Light Academia Is Here To Replace Its Darker Counterpart

Imagine: On a brisk, sunny spring afternoon, a gentle breeze whispers past you, sending a light flutter through your beige woolen cardigan and camel-colored tweed skirt. Your hair is secured in the back with a crisp white bow — which perfectly matches your pristine knee-high socks amidst relaxed loafers — as you head to your favorite neoclassical-inspired bookshop to grab a coffee and cozy up with a vintage copy of "Jane Eyre."

The scene we have just set is the ultimate essence of the light academia aesthetic, the younger, softer sister of the dark academia trend that dominated our Instagram and TikTok feeds circa 2021 and 2022. Unlike its darker counterpart, light academia takes a step away from the gothic and gloomy poetic vibes that dark academia offered us. Basically, the light academia aesthetic pulls inspiration from classical art, literature, architecture, towns, cities, and music, and takes on a bright, jubilant energy. "Light academia is an aesthetic that focuses on the softer and gentler side of dark academia," Tumblr trend expert Amanda Brennan tells Nylon. "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."

So, while dark academia's deeper palette might be a great option for fall, the neutral and mid-tones of light academia make it the perfect option for spring and summer fashion. Now, let's break down some of the best ways to work light academia into your wardrobe.

Reach for neutral tones

If dark academia colors were essentially, well, dark, it's pretty easy to conclude that light academia is all about softer hues. Instead of outfits centered around blacks and charcoal grays, reach for cool beiges, rusty browns, tans, whites or creams, mochas, and pale grays. This doesn't mean an outfit can't have any black in it, though; it simply means that it should be used more as an accent color than as a main focus.

Add all things preppy to your wardrobe

The entire academia aesthetic, light or dark, draws loads of inspiration from educational attire — think prep school uniforms or something you'd rock in the halls of Harvard in the 1960s. Knee-high socks, miniskirts, cashmere sweaters, headbands, and loafers are just some of the clothing options you can use to really channel your inner academic girl vibe.

Pull inspiration from literature

If you're an avid reader, then you know that there's just something about the outfit you're wearing that enhances the overall mood of a book-reading experience. Whether that outfit includes a sweater vest, turtleneck, corduroys, or gender-neutral cap is entirely up to you, but a literary state of mind is sure to inspire a lot of your best light academia outfits.

Allow cardigans to become your best friends

Think of vintage grandfather cardigans as a light academia must-have: They can be worn regularly, draped around your shoulders, tossed over one shoulder, or even tied around your waist for a more fitted look. You can mix and match them with skirts, pants, turtlenecks, T-shirts, or really any garment you're rocking that day; they simply add a touch of something rather Einstein-esque to an overall scholarly look.

Keep understated elegance in mind

There is something very minimal, understated, and chic about light academia. There are no neon colors, hot pinks, or rich jewel tones; it's more about creating a soft and gentle elegance with muted hues. When reaching for dresses, try to choose pieces that offer coverage and aren't too revealing. The name of the game here isn't to draw attention or convey a message — it's about creating an aesthetic that allows the intellectual side of you to feel at home.

Don't be afraid to get vintage

Light academia focuses a lot on vintage-inspired looks, particularly those from the first half of the 20th century. This means it's totally okay to rock those vintage spectacles you found at the thrift shop, or that Sherlock Holmes-era baker boy cap you've been dying to wear for years now. This aesthetic is all about honoring and appreciating the decades of the past, so really play up vintage themes wherever you can.

Invest in some quality bows

A bow is the perfect way to add a feminine splash of softness to any ensemble, as they're versatile, vintage yet modern, classic, and heavily influenced by the European cultures that light academia is ever-so inspired by. With dark academia, we found ourselves leaning towards black bows, but this time around, try going for either white or tan depending on your hair color.

