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High School Fashion vs. College Fashion


College girl shopping for a dress

I’ve been asked a lot lately about the differences between college fashion and high school fashion. With many high school grads getting ready for college in the fall, I think it’s a question that lots of people are wondering about.

So what is college fashion like in comparison to high school fashion? What do people wear in college? How should college girls dress? What clothes should you bring with you to college, and what should you leave home?

As someone who wondered about this stuff when I was going to college, I understand. The whole transition to college is nerve-racking for everyone, but don’t worry! I’m here to help you all out.

Understanding the differences between high school fashion and college fashion isn’t that difficult – in some ways they’re really similar, but in others, they’re miles apart.


Let’s start by getting rid of a few misconceptions about university fashion. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part, these stereotypes are FALSE!

1. College girls don’t care about fashion.

Some people have the idea that college girls are lazy and none of us care about fashion because we’re so busy. This is completely untrue, as any stylish college girl will tell you!

While college life is definitely stressful, it’s not very difficult to look good and deal with school at the same time. It’s obvious that just a few badly dressed college girls are giving the rest of us a bad name.

2. We wear our college’s hoodies every day.

College Hoodie Sweatshirt

Some people in college do wear their university sweatshirts on a daily basis (usually without washing them, ever!), but it’s not as common as you might think.

There’s nothing wrong with buying college sweatshirts – they’re great for lounging around, keeping warm, and they’re an essential part of the college experience. But most people don’t wear them daily.

Hoodies are the most popular with guys as something to wear every day. While they are comfy and cozy, most girls I know really only wear them around the dorm and during finals week. We have cuter things to wear out!

3. We wear nothing but Victoria’s Secret PINK.

Victoria's Secret PINK

Okay, this one might have some basis in reality – Victoria’s Secret PINK stuff IS really popular with lots of college girls. I won’t even lie – I do have a bunch of their stuff that I wear when I’m lounging around. But I don’t wear it every day, and I don’t wear it around campus most of the time.

While the stuff is really cute and I love it for lounging around the dorm, VS Pink shouldn’t be the basis of any wardrobe. Jeans, jackets, tops, and dresses are too cute to ignore in favor of sweats!

Differences Between High School and College Fashion

Now that we’ve gone over what college girls don’t wear, let’s talk about what college girls actually do wear. High school fashion is different from college fashion in a few big ways.

1. In college, there are fewer rules and restrictions.

Girl Jumping
Photo by *Zara

The main difference between fashion in high school and fashion in college is that no one is telling you what to do anymore.

The freedom that comes with going to college is so much fun – you can really begin to figure yourself out, and with that, you can develop your own unique style out too!

Also, fashion in high school is much more restricted than fashion in college. There may be dress codes, parents telling you what to do, and even social pressure to dress a certain way when you’re in HS. One of my favorite things about college is that this doesn’t happen anymore!

Essentially, once you’re free from high school, you can go your own way with fashion (or decide that you don’t care about it at all.) It’s your choice to make.

2. College frees you to be yourself without judgment.

Girl In Green Tights
Photo by

Social fashion rules in college are also way more relaxed than they are in high school. No one really judges you based on what you wear in college, and more than likely they’ll think you’re interesting if you dress differently. In most high schools, I’m sure this wasn’t the case.

Also, there are so many social groups in college that you can always find like-minded people to hang out with. You’ll probably know tons of people from many different social groups, and won’t be completely tied to any single clique.

Basically, you don’t have to worry about fitting in with everyone when you get to college. All you need to worry about is expressing yourself and being true to whoever that person is.

3. In college, you can become who you want to be.

Going off to college gives you a great opportunity to start off with a blank slate and really find yourself and your style. There are no rules, and it’s up to you to be who you want. I say: use this to your advantage!

It doesn’t matter if you were a total tomboy in high school – if you’ve always wanted to be chic, feminine, and glamorous, who says you can’t change it up? Or if you only wore designer labels all throughout HS, channel your inner hippie chick if that speaks to you!

This isn’t about trying to be someone you’re not; it’s about becoming the person you want to be and expressing yourself in a creative way. Also, have fun with it!

