Vintage and Victorian: Exploring Dark Academia With Bellina Zhou ’26

Bellina Zhou ’26 particularly values styling tops: from blouses to turtlenecks

Transferring to a new school amidst the pandemic, Bellina Zhou ’26 found fashion to be a great way to express herself

Reminiscent of Victorian-era fashion, Bellina Zhou ’26 embodies a dark academia aesthetic in a muted color palette of comfortable browns and sleek whites and blacks. She dons a tweed plaid jacket over a white dress shirt and knit sweater vest, finishing off her look with a black skirt and black dress shoes with a golden clasp. Zhou discusses how finding her fashion style helped her gain a sense of confidence.

“I think it definitely changed my confidence in myself and the way that I act around people. I used to be very shy and reserved, but fashion sort of helped bring me out of my shell,” said Zhou.

According to Zhou, her sense of personal style developed in seventh grade. Since she had just switched schools, she felt that clothing was an effective outlet for self-expression, especially with the virtual nature of classes during the pandemic. Zhou reflects on how she wanted to switch up her style and found fashion inspiration on social media.

“It was a different set of people I was meeting and I just wanted to change something. I wasn’t really content with the way I was and I wanted to change something… so [when] I saw some photos of dark academia clothes online or just on Pinterest, I thought, ‘That’s interesting and completely different,’” said Zhou.

A few staple items in Zhou’s wardrobe include her brown sweater vest and white dress shirt. Generally, she acquires her clothing from thrift shops, but sometimes even borrows pieces from her mother’s closet.

“I find a lot of the clothes that I’m wearing are from my mom or from thrift stores. My mom doesn’t dress exactly the way that I do. I think a lot of the clothes in my closet or that she has sort of influenced me,” said Zhou.

When picking out her outfit for the day, Zhou usually puts emphasis on her tops; she owns a variety of dress shirts, turtlenecks, sweaters, and more. In addition to cycling through habitual outfits, she also enjoys trying out new clothing combinations sometimes.

“I have a bunch of outfits that I have already put together in my mind, like pieces of clothing that go together to form an outfit that I wear regularly. So usually I’ll pick out one of those to go with, sometimes I like to experiment and do different outfits that I might not wear normally…I wear [my brown sweater vest] pretty regularly. Or this white dress shirt, it goes with basically everything,” said Zhou.

Looking toward the future, Zhou hopes to further diversify her closet. She has also begun to explore sewing, in both creating clothing from scratch and personalizing thrifted pieces through tailoring.

“I hope to keep evolving and keep adding pieces to my wardrobe. I also want to be able to learn to sew my own clothing or take thrifted clothes and be able to adjust them to my own size, which I’ve sort of begun to start doing. Instead of continuing to buy clothes, [I’ll hopefully be] making them in the future,” said Zhou.