9 Tips for Building a Wardrobe in College and Beyond, According to my Mom (Plus 4 Timeless Outfit Ideas!)

Mom knows best — especially when it comes to fashion!

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Mom style advice: Mother and daughter traveling together

As you may know, I am the writer for the “Ask CF” column here at College Fashion. However, I’d be lying if I said that I always have the answers to every fashion conundrum. In fact, to this day, I consider my mom Joanne (here’s her and I) to be the ultimate fashion expert. I can thank her for teaching me just about everything that I know about fashion today.

Having said that, it only made sense that I share some of my mom’s style wisdom with CF readers; so, I decided to give her a call and ask her how to build the perfect classic wardrobe that will last through college and beyond. Here’s the advice she had:

Also, be sure to scroll to the bottom to see some timeless outfits inspired by my mom’s tips.

1. Consider Proportion

My mom’s first piece of advice is that in general, it’s a good idea to avoid wearing tight pieces with other tight pieces, and loose pieces with other loose pieces, as doing either of these things is usually unflattering, regardless of body type.

Instead, she advises mixing the tighter pieces in your wardrobe with looser ones, in order to create a well-balanced and proportional look that’s pleasing to the eye.

2. Don’t Spend Money on Cheap Pieces

My mom has always, always maintained that it is better to have fewer more expensive items than a bunch of cheap things that won’t last. Therefore, don’t invest in inexpensive, poor-quality pieces — even basics.

Now, that’s not to say that you have to drop hundreds on a single item; rather, the point here is that it is always better to save up for something that is high-quality rather than using that money to buy five equivalent items from a cheaper, lower-quality brand.

Although it might be frustrating to have a smaller wardrobe at first, in the long run, you will actually end up spending less money on clothes (since you won’t have to keep on replacing your wardrobe every few months).

Furthermore, better-quality pieces are more likely to be classic rather than trendy, meaning that they’ll look good for longer; and, as my mom says, “you’ll be building a beautiful wardrobe over time,” since “a nice wardrobe is an investment.”

However, since none of us (my mom and myself included) are immune to the siren call of cheap and trendy items from stores like Zara or H&M, my mom advises that if you do shop at cheaper stores, you must be careful and choose wisely. That means doing things like checking seams to make sure that they are strong, even, and intact; and making sure that there are no holes or missing embellishments in the garment.

Lastly, if you do decide to buy a cheaper item, she advises mixing it with more expensive pieces to make it look more expensive as well — something that she is an expert in, if I may say so myself!

3. It’s All About the Fabric

“Make sure the fabrics are top quality. Try to get ‘pure’ fabrics,” my mom advises.

By this, she means to keep an eye out for items that are made of 100% cotton, linen, silk, etc., as these non-blended garments tend to be better quality than those that are made of blended fabrics (although, of course, there are exceptions!).

If you can’t find “pure” fabrics that are within your budget, my mom says to seek out sturdy materials that look and feel similar to what you might come across in more expensive stores.

4. Use Color Strategically

For a wardrobe that will truly stand the test of time, my mom is a huge advocate of building your wardrobe around neutrals, and adding pops of color with shoes, bags, and accessories. She is partial to red, and simply can’t turn down a pair of red flats or a red bag to brighten up an otherwise-muted ensemble.

Of course, this is not to say that you can’t wear color as part of your “main” look at all — I know I couldn’t wear neutrals every single day!  Rather, what this means is that, if you’re just starting to build your wardrobe, it’s a good idea to use neutrals as a foundation, and then move on to other colors once you’ve got the basics down pat.

5. Tailoring is Your Friend

My mom says that “Tailoring is huge.” In fact, she goes as far to call it “crucial” to building the perfect wardrobe. Furthermore, she says that you should consider tailoring things that you might not normally think of tailoring, such as sweaters.

Also, better fit equals better look overall; so, if you love something in a store that isn’t your size, don’t hesitate to buy it, as long as it can be altered and you factor the alteration into the cost of the item.

“Find a good tailor and make use of them,” my mom advises, as having a wardrobe that fits you like a glove is worth the extra few dollars that it costs to hem a pair of jeans or take in a blouse.

6. Keep Your Eyes Open for Sales

Keep a lookout for sales on more expensive pieces. Keep in mind, though, that this means that you may end up buying items in “off” seasons, e.g. sweaters in the summer, etc.

My mom has always told me to be patient when I was debating whether it was worth it to splurge on a more expensive item, as it would probably go on sale soon — and, she has always been right!

So, unless you’re looking at something that you know will sell out quickly, it’s almost always a better idea to take a deep breath and wait for it to go on sale.

7. Always Buy Good-Quality Shoes

As my mom always likes to remind me, “I have shoes that are older than you are, but they still look brand new and up-to-date.”

This is because she invests in classic, high-quality shoes, and, if they do get scuffed, stained, or the soles or heels get worn down, she takes them to the shoe repair place to get them looking like new again.

This might be a small detail, but it goes a long way towards making your outfits look better and saving you money in the long run. Also, higher quality shoes are almost always more comfortable than cheap ones!

8. Don’t Be So Quick to Get Rid of Things

Marie Kondo fans, prepare yourself: you might not immediately like this advice.

