Of all the trends from the last couple years that I have been fully on board with such as Cottage Core (merely a ‘prairie dress’ revival) or the over-the-top decadence of a Princess inspired dress, there has also been Dark Academia. Granted I am a bit late to have anything to show for this one by now, but the weather is gloomy and I am recovery mode from the last two years – so I am in the mood to share my darker toned, more serious themed sewing projects that have been hiding in the undercurrents.
I do understand the Dark Academia trend because the aesthetic has been 90% of what I have been since I was a child. Research always has been my forte, learning is a joy, and studying is the pursuit of my lifetime. More often than not you will often find me thinking inquisitively, reading intensely, writing furiously, or speaking passionately about many varied subjects. Besides, having a basement that was a literal library of antique books makes Dark Academia not even feel like a trend to me but something natural.
As it is nevertheless still going strong although no longer ‘new’, I might as well get around to show how I’ve been visibly channeling Dark Academia through my fashion with some of my older makes, such as this 1940s “poet blouse” from the previous post, seen also in my outfit here. As is the custom for Dark Academia, this set is heavily inspired by the classic menswear of Britain in the 1940s, particularly the plaid suits of the Duke of Windsor (formerly Edward VIII) and the plaid styles seen on elite university campuses – such as Oxford – in the 1930s.
I was actually inspired to sew my outfit soon after finishing my mid 1940s Glen plaid suit set (blogged here) back in 2016. This set is actually made out of the exact same kind of luxuriously soft rayon suiting material as was used for my Glen plaid suit just mentioned. I knew I was bound to love whatever I sewed of the material anyway but an unabashedly masculine interpretation of the rich plaid really made it interesting! I delight in the juxtaposition created by choosing a skirt over trousers or plus fours (another campus mode and Edward VIII influence here), but it was really just a shortage of yardage which helped that decision be made. Sometimes it seems as if the fabric truly speaks in regards to how it should be fashioned.
Being a favorite look of mine for winter that has taken too long to finally appear on my blog, you will see more than one way to work it as we have had a few different locations for our photos. A black toned pairing of my set in a local book shop gives it the Academia Goth vibes, while a white me-made blouse (which I posted here) underneath when outdoors lightens it up to purely menswear inspired. You should see what my red Agent Carter blouse (posted here) or even a beige blouse does! It is truly versatile, so soft, quite comfortable, and fetching to wear I am so glad to have this vest and skirt in my wardrobe.
FABRICS: a plaid lightweight rayon suiting, complimented on the vest with a solid Kona cotton
PATTERNS: Burda Style “Franzi vest” pattern #9302 and an old original McCall #6338 pattern from the year 1945
NOTIONS NEEDED: lots of thread and a good amount of interfacing combined with a card of buttons, carved abalone shell buckle, and a metal zipper – the last three items are true vintage from the 1930s or 40s
TIME TO COMPLETE: The vest came together in about 8 hours on January 16, 2020. The skirt was sewn much earlier on December 5, 2018, and was also sewn in 8 hours. Both pieces took longer to make because I did so much hand finishing.
THE INSIDES: So clean! The vest is “bag” lined so there are no seams showing but the skirt has bias bound edges
TOTAL COST: I vaguely remember purchasing this fabric many years ago at my local JoAnn store. It was almost a remnant at a length which was barely over a yard, so I got it at a discount. The cotton solid which was used on the vest was remnants on hand from making this vintage 50’s coat, so I’m counting it as free. The notions were bought at a rummage sale for about $1. My total was about $12 in total.
The 1989 film Dead Poets Society as well as Donna Tartt‘s novel The Secret History, published in 1992, both telling a story that takes place within a group of classics students at an elite New England college, have been credited as being the inspiration for the Dark Academia literary genre. It emerged as a subculture on Tumblr in the mid-2010s, then – during the past 2 years – exploded as a trend on the visual based TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
I never knew until recently that there was a term for old-style enjoyments I grew up with, so much so that if there was a checklist for Dark Academia I could fill in so many boxes. Why, I have used an initialed wax seal kit for sealing special letters since I was a teen! I excelled at my Latin studies and happily had read a good number of Classic literature in high school. My proficiency at fancy lettering like calligraphy even eared me money for a time. I have always had a weak spot for all plaids, but also always have been adding subtle Goth or punk undertones to my ‘modern’ style (I blame this on my teen music preferences for Evanescence and Avril Lavigne). At the same time, I have also deeply enjoyed classical music since I was 10 and have worn glasses since about that age, as well. See? My list could go on. Jump years forward to me as an adult, when I fully incorporated vintage style into my everyday wardrobe and begin wearing more historical styles, and I have Dark Academia down to a T…then realize there is a name for this kind of thing. It feels weird to be called out so distinctly.
Depending on what influencer is channeling it, however, the trend can sometimes seem snobbish and exclusive, in my estimation, and some elements are problematic. By romanticizing a time (Victorian) when the privileged society put an emphasis on liberal education, it can have classist undertones. Also, it is important to realize that people can have an academic drive purely so they can better their professional or personal life. To have one’s education be a mere pleasurable luxury is a Romanization longed for as an ideal for many (“beauty for the sake of beauty” as Nathanial Hawthorne believed) but made difficult to attain in a capitalist society. Furthermore, the trend revolves around the handful of highest premier institutions – how many of us who actually strive to take advantage of higher education actually will be at Oxford or Harvard? Not that to attend there isn’t indeed something to aim for or be proud of, but for most that is not an option. I am just as happy at my local University.