How To Bring Your High School Wardrobe to College

  • Know what to throw. While I’m sure you like your “Seniors ’08” high school t-shirt, don’t become one of those girls who wears it everywhere in college. Sure, bring it with you if you’re sentimental, but don’t start wearing it outside of your room.
  • Go through your wardrobe and find the pieces that are the most “you” – things you always find yourself reaching for, and couldn’t be without! These will become the staples of your college wardrobe and will help you express your unique personality.
  • Denim, denim, denim. I’m sure many of you read my article on College Wardrobe Essentials, and if you have, you’ll remember that I talk a lot about jeans. Denim is the number one thing you wear in college, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
  • Invest in cute dorm wear. This is especially important if you’re living on campus. There’s nothing worse than getting to college without cute sweats and tanks to lounge around in. You spend tons of time in your dorm, and most of your friends will probably be in yours! I’m going to be writing up an article on this soon.
  • When in doubt about an item, leave it home. Moving in to college is a huge pain as it is, and the less stuff you bring, the better. Your parents can always mail you that dress you never thought you’d wear again if you really want it later.
  • Consider the weather of the place where you’ll be going to school. Even within one state, temperature differences can vary in a big way from town to town. Check your college town’s weather forecast and pack accordingly.
  • Buy some new things that represent the new you. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but getting yourself a few new pieces will help bring you into a new state of mind and get excited for school. College is a big change in your life, and something as simple as a few new clothes will help get you psyched!

Your Thoughts?

Now that you know how to take your high school wardrobe to college, I want to know what you think.

Do you have any other questions about this? Is there anything I left out? What clothes are you planning to bring to college in the fall? I want to hear all about it, so be sure to leave a comment!

Posted on on July 21, 2008 / Filed Under: Beauty & Hair, Fashion Tips / Tags: , , , , , ,

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29 Responses to “High School Fashion vs. College Fashion”

  1. 1
    July 21st, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    This came at a perfect time, as I’m making that big transition too!
    But where I’m from (Quebec), we finish high school at grade 11, then go to a “college” for 2 years and then go to University.
    And we don’t live at our colleges either, so we can’t have cute dorms. :<

    I have a question though; is it okay to wear a pair of cute PINK sweat-pants to school though? Or this considered too laid back? When I have to go visit my new school, I tend to see a lot of people wearing sweats, and since I had a uniform, it looks so tempting…!

  2. 2
    July 21st, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Good advice. People don’t care as much about what you wear, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to still look good. I see a lot of girls wearing PINK sweatpants to class, it’s OK to do once and a while. One good thing to do is to wait until you get there and see what people wear before you do any major shopping.

  3. 3
    July 21st, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    I really liked the comment about being able to wear what you want/try new things. I just picked up the new issue of People StyleWatch magazine the other day, and it has the cutest plaid blazer in it. It’s something that I would never have had the confidence to wear in highschool – – I never thought I could pull off plaid before, but this one I might actually try!

  4. 4
    July 21st, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I’m so glad you wrote this! In high school, we had a dress code so I wore t-shirts every day…since I graduated, I got rid of most of them and have boughten soo many cute things I can’t wait to wear!

  5. 5
    July 21st, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Thanks for this! I love this site, I check it all the time! It’d be great if you could do a short entry on types of book bags in college-ie the pros and cons of backpacks, tote bags, messenger bags, or no bags. I don’t know about other people, but I’m having the hardest time figuring out what I want to carry all my books and stuff around in!

  6. 6
    July 21st, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    well actually, i go to a college in the city but i dont think a lot of people really care about what they wear. in the beginning of the school year, people take more consideration in what they wear but once the school work starts to kick in, so does the lazy dressing. students basically throw on comfy things like jeans, tshirts and hoodies. getting up in the morning is a drag, so lots of people dont really care about what they wear. there are so many people that dress differently, not necessarily stylish but comfortable. my friends dorm and they throw on anything because theyre in a rush to get to class and out of class. a lot of girls carry longchamp bags as a school bag too!

  7. 7
    July 21st, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Reminds me of when I joined college… Another thing with college, is that every semester can be a new start… I’ve had different looks for each semester, and it’s fun to see how much you can explore! It also kind of helps you figure out what kind of clothes you can and cannot pull off. And being in an art and design college, in a place like India can be alot of fun, we have such a variety of clothes here! This is the best time to experiment, in college. In school i had a really smart uniform, and you never know, once you’re in a full time job, you may never be able to go bananas experimenting with clothes and looks…

    So when it comes to college, i would say, have fun, and experiment your souls off!

  8. 8
    July 22nd, 2008 at 3:19 am

    i like this post, and i agree with aly because i want to know what other options i have for book bags other than backpacks

  9. 9
    July 22nd, 2008 at 6:47 am

    I quite like this post, back in high school i had to wear a uniform every single day. Now that in college, it enables me to change the way i dress, like for example wearing mini dresses instead of the plain jeans and collar shirt look, but if i do wear jeans, it has to be paired with a printed tee and pointed flats. Ill put a cardigan over that as well or a bolero! Boots are great as well as i recently bought a pair of them. Bag wise, instead of backpacks i use a shoulder bag and i’m planning to by a tote bag!

