It's just as sweet and soft with a preppy twist.

Light Academia Fashion Trend
Credit: Getty Images/InStyle

I will preface this controversial announcement by saying that I, a self-proclaimed whimsical fashion lover, will likely always own a puff-sleeved smock dress and enjoy a good bow embellishment. But as trends move forward in 2021, we might — keyword being might — have to put cottagecore to rest. The Internet-famous aesthetic has slowly been evolving, and for many influencers and "soft girls," another one is taking its place: light academia.

You're probably familiar with its sister trend, dark academia, which embraces schoolcore to its fullest, combining structured blazers and button-downs with plaid skirts, sharp trousers, and bulky boots. In short, it's basically what the brooding, mysterious cool kids would wear in some sort of magical YA novel.

Light academia, on the other hand, is a bit more romantic — hence why it's a small step away from cottagecore. There's still the whole preppy vibe, but the pieces are looser and softer, and the preferred color palette also tends to be a bit lighter. Instead of favoring shades of gray and black, it's all about the beiges, whites, and, for spring and summer, the pastels. Think optimistic, super sweet main character, who enjoys reading books under a tree in a cozy sweater.

Clearly, I could write a novel based on this whole look — or I can give you actual visuals, courtesy of Instagram. The good news is, if you've been enjoying ice cream dressing and invested in a tennis skirt after that whole '90s resurgence, you're pretty much ready to recreate these outfits using the pieces you already own.

Break Out the Tennis Skirt

Extra points if it's a lighter color. Then, pair it with a floral sweater or even a polo to make the look complete.

Reach For a Pair of Loafers

A platform option will really pop against the crisp, classic basics that help to make up this trend, and look especially sweet when styled with a shirtdress.

Or, Embrace Babydoll Shoes

Give your go-to puff-sleeve dresses a schoolgirl twist by wearing them with Mary-Janes and ankle socks instead of your favorite sneakers.

Say Yes to Khakis

By adding beige or cream trousers to your look, you're halfway there when it comes to nailing the light academia aesthetic. A baggy blazer will help to finish it off.

Slip On a Sweater Vest

This trend really favors soft, cute, and cozy items, so you'll definitely way to invest in some knit staples. For warmer days, you can pull a model-approved move and wear your vest as a shirt.

Knot a Sweater Around Your Shoulders

Aside from being a famous prep school styling trick, it's also a convenient way to carry around that extra emergency layer.

Pull On a Sweatshirt

Logo sweatshirts combine with collared pieces definitely fall in the uniform-like, "academia" category, and the addition of the matching headband really brings the look together.

Make Use of Your Puff-Sleeve Tops

These pieces still work for the light academia trend as long you balance them with preppy bottoms, such as pleated skirts or oversized, structured shorts.

Layer With a Large Button-Down

Of course, you tuck or tie this versatile piece, but another way to nail the look is by layering it over your outfit in place of a cardigan or light jacket.