Packing for a weekend trip can be stressful, and when it comes to preparing for an entire semester at college, managing your college wardrobe becomes even more crucial!
As an over-packer, it can be hard not to pack your whole wardrobe. At the same time, under-packers that I know totally regretted not bringing enough of certain items that they ended up needing during the school year.
Don’t make either mistake—that’s where our ultimate college wardrobe packing guide comes in, which breaks down the closet essentials you’ll actually need for college.
Whether you’re starting your first or final year of college, always remember: less is more when you’re living in a dorm or apartment!
You should have enough clean clothes and underwear for at least a week in each season. Otherwise, you’ll end up doing laundry multiple times a week, something you won’t have time or the willpower for. You don’t want to run out of clothes either, though—the goal is to pack just the ✨right✨ amount.
RELATED READING: Cute College Outfits: 10 Looks to Get You Back-to-School Ready
So without further ado, here is what I believe to be the definitive guide to what every college girl should have in her wardrobe, the staples you’re actually going to want to be wearing for your four years of college life.
Table of Contents
Get a few basic tees or tank tops of varying lengths (cropped tees count, too) in different basic colors like black, white, gray, and navy blue. Also, throw in at least one fun tee in your favorite color for variety, or a graphic print tee that features a band or a cute saying.
These can be worn alone in summer or layered under cardigans, jackets, and long-sleeved tops in the fall and winter. (See our guide to casual college outfits for examples of how we wear these.)
3 Cute Tops (Blouses, Bodysuits, and/or Basic Crop Tops)
These would be your trendy pieces that rotate from year to year; they can include crop tops, plaid/flannel shirts, cute cami tanks, and button-down shirts (which are also great for layering over camis!).
Oversized, cozy sweaters are my favorite thing to wear during the winter, and no one can convince me otherwise. And cropped cardigans give all those 2000s vibes we love so much.
Just be sure that the vast majority of your sweaters are not dry clean-only options; for example, try to avoid fabrics like wool and cashmere. Trust me, going to the dry cleaners will probably be the last thing on your mind when trying to balance school and your social life!
(Check out our guide to the best sweaters for college to see the types of sweaters you need to pack.)
3-4 pairs of Casual Shorts
I have a pair of flowy shorts, some cute bike shorts, and jean shorts in three colors: vintage wash, white, and black.
The Agolde shorts above are a splurge, but they have honestly changed my life! They fit better than any other pair I’ve tried, and I wear mine multiple times a week. Levi’s and Abercrombie & Fitch also have great options.
2 Casual Skirts/Dresses
If you can’t picture yourself being able to sit comfortably in your cute dress or skirt of choice, reconsider packing it.
I love wearing tennis-inspired skirts and dresses that have hidden shorts underneath (a.k.a. skorts)—not only do they look adorable, but their athletic vibe makes them practical for running around campus. (Especially since you can wear them with sneakers, and they are often made with sweat-wicking fabrics.)
Also, opt for t-shirt and tank dresses—since these are considered basics, you can style them a bunch of different ways throughout the year and depending on the weather. They look cute on their own but are also easy to layer things over (like sweaters and jackets), and are *almost* as comfy as your favorite tee or tank.
Denim and cargo skirts have become a big trend this year, which also make for stylish yet casual options.
(For more, see our guide to the types of skirts and dresses you need for college!)
2-3 pairs of quality jeans
No college wardrobe essentials list would be complete without jeans! Pay attention to the inseam length, quality, and price when buying a pair of jeans. I’d suggest bringing a straight-leg (or slim-ish fitting) pair and a looser pair, that way you have a more “polished” option and a more casual option.
Levi’s Low Pro jeans are one of my personal favorites: they are budget-friendly and come in a bunch of washes to choose from, with a baggy fit throughout the legs and a lower waistline that looks great with crop tops and baggy tees alike.
1-2 Pairs of “Fun” Pants
You’ll want some “fun” pants in your wardrobe when you get tired of wearing jeans or leggings (more on those, below). Cargo pants have become practically as essential as denim, so bring a pair or two with you; wear them with a long sleeve tee and sneakers to class, or a crop top when going out with friends.
