Back in the day, dressing like a nerd used to be the quickest way to get ostracized by your peers. Now, many Gen Zers have found the beauty in being book smart and have turned it into a style all its own.

With more than 16 million views on TikTok, the vintage ‘Academia’ look is another fashion trend and lifestyle subculture that has become increasingly popular amongst Gen Zers. It’s favored by those who’ve found their place among others who share their love of learning to the point of romanticizing receiving an elite liberal arts education.

Adopters of the trend heavily idealize intellectual curiosity or hold a fascination with the humanities; This has resulted in a subculture that mixes the fashion of American & English prep schools with the humanist values of the 17th & 18th century Enlightenment eras. Like members of the early European movements, Gen Z “Academics” feel that the pursuit of knowledge is akin to human happiness and holds one’s scholarly achievement level in high regard. Lovers of the Academic look can usually be found engaging in one of their many obscure interests, such as studying neoclassical art, collecting leather-bound books, or practicing calligraphy.

Get the Look with A Few Style Staples

Overall the style is pretty preppy but with more vintage elements thrown in. The ideal outfit is almost uniform-like, with oxford button-downs, wool coats, pleated skirts, and knit sweaters being popular staples. More mature versions of the look can sometimes be seen on celebrities like Emma Watson.

Much like the E-girl aesthetic, there are two versions of this style: light and dark.

Light academia is soft and gentle with an air of high culture surrounding it. Clothing is usually made of delicate materials in white or warm neutral tones and is often adorned with little bows, ruffles, or simple pearl accessories. From what I can see, the goal is to basically look like you attend a very prestigious music school in Paris and enjoy spending your free time studying the prose of classical poetry in the soft light of the 5 p.m. golden hour. Or as if you could have been a character in a Jane Austen novel. (I personally really like the more mature interpretation of this look.)

Dark academia on the other hand is more about looking like a gothic goody-two-shoes. This version is more mysterious and takes many cues from various dark visual arts movements throughout history. It’s all about corduroy, black coffee, and the genuine enjoyment of gloomy Victorian-era literature and suspenseful Greek tragedies. You’re basically an English teachers’ favorite student.

I know many of us here in the luxury fashion community love looking sharp and sophisticated, so here are a few suggestions for anyone looking for the best bags to nail the dark and light academia aesthetics:

Bags for Brainiacs

For the most part, there is overlap between the preferred bag styles of the two looks. Since the style is centered around looking like an intellectual, it’s best to go for messenger bags, satchels, totes, backpacks. If you really want to dress to impress, nothing beats a briefcase. (This also makes the style easy to replicate for men’s fashion.)

Stick with smooth structured leather if you’re going for a clean sophisticated vibe; Softer smushy leather is better for a complete vintage look. Bonus points if the leather has begun to form a patina.

Colorwise, try sticking to classic black, tans, or a cognac-colored brown. You can also get away with adding in rich burgundy or dark green if you need an extra dose of color.

What do you all think of this look? Can you see yourself rocking any of these pieces?

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kang504
kang504
10 months ago

Worked in academia until last year. There is very little style there of any kind.

Allison
Allison
10 months ago

I’ve been thinking of ways to incorporate these academic styles into my bag wardrobe, so I was really excited to see this post. In my opinion, the dark academic vibe is almost melodramatic and romantic, so I think details like chain straps, bows, ribbons are great here, so I grabbed a Lanvin Amalia bag to fit the bill. For light academia, I think of more straightforward studious vibes, so the larger size Proenza Schouler PS1 in the right color is on my list to grab for a daytime look. Neither of these bags is overly structured or rigid but that’s not really part of my interpretation of the style. I really like the idea of incorporating ‘00s handbags from the preloaded market, because these styles are really about embracing vintage or working with what you have, not buying a brand new trendy bag.

Komal Rana
Komal Rana
10 months ago

Very nice article. Thanks for sharing

Tiffany
Tiffany
10 months ago

Can anyone identify the bag Emma is carrying in the photo?

Thistle07
Thistle07
10 months ago
Reply to  Tiffany

Mulberry Mabel

Kristina
Kristina
10 months ago
Reply to  Thistle07

Love this bag!

Catherine
Catherine
10 months ago
Reply to  Tiffany

Not sure… but maybe Botkier or Rebecca Minkoff?

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