, such as chic strands of pearls. Whether you go for classic white pearls, off round baroque gems, pearl pendants, single, double or triple pearl necklaces and bracelets, our collection has it all. Shop for your dream pearls for that perfect final touch to your academia style outfits!
Light Academia Fashion: Tops
Light academia comes with a wide selection of tops in primarily natural fabrics. Summer styles include lined tops and button downs, both oversize and fitted with looser sleeves. White eyelet lace tops (not pictured) that carry cottagecore elements are often paired with wide leg shorts in beige tones. Collared shirts – with and without buttons – are paired with plaid miniskirts and pleated tennis skirts.
Winter styles include crochet vests, lightweight sweaters in cashmere and wool (especially turtlenecks) and chunkier sweaters featuring cable knit. These are paired with heavier wool in plaid patterns as bottoms and layered under cardigans, pea coats and trench coats.
A typical light academia collection of tops includes:
- Crochet Tops
- Cable Knit Sweaters and Vests
- Collared Shirts
- Poplin Blouses
- Preppy Button-Downs
- Ruffled Lace Tops
Light Academia Style: Skirts, Pants and Shorts
Summer styles include wide leg shorts in khaki and beige tones, often high-waisted. Tennis skirts with pleats are also a favorite, as well as linen pleated shorts and skirts.
For colder weather, tweed is a must, as well as boucle and corduroy in a wide variety of beige and brown shades. The most commonly used patterns are tartan and glen check, worn with solid colors as tops.
A typical light academia aesthetic collection of bottoms includes:
- Tapered Pants
- Pleated Pants
- High Waist Pants & Skirts
- Wide Leg Pants
- Pleated Skirts / Tennis Skirts
- Tweed Shorts & Skirts
Light Academia Fashion: Dresses
Academia styles are less focused on dresses and jumpsuits and feature more two-piece outfits – like combos of skirts and tops or shorts and shirts. The reason behind this preference: school uniforms, where academia aesthetics draw their main inspiration from are predominantly two-piece looks – or three, if adding vests in the mix.
However, certain styles of dresses are considered a match for the aesthetic, including square top linen dresses (often layered over fitted turtlenecks, plaid dresses in simple lines, boucle and tweed button-down shirt dresses and linen jumpsuits in vintage or cottagecore designs.
A typical light academia collection of dresses and jumpsuits includes:
- Linen Square Neck Dresses
- Linen Jumpsuits & Rompers
- Button-Down Dresses
- Tweed Dresses
- Plaid Dresses
- Cottagecore-Inspired Dresses
Light Academia Style: Outerwear
Light academia outerwear repeats the same established themes: tweed, corduroy, beige and other similar neutrals, knits and boucle. Belted outerwear – like pea coats and trench coats are classics, while vests and waistcoats in masculine lines are also highly popular.
A typical light academia collection of outerwear pieces includes:
- Pea Coats
- Tweed & Boucle Jackets
- Trench Coats
- Knit Cardigans
- Duffle Coats
- Tweed Blazers
Light Academia Shoes
A classic men’s shoe, wingtip footwear features a leather overlay placed on the toe that forms a W-shaped design (or a wing shape). Considered a dressier type of shoe, the wingtip is predominantly for men, although women’s styles are highly popular as well in academia-inspired aesthetics. Its main typical feature: the perforated design around the ‘wing’. They originate from the 16th or 17th century Scotland and Ireland.
Also called ‘doll shoes’ or ‘slay bar shoes’, the Mary-Jane is a classic women’s footwear piece that features one or more straps across the instep. The shoe was named in 1904, when the Brown Shoe Company named their newest design after a cartoon character called Mary Jane. Originally a flat shoe or with very low heels, these days, Mary-Janes come in a wide range of styles – some on the preppier side, while others more modern and sleek and in a variety of heel types and heights.
Loafers are shoes without laces, also called slip-ons. They present a moccasin-style construction and originate from London, where they were originally marketed as the Wildsmith Loafer. Commonly worn by both women and men, loafers are flat shoes that pair well with smart-casual and business-casual dress codes.
