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What are internet aesthetics and subcultures? Two Aesthetics Wiki members explain

‘Arts of existence’ is a three-part crash course into the dynamic world of internet aesthetics and subcultures. Each episode analyses their impact on a visual-first generation to curate a list of actionable takeaways for small businesses. As the first instalment, this piece attempts to peak behind the scenes of aesthetic and subculture creation—while drawing clear distinctions between the two.

“I asked my friends to send me pictures of my aesthetic,” one half of TikTok is heard saying before the screen flashes into a montage of similar visuals. Gathered at #whatsmyaesthetic, some users ask others to help define their aesthetic while the rest attach ten pictures off their Pinterest feed as an attempt. The other half, however, seems to be focused on lifestyles rather than visuals. They are seen meeting up, suggesting films, sharing Spotify playlists and giving elaborate room tours using dedicated hashtags under the umbrella term #subculture—with 28 million views and counting.

What are aesthetics and subcultures exactly? Is there even a difference between the two? If so, what should we—as both the audience and the creator—know before jumping on one?

Now, if you’re one of those 2013 Tumblr OGs, chances are that you have your concepts nailed. But the two terms seem to have blurred into a confusing alliance over time. So if you’ve been waiting for a transparent ride to the other side, you’re on the right dock. On a quest to establish the basics, we asked two active members of the internet’s “one-stop-shop” for aesthetics and subcultures to explain.

The tale of symbiotic yet staggering differences

“There is a lot of overlap between the two,” said Angela Yin, a 19-year-old art history student in California. Introduced to the dynamic world of aesthetics and subcultures while lurking on Polyvore in 2013, Yin explored the depths of Tumblr and Instagram before arriving at Aesthetics Wiki in 2020—where she contributed to various articles and became a moderator before stepping down in June 2021.

According to Yin, both subcultures and aesthetics have a shared list of elements including a common fashion sense, media and visual motifs. However, subcultures are noticeably different from the norm. “You’re able to pick out and identify a person from a subculture as being different from an average person,” she said. “Aesthetics, by contrast, don’t really have to be different from the norm.” On these terms, Yin cited preppy as an example of aesthetics.

Yin also credited this differentiation to history and the emergence of communities. “Subcultures tend to meet in person, have closer social ties, make zines, have memes, inside jokes and more,” she explained. In this regard, subcultures emphasise social connections when compared to internet aesthetics. On the other hand, one can participate in an aesthetic by just making moodboards, curating playlists and posting fan-made edits and pictures.

“Aesthetics don’t require group interaction and don’t facilitate making friends as much as, say, a local meet-up does. However, there is Discord, Facebook groups and other platforms for people who do want a closer atmosphere in an aesthetic,” Yin continued. Think uwu girls assembling with their Sanrio plushies and cat-eared gaming headsets on Discord, for starters. Simply put, the social component for subcultures is mandatory, while for aesthetics, it’s optional.

Similarly, in a 2019 article by Vox, the publication outlined how egirls are not compelled to be egirls outside of TikTok. Yin linked this as another potential difference between subcultures and aesthetics. “Most of the big subcultures have a long history, such as goths and bikers,” she said, adding how an egirl’s digital existence may be spurred on due to the rise of social media. “It’s still a fairly new thing that is being researched by sociologists right now,” she added.

Yet another basis of difference centres around the depth of internet aesthetics. “Aesthetics can be a complete mode for fantasy and escape,” Yin said. “A cottagecore blogger can live in a studio apartment in New York City, wear only navy business attire, listen to the music, make moodboards and still be considered part of the community.” In contrast, Yin outlined how you have to actively participate in a subculture to be a part of it—with the metrics depending on the subculture.

“For example, I am a Lolita. And in our community, you aren’t a Lolita until you have a coordinate (outfit) and wear it out.” In this regard, Yin acknowledged certain elements of gatekeeping within subcultures “where there is the knowledge that one should hold and ways to participate before you are considered part of the community.” The ex-moderator also explained how this factor doesn’t really affect aesthetics, largely because of the greater element of anonymity. No physical interactions are needed here, remember?

