Bring The Dark Academia Aesthetic To Your Fingertips With Your Next Manicure

Dark academia is an aesthetic that is sweeping social media. This aesthetic's ability to integrate literature, architecture, art, and history is noteworthy.  The New York Times writes that dark academia focuses on emulating students from private schools or universities. Thus, intricate libraries, prestigious educational institutions, books, and more are central themes. Dark academia is also inspired by Greek mythology and gothicism. 

This moody and complex aesthetic first emerged thanks to the 1992 book "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt. Natalie Black, from the marketing agency Hierarchy, explained why to The New York Times. Black noted that the book turned "the entire aesthetic into an actual lifestyle. The trend is an interesting remix from a broad range of eras, from the 18th century to the 1940s." Other works that invoke the dark academia aesthetic include "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde and "If We Were Villains" by M.L. Rio. Although dark academia is classic and undeniably vintage, it still appeals to modern audiences.

Clothing staples to achieve a dark academia aesthetic include blazers, turtle necks, and trousers. The color palette for dark academia involves dark neutral colors such as brown, gray, beige, burgundy, and green. If you are enchanted with dark academia, you can display this aesthetic with fashion and even your next manicure.

Choose a botanical theme

Floral and botanical manicures are an ideal method to style a dark academia aesthetic for spring. Instagram user @palindromepolished demonstrates a remarkable botanical-themed manicure with a vintage twist, including flowers, birds, and insects. In her caption, she says that scientific illustrations were her inspiration. These illustrations were used before the advent of photography for medical and research purposes. @palindromepolished notes that she used a nail stamp to create this look. In a different photo, she shows a similar floral manicure in shades of green and gray.

Think plaid and preppy

Dark academia is an elevated version of a preppy style. When it comes to dark academia, a plaid blazer, pair of pants, or a skirt is a must. However, you can also incorporate a plaid pattern onto your nails, like Instagram user @dez_gelnails. Her manicure features shades of cream and black with a plaid accent nail on each hand. Its neutrality will complement any dark academia outfit. @nailsbymiyako did a similar manicure but chose to do three plaid accent nails on each hand and left two nails painted white.

Incorporate snake nail art

While "The Secret History" might be the dark academia handbook, another dark academia work is making waves on social media: "Ninth House" by Leigh Bardugo. In "Ninth House," the main character, the spiritually gifted Galaxy "Alex" Stern, enrolls at Yale and encounters secret societies. The cover features a snake that will make an excellent nail design for your dark academia manicure. shows how alluring a black and white snake design can look on nails. @lavendernails_colonnades did a snake design on almond nails with tiny rhinestones for added shine.

Pick a deep red shade

Red nails, specifically oxblood nails, will never fade into obscurity. They're edgy, yet straightforward. Their vampy look seamlessly blends in with a dark academia aesthetic. Instagram user @_mirage.nails did an oxblood shade manicure on natural nails. Although they are unadorned, they exude sophistication. @nail.kandy painted pointed almond nails in an oxblood and black gradient. While this manicure has a gothic influence, it's still fit for a moody dark academia aesthetic. If you like color with a little more sparkle, choose a holographic oxblood nail polish.

Reimagine a French manicure with a dark academia aesthetic

Despite being created in 1975, French manicures continue to thrive today. A traditional French manicure features a nail in a pink or nude shade with a white tip. One way to transform this timeless manicure for a dark academia aesthetic is by changing the color of the tip. For example, @gabriela.aest displayed her black French manicure on Instagram. @darlenesnails did a brown French manicure on almond-shaped nails. These neutral shades call into use the dark academia color palette used in clothing, books, and beyond.

Focus on shades of gray

Gray is a subtle color that gets a bad rap. However, gray is an exemplary shade for the dark academia aesthetic. Gray conveys intelligence and authority, as explained by Color Meanings. As aforementioned, dark academia is based on education. The classics and art are essential for this aesthetic. You can easily pay homage to these themes using your nails. @kozmeticki_salon_infinitas did a simple gray manicure with specks of black and the outline of a face on one nail. This manicure is minimalist but exquisite nonetheless.

Opt for a design fit for your glasses and nails

Tortoise shell glasses first became popular in the '20s. Prescription or not, tortoise shell glasses (or any style of eyeglasses) can complete your preppy dark academia aesthetic. But if you want to take it up a notch, try tortoise shell nails. You can opt for a brown hue or a reddish shade for this look. Instagram user @heymichellelee chose a tortoiseshell pattern on her heart-shaped nail tips. @naturallynailstracy did a tortoiseshell manicure combined with oxblood-colored nails. In a TikTok, user @nailthoughts showed how she creates this elaborate look on a client's nails.

Go dark and celestial

Books, films, and TV shows representative of dark academia usually incorporate elements of fantasy and magic. These include "Harry Potter," and the 2022 hit Netflix series "Wednesday." For a magical nail look, choose a celestial theme. TikTok user @basecoatstories did a black french manicure look with gold starry accents. In addition, she added rhinestones to complete her delicate nails. @elitenailsruislip did an all-black manicure on pointed stiletto nails, with dainty gold stars add the finishing touches to her manicure.

Make it marbled and moody

A marble design is another option for dark academia aesthetic nails. In addition, they can subtly pay tribute to history, especially the Ancient Greeks, who used marble to make sculptures, statues, and temples. @kkonyo_nail's gray marble manicure strongly resembles the stone in color and appearance. If you prefer a bolder look, TikTok user @abigailnaillab_ created a decadent black marble manicure on coffin-shaped nails. You could attempt to DIY this look with a few nail tools and water, as @jesslizs demonstrates in a TikTok using vivid colors.

Turn to fall inspo

With its neutral color palette and association with education, the fall season best embodies the dark academia aesthetic. Thus, your dark academia nails should integrate fall colors into your manicure. On Instagram, user @gel.bymegan picked a warm brown for her manicure, paired with a brown sweater, giving cozy autumnal vibes. In another manicure, she used three different brown and nude shades for a similar fall-inspired look. @xbethanymarie paired a brown-red polish with two nude accent nails and delicate tortoiseshell detail. And if you're on the hunt for an exemplary outfit to go with your dark academia aesthetic nails, fans of this subculture recommend scouring thrift stores for vintage dark academia finds.