Compared to many short-lived aesthetic trends, Light Academia has cemented its place in the books of fashion and aesthetics for a good reason.
In this article, I’ll share the origin of the Light Academia aesthetic and its growing role in fashion and style.
I’ll also introduce you to the ‘academia color palette,’ the most popular (and affordable) academia style pieces, and the best academia aesthetic fashion brands you can buy now.
This is a must-read article if you want the best advice on creating your academia-style wardrobe for years to come.
What is Light Academia Aesthetic?
If you’ve landed on this page, you probably already have a pretty good idea about Dark Academia.
Dark tones, heavy knitwear, and ancient Hogwarts-worthy libraries come to mind when thinking about it.
On the other hand, Light Academia offers a visually lighter twist on its gothic-esque Dark Academia counterpart, creating an atmosphere of refreshing positivity.
Even if you’re not a student, it’s not hard to fall for the undeniable appeal of Light Academia and its preppy nonchalance, as displayed in collections of beautiful pastel color palettes.
The style’s inspiration is deeply anchored in the classical influences of European universities.
Yet, some of its proponents boldly push the aesthetic into a new conceptual era.
Breaking from the Western canons and introducing new cultural aspects to the mix gives Light Academia the edge to gain a dedicated fanbase worldwide.
Light Academia Vs. Dark Academia
Dark Academia can be the perfect reference point for Light Academia.
For that, to better understand the Light Academia aesthetic and fashion, let’s have a look at the differences between the two:
1. Aesthetic Differences
According to The New York Times, the Dark Academia aesthetic first emerged last year on TikTok.
With the pandemic, schools worldwide entered into lockdown, and thus, everyone’s social lives transferred to the online sphere.
The style brought together those who shared a passion for learning.
Moreover, specific fashion choices – think Ivy League-style pieces and cozy knits – soon followed, constructing the aesthetic’s distinctive personality.
After deep diving into the themes offered by the two contrasting styles, it becomes apparent why Light Academia fashion has emerged as the natural answer to its counterpart.
On the one hand, Light Academia outfits promote optimism, friendship, motivation, and happy endings over pessimism, sadness, and sensitivity.
In contrast, Dark Academia is rooted in rather doom-focused themes, including literary tragedy, the meaning of life, escapism, and death.
What naturally links the two is a passion for acquiring knowledge in classic literature, music, art, or history – meaning that if you’re a keen learner, it’ll probably strike a stylistic chord with you.
2. Fashion Differences
Fashion-wise, the difference between light and dark becomes apparent by only looking at the aesthetic’s names.
The color palette visually differentiates the clothing styles of Dark Academia fashion from Light Academia fashion.
Compared to Dark Academia, based on dark browns, grays, and blacks, the Light Academia fashion style leans toward lighter and brighter variations of beige, browns, and pastels.
How to Dress Light Academia Style – 9 Fashion Essentials
To dress in Light Academia style, you need pleated skirts, dress shirts, sweater vests, flowy dresses, button-down shirts, ruffle socks, hair ribbons, and any other garments and accessories resembling student life.
The foundation of any flawless academic outfit relies on tops – long-sleeved blouses, sweaters, and turtlenecks – which can be found in most vintage clothing stores.
However, layering is the name of the game, particularly when dressing for colder days.
If you choose an outfit for sunnier times, swap chunky knits for lighter fabrics to stay comfortable.
If you’re ready to put together an academia-inspired capsule wardrobe, here are the 9 must-have Light Academia fashion essentials:
1. Turtleneck Sweaters
A few things feel better on the skin than a soft wool and silk blend.
This sweater is highly suitable for any Light Academia clothing matches you have in mind.
Nailing that perfect balance of slouchy and refined, this piece is one you’ll reach for daily.
2. Preppy Shirts
Suppose you’re looking for something more structured; in that case, you can’t go wrong with a classic shirt from Ralph Lauren.
Worn solo or layered under a sweater with the collar peeking out, it will give you that preppy edge you’re after.
Also, The classic shirt goes great with high-waist, straight-leg jeans for women.
3. Oversized Chinos
Whether you’re a pants or a skirt person, you can always channel the Light Academia aesthetic in your looks by picking out specific cuts and lengths.
Tailoring, both sharp and delicate, is a fail-safe option.