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However, this reminded me of my conversations with Gib and Sanfor—the co-administrators of the Discord server dedicated to Weirdcore. With evidence dating back to the early 2010s, the aesthetic lacked a centralised community committed to preserving it until the start of 2021. “[This] led to the term ‘Weirdcore’ becoming a label with no meaning behind it,” Sanfor told SCREENSHOT at the time, outlining how it was then confused with its sister aesthetics Dreamcore and Traumacore.

In my chat with the administrators, they also explained the requirement for moderation when it comes to internet aesthetics—a concept not to be confused with gatekeeping. Gib termed this aspect as a ‘collaborative effort’. “It’s a lot of people expanding the boundaries and experimenting with what is and what isn’t Weirdcore, coming up with new ideas and evolving it—because any art form that doesn’t evolve, ceases to exist,” he mentioned.

On the flip side, Sanfor noted how this heavy moderation has previously resulted in people disagreeing with how Weirdcore is approached. “While I understand where they’re coming from, we have a responsibility to keep the aesthetic on track, to keep it somewhat consistent in terms of themes and general look,” he said. “We won’t prohibit people from expressing their own feelings however they wish, but we need to keep the aesthetic from devolving into something meaningless again.”

Sure, there are some aesthetics like 2020core, gorpcore and lovecore with no specific qualifiers or rites of passage. But that’s not always the case with those that have full-fledged communities to back them up like Weirdcore and cryptidcore.

An arguable creation process

Now that we’ve established clear distinctions between the two, it’s time to address the roots of the phenomena. Who pioneers internet aesthetics and subcultures? What is the research process like? And, in our digital age where it feels like everything’s been done and dusted before, is it even possible to create our own aesthetics and subcultures from scratch?

When asked about the self-creation process behind both, Yin highlighted the difference between a ‘created aesthetic’ and a ‘non-created aesthetic’ on Aesthetics Wiki. “Created aesthetics are pages on our Wiki that originated there. A single person decided to write an article or create an account and the movement was born.” In contrast, a non-created aesthetic is one which has originated via multiple sources and evolved over time to suit shifts among its audience. In these terms, dark academia is a non-created movement—organically made and developed through online communities influenced by the European patrician society—while dual kawaii was created by a single person, who now has the ultimate authority over the aesthetic.

Yin, however, believes a person cannot create an aesthetic or subculture as there are already pre-existing ones that influence a person. Rather, she described it as a “collection of influences.” “For example, pastel academia is a scholastic focus on kawaii. All of the visuals come from kawaii culture, but they added their own love for learning.”

Does this mean that created aesthetics and subcultures are merely spin-offs on existing ones? “Deliberately going out and trying to create an aesthetic likely doesn’t work, as the point of aesthetics and subcultures are that they are beyond a single person,” Yin said, outlining how it’s a bit off-colour to claim that the user invented it when all they did was utilise a pre-existing aesthetic to base their own. This is also the reason why created aesthetics are not going to be as unique at the end of the day. “But then again, this could be argued for all art,” Yin added.

So, what does the ideal process for aesthetic and subculture creation look like instead? “People should just exist on their own, doing their own interests and reblogging or posting the things they like. Others would soon see it, admire it, mimic it and then the trend catches on,” Yin explained. The ex-moderator also noted how aesthetics and subcultures are often created on whims.

Light academia started as a single Tumblr text post that the creator wasn’t intending to make as an aesthetic. But people who found the single post resonated with it—adding their own photos to the tag and making their own text posts. In the same way, a person can dress a certain way and a friend on Instagram could wear a matching outfit. A lot of it is simply play.”

On the other hand, pastel academia’s growth and popularity were not autonomous. “A lot of its content includes directions and its article on Aesthetics Wiki became quite popular,” Yin explained. Although some communities catch up with the rules and guidelines of the platform, it doesn’t matter for others and can even be perceived as “hackneyed and presumptuous.” Yin, therefore, labelled the overall creation process as “fairly random and uncontrollable.”

