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It Girl Glossary: The Rise of Indian Dark Academia

Dark academia has been an it girl aesthetic for years now; inspired by school uniforms and academia-centric works of fiction, dark academia puts a darker twist on an otherwise preppy aesthetic. But, like many of these trending aesthetics, when you search 'dark academia' on Pinterest or TikTok, users accessorise their knee socks and brogues with pale skin. Dark academia feels incredibly white in nature — but how do other cultures interact? Aadya Paswan examines the rise of Indian dark academia.

Dark academia is described as: 'a social media aesthetic and a subculture concerned with higher education, literature, and the arts.' It is an aesthetic stimulated with the aid of using antique and classical literature/philosophy, alongside topics of existentialism and death — basically, a knowledgeable, antique emo. The style revolves around a darkish colour scheme mixed with earthy tones, all resembling typically academic fashion. Think plaid and suede, alongside knitwear, blazers, overcoats, and gold antique jewellery. You can discover someone of this persuasion analysing classics whilst ordering espresso, or an Earl Grey tea. If you haven't guessed it, pretentiousness runs thick within dark academia.

The aesthetic originated on Tumblr around 2013, originally was used as a tag for Gothic and archaic

posts. But, around 2019, the #darkacademia tag started gaining popularity rapidly on Tiktok and

Instagram, and since then, dark academia has developed an online community focusing more on the aesthetic than the intellect.

However, the aesthetic does have its drawbacks. Dark academia itself has a literal darkness in it — and not just the metaphorical kind. Criticisms of the aesthetic include the Eurocentric and classist nature of the aesthetic, as well as the trivial or almost no inclusion of people of colour.

In 2020, most of the world was stuck inside their homes, college campuses a distant fantasy. Dark academia helped create a sense of community online, among individuals stuck and seeking comfort in an isolating time. Many people of colour found comfort in the community too, however, felt an exclusion from the aesthetic.

This resulted in the conception of the Indian/Desi dark academia. Indian dark academia is a subculture of dark academia, that focuses on highlighting and amplifying Indian academics, philosophy, and culture.

Indian dark academia draws some of its inspiration from its Eurocentric predecessor, but implements it in its own unique ways. Dark academia mainly draws inspiration from traditional European culture and cultural movements as well modern influences like Donna Tartt's The Secret History, whilst Indian dark academia takes these references, whilst romanticising its own history and culture, something that runs through into the clothing.

The dark tweed blazers are swapped out for Kashmiri shawls, the Cambridge Company leather satchels a simple jute bag. The turtlenecks for a simple silk kurta, and the classic dark academia accessories for the simple 'chandi ka haar'. This has made the Indian dark academia aesthetic feel more accessible to those that once felt left out; after all, the goal of the aesthetic is to appreciate the smaller joys of life and the morbid longing for a beautiful education for the soul, something that should not be limited to just one culture. The uniqueness and the approachability of the aesthetic has resulted in the meteoric rise of Indian dark academia. Since its conception, there has been an overwhelming love for the aesthetic, with a steady increase in Indian/Desi dark academia literature, films, dance, food and art accounts as well.

The 'face' of this aesthetic, to me, had always looked like 'white people in western settings.' So, the incorporation of my people and their culture into dark academia definitely made me and countless people of South Asian origin feel seen. Finally, I would like to express that, as a POC youth myself, I’m grateful to see us being represented in such an earnest way. Our culture is being appreciated by the same ones who never thought they would appreciate it. It has helped to create a sense of community and inclusivity among PoC and PoC of South Asian origin alike, no matter their personal beliefs. I know that it is helping to create a better and a more inclusive world for our future, no matter how small the effort.

Words by Aadya Paswan

Edited by Lucy Eaton


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