But the right choice of denim is an equally solid foundation for an Instagram-worthy edit.
Reliable tailored trousers are a cornerstone of every wardrobe, and high-rise pairs from Sandro will surely not disappoint you.
4. Pleated Skirts
As an essential piece of any Light Academia wardrobe, pleated skirts let your feminine side shine.
Opt for pieces like pleated Thom Browne skirts that look like classic school uniforms for inspiration.
5. Chunky Cardigans
Staying cozy and comfortable is not optional in academia-inspired outfits, and I think there’s no better way to ensure you feel that way than by wrapping up in a warm cardigan.
I love chunky cardigans from Ted Baker for their silhouette that hits that sweet spot between relaxed and elegant.
6. Tweed Blazers
Tweed is another great fabric to help you create a perfectly polished, Light Academia look.
Check out houndstooth blazers from Chloé for inspiration; it makes you wish for the weather to get colder!
Consider investing in a couple of go-with-anything tweed blazers; if emblazed with collegiate details like crests or contrasting trims, even better.
7. Oxford-style Shoes
Choosing matching shoes is key to a Light Academia aesthetic – a style where simplicity and comfort reign supreme.
That’s why you’ll rarely need to endure the hardships of wearing high heels.
Some staple styles to consider investing in are Oxford shoes, loafers, combat boots, or Mary Janes.
If comfort and a classic finish are what you want in your look, try LOEWE Derby shoes – I think they’re a perfect match thanks to their smooth and versatile leather construction.
8. Roller Glasses
Regarding Light Academia fashion aesthetic, your choice of accessories must be where your personality truly shines.
In this case, this two-piece combo will have your outfit scream Light Academia from afar: Roller glasses.
With these accessories, you can publicly proclaim your “thirst for knowledge” while carrying your favorite classic books right by your side.
To lend that essential nerdy edge to your edit, check out glasses from D. Franklin that effortlessly bridge the gap between modern and retro.
9. Satchel Bags
The easiest way to keep up with the European cultures (fashion-wise) is to adopt a minimal and sleek look.
For example, I highly recommend Jil Sander satchel bags for their versatile and practical design that will easily complement many modern internet aesthetics.
Why is Light Academia Popular?
According to Amanda Brennan – Tumblr’s trend expert and meme librarian – an overall engagement increase around the Light Academia trend was spotted around the back-to-school time in September 2021, spiking 117% in the second week.
That dynamic is hardly surprising – after all, we were all after some light-heartedness following the turbulent events of the first half of 2021, and that is what Light Academia has to offer.
“Light academia is an aesthetic that focuses on the softer and gentler side of Dark Academia,“
“It still embodies the love of learning, but with an airier, less doom-focused feel that shows that knowledge brings light and happiness in the outdoors rather than a gothic darkness seen curled up in a corner.”
The season can also impact the popularity of Light Academia vs. Dark Academia.
For summer, lighter and brighter outfits are preferred over darker, heavier tones.
Popular selling apps like Depop noted that searches for “Light Academia” started picking up last summer and later went up by 900% in October 2022, showing that the trend is only attracting more fashion mavens.
In context, searches for Dark Academia on the same platform increased by more than 500% between June and December 2022.
Depop is not the only place where the Light Academia aesthetic takes over.
On Pinterest, the number of pinners tagging Light Academia clothing and Light Academia clothes was 236 times greater than in December the year before.
Faith runs a Depop store called ‘Thrifting Is For Cool Kids,’ and academia-influenced pieces are at the core of her enormous success.
The aesthetic is spreading so fast that Faith’s audience has grown to over 13,000 people and over 750 sales in less than a year.
“My Depop shop is my style, which is cottagecore and academia,“
“That’s one of the main things that has helped me so much…
… because I sell pieces that I would wear, and it attracts people of the same crowd who enjoy the same fashion sense.”
“Calling all dark and Light Academia lovers. This one’s for you,”
announced Faith by posting a neutral-hued drop on her Instagram account after noticing that Light Academia-inspired clothes are now the fastest-selling commodities.
Moreover, Faith expects interest in Light Academia apparel to grow even further as the summer is fully blooming.
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A graduate of the University of London in Journalism, Marta is a highly ambitious and rule-challenging copywriter with several years of experience in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle editorial writing.