    Its great that college allows you to experiment with different clothes, as a couple of posts i agree with and of course to see which combination looks good or bad. Oh and also, people dont care what kind of clothes you wear, as compared to my high school (snooty rich ppl :P)

  10. 10
    July 22nd, 2008 at 7:50 am

    Great post!
    I agree with Mahima, every semester can be turned into a new look!

    Completely off-topic, but do you know where I can get some cute boots like the ones the girl in the picture is wearing? They’re fab!

  11. 11
    July 22nd, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Sweatpants to class drives me mad most days. I love throwing on black yoga pants and a knit top or cute sweater to walk over to the dining hall early for breakfast, but I see way too many pairs of the same “Pink” sweats with ugg boots and greek sweatshirts walking to class every morning.

  12. 12
    July 22nd, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Retro.Bunny – Pink sweats are kinda OK at school… I try not to wear ‘em more often than during finals week or if I haven’t slept at all, because it’s so cliche and boring to wear ‘em to class. It’s not any more difficult or any less comfortable to just wear a pair of jeans, and the style factor is upped by 1000%!

    IUgirl – I couldn’t agree more!

    Meg – Definitely – you do want to make a good impression in school and sweatpants certainly make a bad one. But I can’t stand those girls that wear business suits to class (yes, they exist). It’s soooo over-the-top. They just look ridiculous, and you can tell that they’re going to sit in the front row and bombard the teacher with questions in an effort to get an A. You can look nice without trying too hard, and everyone will respect you a lot more.

    FashionFan – Get it! I love the idea of that – college is such a great time to try out stuff that you wouldn’t have dared to wear in HS!

    Barbie – Seriously – one of the best things about college is that there’s no more dress code! It’s an awesome time to have fun with your wardrobe.

    Aly – I wrote an article about cute college bags, it’s here: . I agree though, I will be posting an article with the pros and con’s of backpacks versus other bags for class. Look for it soon!

    Gina – That’s somewhat true. I don’t think it’s the norm, though, to look messy and just throw something on. During finals or midterms, sure. Otherwise, I’d say jeans and a cute top and/or jacket is the average college girl’s look. It doesn’t have to be right off the runway to be cute and fashionable.

    Mahima – You make a really good point about every semester being a fresh start. I love the idea of that! Badass rocker chick in fall, laidback surfer girl in spring? Hehe :)

    Teri – I’ll try and write up an article on that soon! Check back :)

    Lyd – Must be nice to be free from the uniform, huh? And I agree with you on shoulder bags and tote bags versus backpacks, but I’m going to be doing a compare & contrast article soon!

    Stephanie – Hmm, I’m not sure where to get those exact boots, but try CF’s Shopping page (link is in the menu at the top of the page) for some great shoe stores where you could probably find something similar. Zappos & are my faves!

    Jane – Oh god, I know. Thankfully, that’s not what the majority of girls at my school wear, but the sweatpants & uggs trend drives me nuts. Fashion is supposed to be fun, and those outfits are so boring! No style whatsoever.

  13. 13
    July 22nd, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    One transition I made from high school to college was a major editing of my wardrobe! After being forced to leave about 1/2 my clothes at home and not even missing them while I was gone I truly realized what an excess of clothes I have. This summer I’ve been good– donating the clothes I never missed in the first place and trying not to buy too many new items:)

  14. 14
    July 22nd, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    I totally agree that the vs pink sweatpants/uggs/greek hoodie thing needs to go away… it’s just sooo unoriginal and boring. the sorority girls at my school all seem to either be wearing that or all designer labels, and it’s weird because there’s no in-between.

    Most of the girls at my school (UMBC, by the way) carry tote bags to class. I have a cute printed one with green stars that i got for free =)

    I’m just starting college this fall (my boyfriend started last year so I went up to visit him a lot, which is how I know what people there are wearing), and I’m planning to use the opportunity to wear more feminine things than I did in high school. Mostly just more feminine tops instead of the fitted t’s I wore all the time in hs… you’ll never see me in a pink polka-dotted anything because I’m not a girly girl =P I wanna stay true to my metalhead self while still broadening my horizons, haha

  15. 15
    July 23rd, 2008 at 1:40 am


    True! There is much middle ground and suits are generally over the top.

    However, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. I knew some people who dressed up because they attended the business college and got extra credit for dressing up. Others dressed up because they went to work before or after class.

