Over the past two years, my expensive college education funded by retail and barista slavery has finally taught me the true meaning of the value of money. And, when putting together a wardrobe for college, the trick is to get the most bang for your buck, aided by certain classic “staple” elements that are so versatile they’re worth the investment.
Value means possibly spending a little more up front for quality, timeless things that (when properly cared for) will last a long time — possibly even all four years and beyond — and this list pretty much covers your bases for campus this fall.
10 CAMPUS CLOTHING CLASSICS
1. Rain Coat & Rain Boots
It seems like rain clouds love to have parties over college campuses, despite weather reports to the contrary. Battle the puddles that will inevitably block your way between living space and lecture hall by investing in a good quality rain coat and pair of rubber boots. I have a basic raincoat from Eastern Mountain Sports (15% off with your college ID!) and a basic black pair of Michael Kors rain boots (which I scored on sale for $40 at Marshall’s). Rain boots don’t have to be expensive, just make sure you buy a pair in a classic style and a neutral color (like slick Hunter boots) to match any outfit.
2. Zip-Up Fleece Jacket
Even if you don’t go to school in New England, chances are you’ll encounter some chilly nights on campus. A black fleece jacket, like my well-loved North Face, is worth the money and will practically last forever. Plus, fleece jackets can be thrown on over a denim skirt or paired with khakis; they’re versatile and practical. Somehow, mine keeps me perfectly warm whether trucking through the snow in December or sitting out on the quad in April.
3. Dark Skinny Jeans
Chances are, these are already an integral part of your closet. Dark jeans are appropriate in innumerable situations: with sandals and a tank to class; with pumps on a date; or with an Oxford and pearls at your on-campus job. I’d also suggest buying a pair without stretch or with a very small amount of Spandex because you’ll be able to wear them more times before they’re dying to be washed. If skinny jeans aren’t your thing, try a classic boot cut or tailored trouser.
4. White Tees
Woke up 10 minutes before chem at eight? Throw on your skinny jeans and lab shoes and top it off with a crisp white V-neck T-shirt. If you get that done in time, go for a chunky necklace or a vest, and no one will know you were running late! My friends swear by the classics from American Apparel, but as far cotton shirts go, Hanes is pretty hard to beat. For contrast with a slim pair of jeans or leggings, grab a men’s style or a slouchy women’s style for a more interesting silhouette.
5. Riding Boots
Move over, Uggs! Riding boots are the new sheriff in town, and (thankfully) they’re a much more polished and versatile use of your fashion budget. Investing in a pair of leather riding boots (with a small heel, people — you still have to walk to class) to give your wardrobe a mature edge. Equally as appropriate with a knee-length skirt or over those skinny jeans, riding boots are comfortable and warm, and a quality pair will last you well beyond graduation. Weatherproof them before you even think about venturing outside, and bring them to a cobbler for upkeep, and one classic, well-made pair of boots can last ten years with proper care!
6. Solid Scarf
I, like most women I know, could not live fashionably without versatile and affordable Pashminas. A solid color scarf that can be wrapped or worn multiple ways is a simple yet versatile accessory that can keep you warm when it’s snowing (hello, holiday cocktail parties!) or add flair to a plain tank or tee (just add shades!). Look around and make sure you buy one that’s well-made and real wool — I made the mistake of buying a couple of super-cheapies and after one or two washes they were completely pilled and ratty, and when you’re in college you can’t afford to buy anything twice.
7. Classic Tote Bag
I’m not a super brand-happy shopper, but I have one word for you: Longchamp. This French import has been taking campuses by storm for a few seasons — and with good reason. Their ‘Le Pliage’ style tote is made from washable nylon (in tons of colors) and soft brown leather, plus it zips and snaps to keep your things safe when you’re running to class. My tote bag has amazed me with its Mary Poppins quality — I swear I can fit my laptop, running shoes, and five books in there comfortably. Although a Longchamp bag is pricey, it’s more than worth the investment. (Plus, because it’s virtually impossible to dirty, it will stay gorgeous for years.) If ‘Le Pliage’ isn’t your style, shop around for an easy-to-carry, well-made tote bag in a similarly timeless style.
8. Black Blazer
Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but you really can wear this with everything. I’ve paired my classic blazer with sundresses, wool skirts, skinny jeans, and trousers (and lots of other stuff — I won’t bore you with the laundry list). For a class presentation, for an interview, for an informal internship — there’s nothing that ties an outfit together more quickly. My holy trinity? Skinny jeans, riding boots, blazer. Easy and sophisticated!
9. Party Shirt
No doubt, you’ll be going to more than one party, so make sure you buy a pretty, feminine blouse. A silk shirt will go with a pair of dark jeans, and one with ruffles or other detail around the bust will add sex appeal without being obvious. (Not every weekend is Halloween, ladies.) Plus, you’ll want a shirt that is appropriate to wear if your advisor takes you to lunch or you’re trying to romance the quarterback. (A blazer wouldn’t look bad over it, either!)
10. Pencil Skirt
(Un)fortunately, college is not all fun and games, and sometimes you might have to host a potential freshman, meet with the dean, or work with members of student government members. Serious times like these call for a slimming black pencil skirt that (yes) will go well with a blazer or silk shirt. Even if you only wear it a couple of times per semester, a pencil skirt is a must in any put-together wardrobe, and having one will save you from that what-do-I-wear crisis when you find out you’re meeting with the internship coordinator tomorrow.
And For the Boys…
Guys, I won’t bore you with witty banter about timeless fashion, but if you’re packing to head back to campus this fall, keep these key pieces in mind (whether you see yourself staying up all night in the library or in the fraternity): a casual Polo shirt, a nice button-up Oxford, dark slim-cut jeans, professional-looking khakis, Pumas or Chuck Taylors.
Story: Copyright 2010, Shoestring LLC. Image: iStock.