I received the following email recently:
"Hey I love your site and find it really helpful. I'm a senior in high school and will be in college next fall. I want to start with a fresh wardrobe. Do you have any suggestions on what is needed in every college fashionista's wardrobe?"
This is a question I get a lot and I'm pretty sure most girls have trouble with this. When you're in college, you're really just starting to develop a wardrobe, a closet full of clothes that will last you not only your 4 years of university, but on into "the real world."
You want to keep up with trends, but at the same time, you want clothes that won't be unwearable next season. I hear you.
Here is what I believe to be the definitive guide to what every college girl should have in her wardrobe. No, I'm not going to tell you to buy diamond studs or a trench coat, firstly because we've all heard those before, and secondly because college girls just don't dress that way in real life. I'm gonna tell you about what you're actually going to want to be wearing for your four years of college life.
College Wardrobe Must-Haves:
4-5 Pairs of Jeans That Fit Well
Jeans (not sweatpants!) are the basics of a college girl's closet. Find a brand of denim that fits you well, and then stock up on different basic washes and styles. Rotate these through the week. (No one will notice if you wear the same pair twice in one week, I promise.)
One of these pairs can be a trendy style, like ripped jeans or boyfriend jeans. Just don't buy all trendy denim, because you'll have to buy new jeans next season or risk looking really out of date.
A Classic Dress
This is my favorite because it's an entire outfit in one easy piece. Many fashion experts say that you need a "little black dress", and of course I agree that black dresses are chic and classic. However, I think if a dress fits you well and isn't trashy looking, it doesn't need to be black.
Let's face it: most college girls aren't going to cocktail parties that require LBD's. If you are, by all means, buy a little black dress. If you're the typical college girl, just get a dress that fits you well in a color that flatters your skin tone.
4-6 Basic Tees or Tanks
Get a few basic tees or tank tops of varying lengths in different basic colors like black, white, grey and navy blue. These can be worn alone in summer or layered under cardigans, jackets and long-sleeved tops in winter.
Also, look for pieces that are 100% cotton to avoid the weird clinging that some blend fabrics can cause. No one wants to see the outline of your bra under your top!
1-3 Chic Cardigans
You don't have to go 100% cashmere, although that's certainly nice and everything. Most college girls don't have the time or money to get things dry cleaned regularly so don't think that cashmere is a must!
Pick up some basic cardigans at H&M, J.Crew or GAP and layer them over your tees for a look that's chic and trendy at the same time. Get one basic black and at least one in a color that flatters your skin tone and matches most of your wardrobe.
Great Bras & Panties
These will take you SO far. Underwear is the foundation of your look. If you don't have a bra that fits well, the rest of your outfit is not going to look right. Same goes for panties.
Spend the time and the money shopping for good well-fitting bras and panties that don't pinch, bulge or show under your clothes. At least one nude bra in a skin-tone-matching shade is a must for wearing under white tees.
A Bag That Holds Everything
You want a bag that's good quality (canvas, leather, or strong fake-leather are good bets), goes with most of your wardrobe, and still looks chic. The right bag can also go from day to night, so look for classic details like metal accents.
Also, bonus points if you can find a bag that has lots of pockets and zippered compartments to keep you organized!
Brands I love: Marc by Marc Jacobs, Nine West, Coach
1-2 Dressy Tops
Look for fun fabrics, bright colors, and/or cute prints. Wear a dressy top under a fall/spring jacket or by itself with jeans and heels to a party. Don't go see-through, uber low-cut or too-tight.
1 Pair Nice Dress Pants
Get a well-fitting trouser in black or dark grey with a wide leg to wear on job interviews and recruiting sessions. Your dress pants should be long enough to wear with heels, but not so long that they drag on the ground.
1 White Button-Down Shirt
Again, this is most likely going to be used for job interviews and/or internships, though you can also style this for classes.
Look for a button-down with a little stretch and a cut that's flattering to your body shape. You don't want one that's too tight of course, but you also don't want to look like a box.
Spending a little more money here will be well worth it because you can wear this shirt to work when you get a big girl job later.
1 Well-Cut Spring/Fall Jacket
This can be as casual or as formal as you like. It just needs to match most of your clothes and has to fit well! A military jacket or denim jacket is a great option here. You could also go for faux leather.
The cut is everything with jackets so spend as long as it takes shopping around for the right jacket. Don't settle for something that doesn't fit just right.
1 or 2 Winter Coats
Those of you who live in warm climates don't need these, obviously (unless you like to ski). For those of us in areas that actually have winters, warm winter coats are a must. I like classic wool pea coats and cute faux-fur trimmed parkas by brands like J.Crew and Juicy Couture.