    I got to admit, I was the gal in front with all the questions — though mostly because I was just really interested in the subjects. The way I figure it, with tuition so outrageously priced, I wanted to get my money’s worth ; )

  16. 16
    July 23rd, 2008 at 6:09 am

    I also agree with chucking away anything that represents your high school – i have my senior jersey and now its kept away in the closet with other old things. That chapter is closed and now time to break out into plain clothes :)..

  17. 17
    July 23rd, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Lauren – Good for you on buying less! I wish I had that kind of discipline. I always think I have NOTHING in my closet, and always end up buying more and more stuff! I think I need to give your method a shot this fall :)

    Jenny – Most girls at my school carry tote bags as well. I like them a lot better than backpacks personally, they’re just so much cuter.

    Meg – I’m in the business school at my university, and that’s why I see those girls. The thing is – it’s not just on interview days or presentation days that they wear biz suits – it’s every day. We don’t get extra credit for wearing business suits, rest assured. Maybe they’re going to work, but nonetheless, it seems very excessive.

    Lyd – Yup! Nothing wrong with keeping those around as mementos, but not in your closet. Maybe just leave ‘em home if you’re attached!

  18. 18
    July 28th, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    This is a really great article. I think you hit the points dead on! I just completed my first year of college and I definately noticed the transition. There’s something things I wore in high school that I couldn’t get away with in college and vice versa!

    I’ll definately be forwarding this to my incoming freshman friends to help get them started!

  19. 19
    August 8th, 2008 at 10:30 am

    I wanted to say thanx for the college style adivice period, but i wanted to especially thank u on the idea bout bringing cute little dorm outfits. I hadn’t really thought about that, and i leave next weekened! Another item to add to the last minute touches!! THNX!!

  20. 20
    September 17th, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    I’m going to school for fashion design and I feel that there is still alot of pressure to dress right. I mean, it is going to be my life pretty much. I laugh at how you say to make sure you only bring what is necessary, cause, I’m having a hard time doing that :-) I get so worried I’m guna leave something behind, want to wear it one day, and I won’t have it. LOL. But yeah, LOVE THE ARTICLE, AND ALL OF THEM!!! :-)

  21. 21
    October 15th, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    What is THE brand for campus? i.e. Dooney,Coachetc.

  22. 22
    November 7th, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    I attend a small, privet, Christian college. Everyone dresses pretty much the same: Aero, AEO, Hollister, A&F, Coach, Pnk, and Juicy Coutrue. Also, almsot everyone wears school paraphenalia year round, hoodies, pants, shirts, tees, etc. Personaly, I don’t wear ANY school paraphenalia other than a lanyard. I fit right it because I’m a pretty basic/boring dresser.

  23. 23
    March 25th, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Every time i come here I am not dissapointed, nice post

  24. 24
    May 13th, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Thanks for this article, it completely breaks all the silly prejudices. I can say it for my self and I hope the other also have learned something new from it.

  25. 25
    August 7th, 2009 at 4:07 am

    I’ve just found this website and I’m actually in love with it!

    I’m going to college this Sep, in England. I’ve never been there, honestly I’ve never been outside of Asia (I’m from Vietnam). As I’m studying Fashion at an Art college, that means I can wear WHATEVER I want right? I like jeans, but I LOVE dresses and skirts. I love floral dresses and black, chic dresses as well. Do u think wearing a dress or skirt to school everyday is ok? I’m going to an Arts college I know, but I don’t wanna look over the top, and someone might think that I’m too dressy.

  26. 26
    October 12th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Hey I never wear PINK Victoria Secret sweats ever! I do not like words on the butt of the pants because guys and girls will look at your bum. Who needs that kind of attention? Not me! Yes the high school me is gone and the college me is brand new! I will never wear unfashionable clothing ever again! I used to wear unfashionable clothes in high school, not anymore.

  27. 27
    October 31st, 2010 at 9:38 am

    <3 this article!
    In my university, people REALLLLYY couldn't care less what you wear :/ That's why you have SOO much freedom when it comes to clothing because there's no pressure :) I even know a quite a few girls who wear the same outfit twice in a week :)

  28. 28
    July 17th, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    In college, you unconsciously mature, at least that’s what happened, and still is happening for me. Being in college is having a fresh start, especially for small-town girls heading to the big city like me. And so far, I’m liking it, wait I’m loving it! :D

  29. 29
    December 3rd, 2012 at 4:47 am


    I could not agree more! When I moved to the big city it was an eye opener, which almost gave me a sense of freedom!

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