Light Academia Is the Style Likely to Dominate the Fashion World

It's sweet and soft like cottagecore, but with a preppy twist.

three models posing in light academia styled clothing, photo collage
Photo: Getty Images/InStyle

I, a self-proclaimed whimsical fashion lover, will likely always own a puff-sleeved smock dress and enjoy bow embellishments. But, as trends move forward, another Internet-famous aesthetic has bubbled up to the top, threatening to replace all things regenycore, balletcore, and cottagecore in my wardrobe. Light academia continues to trend among fashion influencers and "soft girls," thus influencing my own shopping list and outfit choices.

If the name sounds familiar, that's because the light academia trend has been on-the-rise. You also might be familiar with its sister trend dark academia, which embraces schoolcore to its fullest, combining structured blazers and button-downs with plaid skirts, sleek trousers, and bulky boots. In short, the look is basically what a brooding, mysterious cool kid would wear in a magical YA novel.

Courteney Cox wearing a light academia outfit.
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However, light academia is a bit more romantic. While there's still the whole preppy vibe, 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 street-style photos. The good news is, if you've been recreating Kendall Jenner's vest outfits 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.

01 of 09

Break Out the Tennis Skirt

Model walks down a road wearing a beige coat and skirt.
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Preferably one that's in a lighter colorway, like beige or white. Then, pair it with a floral sweater or even a polo shirt to make the look complete.

02 of 09

Slip On a Pair of Loafers

Model poses outside wearing slip on loafers with a dark skirt and coat.
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A platform option will really pop against the crisp, classic basics that help make up this trend, and will look extra sweet when styled with a simple shirtdress.

03 of 09

Try a Pair of Mary Janes

Model poses outside with tan colored Mary-Jane shoe's and a plaid skirt.
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Give your go-to puff-sleeve dresses a schoolgirl twist by wearing them with crew socks and Mary-Janes — aka babydoll shoes — instead of your favorite sneakers.

04 of 09

Say Yes to Khakis

Model walks outside wearing baggy khaki pants.
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By adding beige or cream trousers to your outfit, you're halfway there when it comes to nailing the light academia aesthetic. A baggy blazer or collared shirt will help complete the look.

05 of 09

Layer with a Sweater Vest

Model walks outdoors wearing a sweater vest over a white button up top.
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The light academia trend favors soft, cozy items that still feel somewhat polished, so you'll definitely way to invest in knit staples. A Kendall Jenner-approved sweater vest is an easy layer that instantly amps up any basic outfit, adding an academic twist. Plus, on warmer days, you can even wear this piece as a shirt.

06 of 09

Knot a Sweater Around Your Shoulders

Model walks outside with a sweater draped over their shoulders.
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Aside from being a famous prep school styling trick, it's also a convenient way to carry around that extra emergency layer.

07 of 09

Add a Sweatshirt

Model walks outside wearing a beige sweatshirt, pants, and purse.
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Combined with collared designs, solid sweatshirts, and especially those with text and logos on them, create a school uniform-like look. Complete with your khakis or plaid skirt, and you'll look ready for class — in a good way.

08 of 09

Make Use of Your Cottagecore Staples

Model walks outside wearing a puffy sleeved top and pink pants.
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Puff sleeves, big collars, elaborate headbands, and bows are all details that still work for the light academia trend. The key is to balance them out with structured designs, like a pleated skirt or long khaki shorts.

09 of 09

Layer With a Large Button-Down

Model walks outside wearing a long, button-down shirt.
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This timeless wardrobe staple is extremely versatile. While you can tuck or tie it to enhance your outfit, or spice things up by unfastening a few buttons, another way to wear one is by layering it over your outfit. Think of this piece as a replacement for a cardigan or light jacket.

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