Martens, also known as Doc Martens, Docs or DMs, is the name of a German-founded British footwear brand. Dr. Martens were originally a utilitarian type of boot that was marketed as a gardening shoe initially. It rapidly became popular as a workwear shoe. Mainly referring to lace-up boots, Dr. Martens were very popular footwear style among police officers and postmen during the 1950s. They soon became popular among scooter riders, musicians and artists, forming its own subculture, where they were regarded as ‘a symbol of his own working class pride and rebellious attitude’ (Dr. Martens).
The saddle shoes were originally designed for indoor use at the beginning of the 20th century. The design reached its highest popularity in the 1930s and 1940s, yet its popularity as nostalgic footwear continues among vintage fashion afficionados.
A shoe named by an ivy league university finds its place perfectly in the light academia aesthetic. Originally called Balmorals after the Balmoral Castle in Scotland, oxford are a classic men’s shoe, now worn both by men and women. The main feature of this type of footwear is the fact that it presents shoelace eyelets that are attached under the vamp. The type of this shoelace eyelets is called ‘closed lacing’.
Besides dark and light academia, a new array of related internet aesthetics has submerged in the recent years. Below, a quick look at each.
Romantic academia draws its inspiration from literature, specifically romantic novels, with a focus on the Romantic Era. Its primary source of inspiration is Western European culture with a poetic energy. Main themes include idealization of nature, creativity, emotional awareness and aesthetic beauty. Fashion-wise, romantic academia features a light and pastel hued color palette, feminine blouses, bows, ruffles, pearls, ample skirts and floral details.
Grey academia is tightly connected to dark academia. Its main color palette is focused on grey shades that range from light to dark. Fashion-wise, grey academia features tweed and plaid, solid charcoal shades and black. The mood of grey academia is notoriously gloomy and melancholic, with a pessimistic tone.
Chaotic academia is a reinterpretation of dark academia. It includes themes and motifs like haphazard lifestyles and routines, rebellious literature, studying as an obsession, chaotic environments and eclectic outfits. Fashion-wise, chaotic academia features unexpected pairings with a slight eccentric feel and a messier aesthetic.
Art academia is an aesthetic that focuses on the love of art – both as an artist and as an observer. This includes visual arts like classic art, sculpture, drawing, as well as calligraphy and photography. Similar to light academia, its central theme is also placed in the value of studying, with strong influences from the 18th and 19th centuries. Color palettes range from neutral tones to earthy browns, khakis and greys, paired with soft golds.
Cottegacore is an aesthetic that celebrates an idyllic rural life. The main elements include scenic countryside visuals, traditional skills (baking, gardening, sewing) and whimsical fashion (feminine dresses, peasant blouses, lace, florals and dainty jewelry). Additional elements include books, greenery, baked goods, tea, shabby chic decor, natural woods and nature in all its forms. The cottagecore aesthetic comes in a soft and pastel color palette, including white, dusty shades, blush, paired with a variety of small scale prints ranging from checks to florals.
Ready to jump on the Light Academia train? Start by shopping for the perfect jewelry pieces!
It’s settled: light academia is a VIBE. An aesthetic in its own right, that settled it once and for all: learning is supposed to be enjoyable, especially when equipped with the right attire, accessories and when performed in unapologetically poetic settings. From museums to coffee shops and from libraries to the welcoming outdoors, everything can be the perfect canvas for light academia.
Fashion-wise, it’s soft, warm and cozy – in their most elevated version. Easy and breezy, yet properly preppy at the same time. From hairbows to vintage pins and old charming books, enjoyed while rocking vintage frames and cozy knit thigh-high socks, the light academia fashion aesthetic undoubtedly brings plenty of charm. Are you a fan of the uber-trendy light academia? Let us know in the comment section below!
- 29 Different Types of Necklaces: Your Ultimate Guide to Necklace Designs - September 25, 2023
- 36 Different Types of Rings: Your Ultimate Guide to Ring Designs - June 26, 2023
- Light Academia: The Ultimate Guide on the Trendy Fashion Aesthetic - April 11, 2023