The A to Zs of documentation

When asked about her advice to those looking to create their own aesthetics and subcultures, Yin explained how Aesthetics Wiki is moving away from ‘created aesthetics’ on the platform—instead focusing more on documentation. The ex-moderator hence discouraged people from writing articles on personal aesthetics.

However, if you are interested in documenting existing aesthetics and subcultures like Britishcore, dystopiacore and Kandi kids on Aesthetics Wiki, we’ve got Gibby—a self-described “Finnish gremlin” who authored the folk punk Wiki page—on the line. Dabbling in different types of music, mostly mashup, noise and folk punk, Gibby is currently making his own folk punk album along with other musical mishaps.

When asked about his motivation to create the page, Gibby explained how it was a spur of “screw this, if nobody else has written about it, then fine, I shall do it” moment. “I’d actually thought of writing it for a couple of months, but it was only this summer that I decided to do it.”

So, what was Gibby’s research process like before writing the article and creating the page? “The research was basically me being hyper fixated on the genre, watching documentaries and reading Wikipedia articles on bands themselves.” Gibby also admitted to researching groups like AJJ, Ramshackle Glory, Days N Daze and The Window Smashing Job Creators when he spotted similarities with the clothing styles described in his article. Gibby then followed the style guide listed on Aesthetics Wiki while authoring the page.

In terms of the reception to his article, Gibby noted an influx of positive feedback from both online and offline. When asked if the piece has fuelled the popularity of folk punk, the author disagreed—further highlighting how folk punk is not for everyone. “This is honestly due to how bad the quality [of the music] tends to be, with it being acoustic and often done by the members themselves, usually on a shoestring budget.”

If you are planning to document and create your own Wiki page, Gibby advised a thorough review of the rules and standards governing the platform. “Adding all the things in the guidelines isn’t necessary,” he mentioned. “I basically added the points that fit and explained the basics of folk punk.”

Although documenting aesthetics and subcultures is a step into its mainstream exposure, are there any particular platforms one should keep in mind to build a community around the same? ‘TikTok, obviously’ one may think like I did until Yin pointed out a factor influencing the process. For starters, Aesthetics Wiki is not a place for community building, social media is. Remember how the aesthetic backing femboys and softboys ever so often grips TikTok and Twitter? However, they haven’t been translated into pages on Aesthetics Wiki yet.

That being said, the perfect platform is difficult to pinpoint since different communities interact in different ways—be it Tumblr reblogs or TikTok meme formats. “Knowing the platform’s MO and expressing yourself from that comes from osmosis,” Yin added.


hobbit adventures!!✨🍄🤎🌿 #cottagecore #goblincore #fairycore #cryptidcore #grandmacore #hobbitcore #witchcore #greenwitch #eclecticwitch #honeycore

♬ Hobbit - The Middle-Earth Orchestra

Foundations with contradicting life span

To date, SCREENSHOT has spoken to several small businesses dedicated to certain aesthetics and subcultures. Be it kidcore brand Blackcurrant Pop or dark academia-inspired Etsy shop Harper & Rafell, both owners shared the same plans for the next five years down the lane: immense expansions and noteworthy collaborations. But isn’t the life span of such businesses completely dependent on the longevity of the aesthetics and subcultures they’re based on? More importantly, don’t both of them lose their appeal once they go mainstream?

“Subcultures will almost always have a greater longevity because the community has a tighter knit and it becomes part of your identity,” Yin explained. On the other hand, internet aesthetics are ephemeral because of their majorly-gen Z audience. “Teenagers are often known for cycling through different identifiers and leaving different trends,” Yin said, adding how they are eventually destined to grow bored with them. This is also the root of all problems and controversies relating to aesthetics and subcultures. “If a community is too static, it grows stale. But if it changes and evolves, it won’t be the same anymore,” Yin summed up.