Nevertheless, I live for the literary geek, driven studiousness, and fashion aesthetic parts to it but embrace a very modern, diverse interpretation of the term. While the advantages of a real life book is never to be underestimated, I will be a ‘heretic’ of old-school learning and admit that a good amount of research can be done through a computer’s resources. This has been especially necessary for me over the past few years in particular when ‘in real life’ was not possible. A quest for knowledge and yearning to learn should be nourished in whatever form it takes so as to be accessible for all, regardless of one’s income or neighborhood. As long as you know how to sort out misinformation or at least find what you are searching for, the internet is a library, too, just without a proper moderator. Thus, I still have a preference. To actually have the opportunity to experience what an old book can share is something tactile, memorable, and uniquely worthwhile…something I hope every one of you can find a way to enjoy if you so wish!
This outfit is something I wish others could experience for themselves, too, as it was pretty easy to make and incredibly fun to wear. Sadly, though the patterns are not easy to find. The vest pattern is a really oldie at least from 2007. I believe I acquired it in 2012 when Burda advertised the pattern anew. The fantastic part about it is not just how wonderfully curvy and fitted it is for the female figure but also the fact that the pattern had been a free PDF download. That’s right – free! Sadly that is no longer the case…the pattern is not to be seen on their site anymore, free or not. My skirt pattern is a vintage original, and those are generally a gamble to try and find but an Internet search occasionally yields a couple copies for sale (I see a 32” waisted one on Etsy at the moment). I heartily recommend both patterns, regardless. They are came together without a hiccup with a true-to-size fit.
Surprisingly, both patterns were so very economical, as well. The skirt – true to 40’s era rationing – only needed just under one yard, which left the vest to be made with a third of a yard plus scraps. It was perfectly doable, but still a bit of a squeeze. I had to get inventive to fit in all the pattern pieces while also trying to match the plaid. This was a very stressful step. I laid down all the pieces for both patterns on my fabric and thought the layout over for a day, rearranging and adjusting each piece a little here and there during that time, before I felt confident enough to cut.
Please notice that the skirt’s back kick pleat and the vest’s side panels had to be cut on the bias. At first this was done out of necessity but I like it so much better than if I had followed proper directions. So often the little make-do tweaks I throw into my projects become the best part. Every little challenge that arises in my sewing projects forces my inventiveness, and I love that. The bias kick pleat insert panel makes the feature more interesting than basic and helps it hang softer. The bias to the vest breaks up the monotony of the plaid and gave me leeway to not match seams precisely (although I tried to anyway). All is well that ends well, as the saying goes.
I did have to interface the every individual piece of the vest as well as every dart and seam to the skirt. This suiting was a bit lighter in weight than its Glen plaid relative and would pull apart too easily. Luckily the fit was not snug. I used a medium weight cotton interfacing for both vest and skirt, and it kept the slippery, shifting fabric in its correct shape for the vest construction in particular. After one wearing of the skirt I soon found out that just ironing down the interfacing over the darts was not enough, so I stitched them down, hiding the stitching within lines of the plaid.
To continue stabilizing the fabric at all points of stress, I made a decorative choice for the center point of the skirt’s back kick pleat and chose to embroider an arrowhead as a bar tack anchor. It is a subtle touch that keeps the fabric together in the loveliest way possible. I chose to use a satin finish embroidery floss in a deep red for the arrowhead to bring out the color undertones of the plaid.
Nuances to the skirt include a deep 5 inch hem to help weigh down the lightweight material, a center front decorative vertical pleat, and a pointed waistline button placket. I hand stitched the entire hem, zipper, and waistband because (at first) I couldn’t find a thread color which would blend in. Then it was because I am a stickler for how going the extra mile elevates a handmade garment from merely made to finely crafted.
This idealology extended to the vest…completely hand stitched except for the lapel flaps and inner seams. Nuances to the vest are otherwise much more simplified than the skirt. There is no real (meaning properly faced and pad stitched) collar lapel – it is merely an extension of the inner full body lining. The waistline lapels are also for faux pockets, just for decoration purposes, sewn down with a button. I seriously debated about making welts so I could have real pockets, but my dislike of sewing welts won over the decision. At least the back waist strap is real and working, with an old buckle cinching in the fit of this curvy vest. The fitted cut is so impressive on its own, and needs just a bit of help from the back buckled belt. Such a tailored fit drawn for feminine curves helps this set be so sharp, stronger in impression than just a “wearing my man’s clothes” kind of look. The practical straight cut of the skirt with its fine detailing is something strongly reminiscent of great vintage suit. Altogether, it comes together for a tight outfit, no matter how I style it.
It is said that the general shutdown of in-person learning at schools prompted the resurgence of Dark Academia. It was supposed to be a push pack from the challenges presented by virtual learning and a nostalgia for how classical schooling used to be, even if that look back extends to the not-so-distant time before the use of the home internet. Just think back to the effort and restrictions of finding information when books – or people with the knowledge in books – where only available during business hours, by phone, or in-person visits. It is not that school from home is without great challenges – believe me, it was tougher than I ever imagined it would be for our son – but many complaints of virtual learning seem negligible in hindsight. Channeling vintage fashion as one of the many ways to connect to that old style of learning is great for me because that completes what I grew up with. It helps me feel more connected with Generation Z, for sure! I find it incredibly interesting – and flattering – that the younger generation wants to connect to that. I’ll join in anew with them on it!