My mom says that if you get tired of something in your wardrobe, you should think twice before donating or selling it. This is especially true if you follow my mom’s advice and buy classic pieces, which are re-released every couple of seasons/years, only styled differently.

If you want some designer inspiration from brands that do this constantly, my mom recommends looking at Prada and Burberry, who are always re-inventing classics and showing new ways to wear them.

Furthermore, my mom has remarked to me on more than one occasion that the things that stores are selling now are very similar to the things that she wore when she was my age. So, if you invest in timeless items — even if you go through phases where you don’t wear them as often (or at all) — hold on to them. You never know when they might come back into style!

9. Wear What You Love

Although my mom is the hardest-working, most dedicated parent (and person in general) I know, she hasn’t let any “rules” about what she’s “supposed” to wear at her age or position stop her from rocking things like leather pants with button-up shirts, Stan Smiths with wide-legged trousers, and full skirts and dresses, all of which are solidly outside the realm of what a “regular”* mom is supposed to wear.

*(Note: My mom is not actually a “cool” mom!)*

Similarly, she, like us, is not a fan of general fashion rules that dictate what you “should” or “shouldn’t” wear according to your age, height, size, build, skin/hair color, etc.

Therefore, she advises that you should wear what suits your mental state and what you feel comfortable in. Ignore the rules, as fashion is about showing off your individuality. If you do this, she says, you’ll always look good!

Now.. Timeless Outfits Inspired by My Mom’s Tips

Now, no advice list would be complete without some concrete examples to back it up, I decided to create some outfits based on my mom’s tips.

Although these looks are partially based on my mom’s classic style, because of their timeless, simple aesthetic, they are wearable for anyone, regardless of age or position in life.

Furthermore, all of the pieces shown here are meant to be mixed and matched with each other to create the ultimate sophisticated capsule wardrobe!

Finally, note that most of the pieces shown are in neutral colors; this is because, as my mom says, it is best to start off by building your wardrobe in neutral hues, and then use shoes, bags, and jewelry to add some color to your ensembles.

Outfit #1

This outfit, with its classic style and minimalist aesthetic, is an easy go-to look. It is also highly versatile: It would work equally well for class, a business casual job interview, or even meeting up with friends for brunch on the weekend.

Start by pairing a black loose-fitting blouse with white skinny jeans to keep your proportions balanced. Next, throw on a black blazer to add a preppy touch; as per my mom’s advice, it’s always a good idea to spend more money on classic, multi-use pieces, which is why I chose this investment-worthy one.

Put on a pair of practical yet stylish loafers, and add a pop of color with a red quilted box bag.

Finally, put on some delicate jewelry, such as a dainty gold knot ring, a simple solitaire necklace, and some green onyx stud earrings–which, again, add another small pop of color–and you’re all set to go!

Outfit #2

T-shirt dresses are the perfect way to dress casually without looking sloppy, and this chic gray one does the trick perfectly by striking the perfect balance between trendy and relaxed — something that my mom does a lot with her own style.

This outfit also features pieces from both higher and lower-priced retailers, showing that mastering the high-low mix isn’t just something that street style stars can do!

Pair it with a laid-back denim jacket and cute pointed-toe flats to up the style factor even further, and grab an elegant bucket bag.

Add a pair of aviator sunglasses for an extra dose of cool, and finish off with a lovely pair of crystal cluster studs and an antique-inspired bow bracelet.

Outfit #3

For a simple everyday look, my mom loves pairing a plain white t-shirt with a black full skirt. I love the fact that this one, from Everlane, has pockets, and that it is easy to shorten should you tire of the midi-length and want something a little more casual in the future.

To add a pop of color, slip on a pair of red ballet flats and accessorize with a subtle cuff bracelet with a red stone. Next, put on a double-layered chain necklace for some vintage vibes, as well as a unique snake ring.

Finally, add a black tote and a pair of round sunglasses — my mom swears by this exact pair — and you’ve got yourself a classic and versatile look that can be worn in college and beyond.

Outfit #4

This look was put together primarily with cooler fall temperatures in mind; however, many of the items, such as the accessories, jeans, and nail polish, can be worn year-round.

To get this look, start by pairing a neutral-colored v-neck sweater with some sleek cropped kick-flare jeans — one of my mom’s favorite trends for women of all ages.

Next, zip up a pair of goes-with-everything black ankle boots, and put on a (faux) leather motorcycle jacket.

For some pops of color, don a pale blue scarf, a multi-colored dainty cuff bracelet, and a pretty stacking ring with a colored stone. For a bolder look, paint your nails with Essie’s “A-List,” a classic red nail polish shade.

Add some polish to the ensemble by donning a pair of sparkly faux diamond studs and picking up a sophisticated chain-strap bag.

What do you think?

Do you have a mom/grandmother/sister/aunt/older friend/mentor whose style you look up to?  What is the best fashion advice they’ve given you? Do you have any more tips when it comes to building a classic wardrobe for college and beyond?

Let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “9 Tips for Building a Wardrobe in College and Beyond, According to my Mom (Plus 4 Timeless Outfit Ideas!)”

  1. My mom has given me most of this advice too!! But it looks nice pointed out on a list. I’m about to enter college and it’s a great reminder now I’ll be on my own. The best advice: tailor-made clothes.


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