Then there is the whole ‘mainstream appeal’ part to the conversation when big retailers pick up on certain aesthetics and subcultures. “They lose their glamour when, for example, you find metal and punk shirts at retail stores and celebrities wearing studded denim vests with patches on them (aka battle vests),” Gibby explained. The author labelled this as ‘recuperation’, adding how it is a “horrible side-effect of capitalism” and counter-culture for subcultures like punk.

Over at Yin’s, the ex-moderator highlighted how people often use clothing to express connections with a community. But when that factor loses its context, it becomes watered down and shallower than before. “For example, a teenager wearing a tweed blazer is connected with dark academia, meaning they probably like to read and be pretentious. But if tweed blazers become popular, it means that the teen is following a trend and not aligning with a community with set connotations.” Take royalcore, for instance. Inspired by the visuals and key values of West European royalty, the aesthetic features long evening gowns and opera gloves—both of which are being redefined and incorporated into everyday wardrobes as we speak.

There is, however, a plethora of factors playing into the relationship of brands with various internet aesthetics and subcultures. “Indie and smaller brands are okay, but the issue is when corporations try to get on it in a way that seems disingenuous,” Yin explained. The variety of audiences within a subculture is another factor. “Some people in the cottagecore aesthetic may emphasise sustainability, anti-capitalism and repurposing. However, others aren’t concerned about that and would purchase a cottagecore piece from H&M, for example.” The list of variables also boils down to whether the owner is part of the subculture or not. Brands that are credited with creating an aesthetic or subculture are yet another factor and topic for part three of this series.

Let’s address one more aspect, in case you can’t wait for more insights into the dynamic world of internet aesthetics and subcultures: forecasts. Is it possible to predict the ones that might come up in the future? “Yes and no,” Yin exclaimed. “Trends tend to cycle. For example, cottagecore is the latest incarnation of pastoral romanticism in 70s revival or 90s shabby chic.” According to Yin, they can also be a consequence of social and political events or even media.

“Cottagecore became really popular during the pandemic, when people couldn’t go outside and experienced escapism through learning new hobbies. However, a lot of it is random and comes from out of nowhere. For example, dark academia came from The Secret History, a book that was published in the 90s, thirty years before the popularisation of the aesthetic.” BookTok, who?

The aesthetic way forward

In the next five years, Yin expects Aesthetics Wiki to become a platform like TV Tropes—a place for people to contribute and use as a dictionary for aesthetics and subcultures. “We still have a lot of pages that we need and are missing. More depth could also be used in articles.” But as more people join and Aesthetics Wiki’s presence goes viral through word-of-mouth and Google searches, Yin hopes articles will bloom organically on the platform—making the Wiki “a place for people to turn to as a resource similar to other internet history websites like Know Your Meme.”

Yin also admitted to stepping down from the moderator position to focus more on research and writing, “rather than monitoring page activity and discussing the Wiki on a meta level.” Leveraging her art history background to seek influences, Yin’s special interest now lies in finding the origin and impact of specific aesthetics—featuring interviews with the pioneers.

Over at Gibby’s, the folk punk artist plans to keep contributing to Aesthetics Wiki. “Maybe about black metal, because I feel it’s different enough from regular metal culture that it deserves its own article,” he added.

With all of that out in the open, if you are someone who camps out on #whatsmyaesthetic and want tips from the OGs themselves, Yin has got you covered. Having written an entire article for Aesthetics Wiki, the ex-moderator advises starting by exposing yourself to different things and finding out what you like. “Collect colours, objects, sounds, sensations, emotions, quotes, textures, fashion details and songs. Then develop your visual vocabulary to express the feeling of the aesthetic,” she said. Knowing certain connotations (for example, tennis skirts denoting ‘sexy high schooler’) and adjectives used to describe an image also helps the entire process, apart from learning a bit about the background of designs—including the history of fashion and art.