1-2 Pairs Casual Flat Shoes
Essential for spring and fall, flat shoes are a must for college. We love the athletic sneaker trend for one pair. For your second, ballet flats add Kate Moss chicness to any outfit and are usually fairly inexpensive as well! Get one pair in a basic color like black or brown, and one pair in a bright color like red or cobalt.
Other cute trends to try with your ballet flats: metal embellishment (think Tory Burch), patent leather, and patterns. The choice is yours!
1 Pair Good Winter Shoes/Boots
If you're living in an area that has a real "winter" season, you need some serious winter footwear if you're gonna be walking anywhere (and I assume you will be.)
Unfortunately, you might have to sacrifice style for function a little in this category, but it's better than slipping and falling in the snow or having really cold feet all day!
1 Pair Black Pumps
These are to wear with your dress pants and white shirt for job interviews and professional occasions. Spend a little extra money and get good-quality shoes because if you take care of them, they will last you forever!
1 Blazer in a Neutral Color
This should be in a neutral color like black or navy for maximum versatility. A good blazer can be styled a million different ways and can be worn to interviews to boot.
For hanging around the dorm or apartment, get some cute sweats! Note that these are for hanging and lounging only and are NOT to be worn to class, except if you've been up all night studying for a final and plan to go back to sleep after you take it.
Even for a final, think hard about wearing sweats in public. The only other exception is if you're working out, but I'm sure you know that.
College Wardrobe: Pieces That Are Nice to Have
At Least 1 Pair of Super-Flattering Special Jeans
Splurge a little on this item. The right pair of flattering jeans will take you SO far.
You should look for a clean, dark wash jean with a straight or bootcut leg that is long enough to be worn with heels but not so long that it drags on the ground. Spend the time and try on as many pairs as it takes to find the perfect ones.
I like Seven for All Mankind, J.Brand, and Paige Premium Denim.
1 or More Pairs of "Night Out" Heels
For wearing to parties with your dresses or super-flattering jeans, get at least one pair of really cute and fun high heels. I like shoes in a bright color or a patent leather with a heel height of 3-4 inches, but get whatever speaks to you!
These can be as outrageous or simple as you want - express your style, these are your party shoes.
1-3 Summer Skirts or Dresses
These are a must for me, but not essential to everyone's wardrobe. I like maxi and midi skirts, because they are so easy to pair with sandals, pretty jewelry and a simple tee in the warmer months.
Of course these are nonessential, but so much fun. Sandals are a great way to add color to your wardrobe without spending lots of money.
Black Opaque Tights
Tights are always classic. Black opaque tights are inexpensive and so basic to a wardrobe. They look so chic with heels, flats and most dresses.
Always classic, denim shorts are great for the warmer months and go with everything. Choose a cutoff style that flatters you - if you have a more polished style, go for cuffs; if you're more edgy, a ripped style is for you.
For walking around in your apartment or dorm. I like really ridiculous, fun slippers - bright colors, fluffy textures or duck prints, for example. They're slippers - you're only going to wear them indoors.. go as crazy as you want.
Cute rain boots are nice to have but not essential, if you have other waterproof or water-resistant footwear. Again, these are climate-dependent.
A Cozy Hoodie
This is another nice-to-have college staple. Hoodies with your college's logo are great for lounging, studying and being comfortable, but don't fall into the trap of wearing them everywhere! Use in moderation.
These body-shapers are great for anytime you're wearing tight-fitting clothing and want to smooth everything out. Say goodbye to "fat days" forever. Even Jessica Alba swears by them so you know they must work!
So nice to have when you're walking to and from the bathroom in winter or just hanging around your room. Get one in a bright color and supersoft fabric for the ultimate in adorable luxury.
More College Wardrobe Must-Haves:
Consider this your basics list. Want to get a little more advanced? We've written tons of posts on wardrobe essentials for different styles, beyond the basics listed here.
See the following posts for must-haves for YOUR personal sense of style:
- Wardrobe Essentials for a Street Chic Style
- Wardrobe Essentials for a Preppy, Girly, and Sophisticated Style
- Wardrobe Essentials for a Classic & Timeless Style
- Wardrobe Essentials for a Bohemian Chic Style
- Wardrobe Essentials for an Edgy, Rocker-Chic Style
- Wardrobe Essentials for an Electro-Urban Style
- Wardrobe Essentials for a Casual, Androgynous-Chic Style
So there you have it, the top items that should be in every college girl's closet. Of course, these are just my opinions and you might have your own ideas about this too. Let me know if you agree with me, or if you think something is missing by leaving a comment or sending an email!
What are your closet essentials? Let me know in the comments!