Jeans are still on the table

Okay, we get it — sometimes dressing up in skirts, dresses, and tights every day is a lot. So, how can you stick to your aesthetic while still remaining comfortable? Rock some jeans! However, there are some things to keep in mind if you go this route: Try to balance the casual nature of jeans out with a nicer sweater or blouse, or be sure to jazz up the look with a leather watch, belt, or handbag.

Books are an accessory, too

The whole essence and point of academia aesthetic is a nod to all things culturally rich and intellectual — this means that books are right front and center at the entirety of our light academia mood board. And who says books can't be used as an accessory as well? While we wholeheartedly recommend actually reading the books you plan on carrying around as a fashion statement, we also agree that books can add to the effect you're going for.

Loafers will still be a wardrobe staple

Black loafers were everything during the dark academia craze, and it's easy to see why: They can instantly, somehow, make you appear 10 times more put together and "smart" the moment you put them on. Luckily for all of us loafer-lovers, light academia welcomes them in with open arms. This time, instead of reaching for solid black, try a black mix or a lighter solid color like beige.

Pull elements from cottagecore

"[Light academia] is almost like a bridge between cottagecore and dark academia," Youtuber Liz Ruth explains to Nylon. In other words, light academia can be thought of as sitting right in the middle of cottagecore and dark academia. It infuses the light-colored vintage vibes of cottagecore with the Ivy League inspiration that dark academia draws from. With light academia, you can enjoy the best of both worlds.

Plaid is a must-have

Plaid, buffalo plaid, tartan, checkered prints, and tweed are all essential for your light academia wardrobe. Why? Because these prints and fabrics are all under the Ivy League uniform umbrella, they tend to fit perfectly into an academic-inspired ensemble. Perhaps the best part of incorporating plaids into your wardrobe is the fact that they're so versatile and can be mixed and matched with so many other choices.

Belts help tie outfits together

If you're ever in doubt about how to tie a light academia outfit together, a vegan leather belt is an ideal choice. Whether you're donning a pair of slacks, a skirt, or a dress, a belt can take a gender-neutral outfit and, when placed at the waistline, help add some feminine silhouettes to the equation. If you'd prefer to keep the outfit unisex, wear the belt lower for an overall gender-neutral feel.

Keep accessories at a minimum

Academia aesthetics have little to do with being flashy, so if you're a jewelry lover, try to keep your pieces at a minimalist level. Swap out large hoop earrings with mini hoops or posts, bulky chains with delicate pendants, and rhinestones with weathered leather. Layering dainty necklaces is also a great option for accessorizing sweaters and cardigans.

Vegan leather is the perfect bag

When we think of classic academia-inspired outfits, it's hard not to correlate the notion with a brown leather satchel filled with scholarly papers and books. If a satchel seems a bit too large for the appearance you're going for, any size vegan leather bag will look stunning with the light academia aesthetic — bonus points for shades of brown.

Layer with collared shirts

Sweaters and blouses can be fabulous on their own, but layering them over a collared shirt will really elevate the style to the next level. To make the most of the collar, tuck the bottom of the shirt into your skirt or slacks. Then, pull a sweater overtop and adjust the collar underneath so it's just peeking out through the sweater.

Swap out black blazers with brown tones

While you can definitely still pair a classic dark academia black blazer with other lighter pieces to create a light academia outfit, brown tones are much a better fit for the aesthetic. In fact, cognac brown shades perfectly mimic aged brown leather, so you can't really go wrong with these types of hues. Sandy shades and greige are also wonderful choices for a standout blazer.

Berets are great for any outfit

Bows are one option for accessorizing your ensemble, but hats can work just as well (especially berets, a timeless nod to the soft romance of Europe). Try matching your beret with other accessories, such as your shoes and bag, for a balanced look, or choose a color opposite your accessories to add some fun contrast.

Think romantic

Light academia is associated with soft, airy vibes, so naturally, anything to do with gentle romance in art, music, and poetry fits right into this category. To make things more light-hearted and pleasurable, try coordinating outfits with your significant other; in fact, thrift shopping for some intriguing vintage finds together might be your next great date day.