So, what are you waiting for? Get cracking on your article documenting sleazecore or Tumblr girl today. Update gothcore and goblincore while you’re at it, maybe? And if you still have misconceptions about aesthetics and subcultures, head over to the Aesthetics Wiki page authored by Yin and sift through the elaborate disclaimers listed. But if you’re clear with all your concepts, sit tight, because boy oh boy you’re in for a ride into the dynamic sunset we call ‘internet culture’.

What is dark academia? An Etsy seller explains the brooding subculture

Time and again, here at Screen Shot, we’ve been covering various internet aesthetics and subcultures ranging from uwu girls and soft boys to gorpcore and lovecore. Before most of these subcultures mature, however, they are usually yeeted off and swiftly replaced by a new one. But what if there was a subculture out there proving its love for all things ancient while boasting an evergreen demand? Is it even possible for a digital subculture to bleed that deep into the roots of our physical lifestyles? In a bid to break down this overarching trend, we decided to check up on a particular subculture that peaked early 2021 and has remained stable ever since: dark academia.

What is dark academia?

Picked up by young TikTokers as a response to the physical shutdown of schools and colleges during the pandemic, dark academia is a subculture that romanticises classic literature with a passion for knowledge and learning. Stemmed from European culture, it targets nostalgia for the 19th and early 20th century private schools in England.


Vibe with me☕️📚 #darkacademia #darkacademiaaesthetic #vintage #vintagevibes #booktok #aesthetic

♬ Reflections by Toshifumi Hinata - Blue

“A thirst for knowledge and a love for old things,” summed up Madeleine Rafell, owner of Harper & Rafell—an Etsy store specialising in vintage and dark academia-themed printed photo packs, custom washi tape and stickers for both journaling and home decor. “The visual aesthetic is heavily influenced by classical art and poetry, Greek mythology and old universities in the UK,” she continued. If Rafell had to choose a city to represent dark academia, it would be Edinburgh. In terms of the classic novels, it would be The Secret History by Donna Tartt and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller—although the former “has a lot of problematic themes and lacks diversity.” “I would also include The Mummy film series and the recent Little Women remake as good visual examples [of the subculture],” she added.

Although Rafell was previously aware of the visual side of dark academia thanks to Instagram and Pinterest, it wasn’t until she joined TikTok last year that she started noticing other aspects of the subculture. “There’s a strong overlap between the neurodivergent, queer and disabled communities (which I belong to) with dark academia,” she said, acknowledging how the overlap also extends to a childhood love for Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, Tolkien, and the Narnia series.

“I think this is partly due to these kids feeling very out-of-touch with their surroundings during their childhood, so they lose themselves in fictional worlds that they find comforting,” Rafell mentioned. The Etsy seller also explained how a lot of neurodivergents had Greek mythology or ancient Egypt as a special interest as well. “It’s interesting to contemplate as a lot of these books contain conservative themes or poor representation of people of colour and LGTBQ+ individuals.”

In terms of the reasons backing the enduring interests for these books, Rafell highlighted the common themes of “chosen family, fighting for justice, feeling outcast among your peers, betrayal, abuse and lack of support from adult characters.”

“So even though these books were written by straight, white, conservative and sometimes transphobic authors, the experience of their characters is something marginalised communities connect with,” she added. Thanks for that, J.K. Rowling…

When asked if the seller is a dark academist herself, Rafell mentioned how her first reaction was to say no. “I hardly ever read books anymore, despite being an avid reader well into my teenage years.” Rafell’s love for learning, however, has endured—along with the desire to collect things that make her happy. The seller quoted typewriters, old cameras and books that she had bought because she liked the covers in this regard. “I also traveled to both Scotland and Italy in 2017 and loved the architecture, history and general vibe there. I felt at home in both Edinburgh and Venice and they’ve influenced my design work over the years.”

A brooding gap in the market

Rafell started her Etsy store, Harper & Rafell, in May 2021 to cater exclusively to the subculture. “The idea started last summer, when my sister requested steampunk and dark academia-themed journaling supplies for Christmas,” the seller reminisced, adding how the brand name is an incorporation of her own surname ‘Rafell’ with her sister ‘Harper’.

Back then Rafell followed a lot of journaling accounts on social media and discovered how most enthusiasts bought their products from either Wish, Amazon or Kmart. But the Etsy seller was also quick to notice their inconsistency. “I found that there weren’t a lot of companies catering to this aesthetic,” Rafell said. According to her, scrapbooking and stationery supplies are typically boxed into categories including country florals and shabby chic for crafty mums and grandmothers, rose gold and blush for boss babes (think Kate Spade), Asian-influenced pastels and kawaii-themed stickers for the bullet journaling community, and the overdone, 5-year-old Paris/hot air balloon/carte postale/Victorian aesthetic that’s literally everywhere.

“I wanted a more refined and subtle vintage look for myself and I could also see that there was a gap in the market for dark academia-themed products. Hence I started working on the brand and opened my store.”

So, is there any research that goes behind products that cater exclusively to a subculture? In this case, how does Rafell decide whether a motif or a colour is dark academia-esque? “While studying design at uni, I realised one of my strengths was being able to pull together a collection of images and figure out which ones had the same vibe.” Although the seller doesn’t use a checklist while selecting designs or images, she highlighted certain aesthetic distinctions within dark academia. The list includes brown, beige and cream tones, a grainy-vintage feel, a focus on textures such as stone, marble, ivy, tweed, old paper and leather as well as models with an other-worldly look.

“A lot of this is achieved through editing,” Rafell explained. Although some of the photos the Etsy seller uses are her own, most are sourced from stock image sites—which require significant changes before she’s allowed to sell them. “I also spend a lot of time curating my photo ranges to ensure they have a consistent feel.”

Some of Rafell’s best selling pieces include the Ivy and Stone Athena collection photo cards which features old buildings, trailing vines, vaulted cathedrals and quiet staircases. The seller dubs the photo set “perfect for lovers of dark academia and dreamers of Hogwarts.” Harper & Rafell’s washi tape sets are yet another popular choice. “One I’m really proud of,” Rafell added.

BookTok and the evergreen demand

As of 19 January 2021, the day when we published our first investigative piece on the subculture, #darkacademia boasted 400 million views on TikTok. Seven months later, it is presently on the verge of hitting 1 billion views on the platform. The content—which was previously restricted to aesthetic fashion trials and outfit ideas—has now branched out into activities like journaling, letter writing, study tips, room decor and tea time recipes to name a few.

The rise of BookTok is yet another factor looped into the evergreen demand of the subculture. At 13.2 billion views, the TikTok trend is currently sending decades-old books up the bestseller lists. One such read is The Song of Achilles that Rafell mentioned earlier. Authored by Madeline Miller in 2012, the book has clocked up 50.6 million views on TikTok to date. The novel currently sits third on The New York Times bestseller list for paperback fiction—selling close to 10,000 copies per week in the US.

When asked about the demand for her products over the pandemic, Rafell credited part of the reason for the creation of Harper & Rafell to the rising art and sticker market on TikTok. According to the seller, the more time people spend at home, the more effort they put into decorating the space around them while picking up new hobbies like journaling. “Dark academia is also a comforting aesthetic to a lot of people. And as reality becomes more and more stressful, we need more things around us that are comforting and relaxing,” she added.

Although Harper & Rafell has been trading for only two months, some of the feedback the store gets ranges between packaging to branding. Rafell added how these comments are encouraging—given the fact that she wants every aspect of her brand to form part of the escapism dark academia fosters. Her favourite response to date is from a customer in her home state who ordered three photo packs and messaged back saying that she was going to put them all up on her wall. “I love knowing that my products are being used in a way that will bring joy and beauty into someone’s life,” the seller shared.

Now that we’ve broken down some of the reasons backing the subculture’s present demand, it is also essential to check up on the criticisms it has received and its alleged way forward. Back in January, one of the major criticisms pulling dark academia from the spotlight included it being a “wealthy subculture not everyone can afford.” In this regard, dark academia was scrutinised for promoting capitalism and classist attitudes.

“For me, the issue with dark academia at first glance isn’t that it is expensive, but is definitely exclusive,” Rafell explained when asked about her take on these claims. The seller highlighted how the subculture—although rooted in the classist and colonial culture of the British Empire—is also really popular with conservatives who praise CS Lewis and Tolkien for their personal religious views. “So, I think when someone looks at the aesthetic from the outside, they get the impression that it’s not for them—it’s for straight white boys who spend their summers on daddy’s yacht and people who can afford marble statues and fine art in big gold frames.” One of Rafell’s priorities, hence, is to ensure that her products are both affordable and appealing to a broader target audience.

The seller also credited the internet for levelling the playing field, making it much harder to gatekeep or keep anything exclusive offline. “This is one of the reasons why I love social media—it’s making it more affordable and accessible to own beautiful artwork by connecting directly with artists and small businesses,” Rafell added. “We’re starting to take back the means of production, and that gives me a lot of hope.”

Now onto the pressing question. Dark academia has undoubtedly survived the internet’s test of time till date. But what about its future? How long does Rafell herself think the subculture has before it’s yeeted off? Does dark academia have the potential to survive as one of those classic subcultures in this regard? “I definitely think so,” Rafell said, stressing how the aesthetic has been around before it was even labelled. “I feel like I was peak dark academia when I was 15 and obsessed with old paper, quill pens, and typewriter fonts. I’m now 28 and it’s only the last few years that I’ve come across the term ‘dark academia’ and realised I was part of it.”

The Etsy seller outlined how downfalls usually dawn on a subculture when it enters mainstream media and big corporations pick up on it. “It becomes so over-saturated that everyone loses interest,” she said. Rafell quoted the Marvel universe as an example here. According to her, Marvel seems to have a subculture now, “but only after the hype of the big shiny superhero films died down and made room for more niche (and inclusive) content like the Loki series.”

Given dark academia’s strong link to marginalised communities and the fact that it hasn’t been adopted by the straight, neurotypical majority, Rafell feels it might just stay as a subculture. “I’ve seen a few people within the community saying they don’t want it to become mainstream and it should be kept for ‘true fans’ of the aesthetic. But I think art is for everyone and if it does become more popular, that just makes it more accessible. And when the hype goes away, all the dark academics will still be there.”

The collective way forward

Five years down the lane, Rafell plans to branch out both in terms of the concept and variety of her product ranges. Inspired by Greek goddesses, Harper & Rafaell’s first range is named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and is “pure dark academia.” “I’d love to branch out with a range inspired by Artemis, which will be more cottagecore with lots of green tones, or a Hera set with peacock colours and gold foil washi tape,” Rafell added. The Etsy seller also shared her plans for future ranges inspired by niche fandoms like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events or Anne of Green Gables.

“I’m also working on tech accessories like iPad cases and mouse pads that align with the dark academia aesthetic,” Rafell exclaimed. This idea stemmed from yet another gap in the market that she discovered while browsing for her personal use. “I’d also love to get planners and notebooks printed to add to the range,” she added.

So, if your journaling instincts are awakened after reading this article, here are some tips from the dedicated seller herself: “Don’t let perfectionism ruin things for you. I think a lot of us who use journaling as an art form can be terrified by a blank page and collect things to use but never use them for fear we’ll do it wrong.” So go ahead and scribble on that first page, sample some washi tape, swatch your favourite paints or pens, anything to get something on there. Rafell also suggests trying out a lot of different aesthetics instead of being boxed into just one. And if you are just starting out, she suggests copying the layout of your favourite journaling accounts “so you can get an idea of how to build up the page and balance a lot of elements.”

So, sit back and make sure to enjoy the process. In the end, “You can always tear out the page and start again.”