Faux leather pants are another must-have, especially on weekends when you’re hitting the bars or party scene. They work well with booties, sneakers, and heels so that you can wear them for a good portion of the school year with various going-out tops.
I also love trouser pants, because you can wear them to class presentations or an internship, but also casually around campus with sneakers and a t-shirt.
3-4 Pairs of Leggings
Let’s be real: you’re going to be living in leggings at least half of the time. There’s just no beating their comfort and ease, especially when you’re trekking across campus day in and day out.
I suggest buying running or workout leggings since they last longer, lower the chance of panty lines, and can be used for actually working out, too.
Although Lululemon Align leggings are incredibly popular on campus (see our Lululemon shopping tips to save money there), look to other major sports brands, Amazon (I have the ones above, and they are butter-soft!), and even Old Navy; their leggings hold up surprisingly well even during a workout.
2 Loungewear Sets (Hoodies and Sweatpants)
Another thing you’ll likely be living in at college? Hoodies and sweatpants. Whether you’re chilling with friends, studying, or heading to an early-morning class, you need reliable sweats in your college wardrobe.
They don’t necessarily have to be a matching set, though coordinated sweat sets do make you look a bit more put-together. But ultimately, so long as they aren’t completely mismatched, you should be fine!
You also can’t go wrong with repping your school by wearing a sweatshirt with your university’s logo or mascot.
2 Pairs of good walking shoes
Popular options include white Air Force 1s, Nike Dunks, any type of Converse, Vans, or New Balance sneakers, classic footbed sandals, and slides. Good walking shoes are especially important if your campus is large—you may be surprised at how much walking you’ll have to do to get around!
(See our article on the best casual shoes for college for an in-depth guide to these!)
2 Spring/Fall Jackets:
In the spring and fall, you’ll want a lightweight jacket that is versatile enough to wear with different outfits and has a casual vibe. Go for a neutral-colored shacket (a cross between a shirt and a jacket) that can be worn with jeans, leggings, skirts/dresses, and more. The same goes for a classic denim jacket; opt for an oversized fit for a modern look.
Other light jacket options include bomber jackets, faux leather jackets, windbreakers, oversized blazers, and trench coats.
(For more, see our list of the coats and jackets you need for college.)
1 Winter Coat
Make sure this option is warm and appropriate for the chilly months at your school. This Amazon puffer jacket is honestly amazing and super low-priced. I love it so much that I have it in two colors!
Jewelry of choice
Avoid bringing jewelry that is sentimental or expensive to college, especially if you know you’re prone to losing things (like me, oops). Luckily, there are so many affordable jewelry options that will enhance your outfits without breaking the bank, like a gold-colored chain necklace. Layer a few (these come in a three-pack) for an even cooler look.
A pair of gold hoop earrings go with just about any outfit—even sweats—and will make you look instantly put-together. This super affordable pack of six hoop earrings will definitely keep you covered for the whole year (or maybe even all four years!).
(See our list of the best jewelry for college to learn exactly what you need to bring.)
1 Backpack or Tote Bag
Make sure your bag is large enough for your school supplies, secure enough to carry your laptop, and comfortable to carry.
A week’s worth of Bralettes/Bras/Socks/Underwear
Bring extras for all of these essential items; you never want to be wearing dirty socks! I’ve found a two weeks supply of the above works best for me.
You’ll likely need a basic, everyday bra, like Victoria’s Secret Pink “Wear Everywhere T-Shirt Bra,” which is lightly lined and made from smooth jersey material and has multi-way straps. Opt for a neutral color like light gray or beige so that you can wear it under light-colored tops without it showing through.
Skims Fits Everybody underwear is made of the stretchiest, most breathable fabric on the planet. I like to buy value packs of Hanes socks on Amazon. (See our guide to the best bralettes for an in-depth guide to bralette shopping!)
1 Pair of Good Sneakers for Exercise
It is essential that the shoes you are wearing are designed for the workout of your choice and are supportive. Injuries are not fun or cute!
I usually prefer black or gray sneakers because they can be worn with non-workout outfits as well (white ones tend to get dirty quickly!), but colorful workout shoes are always a fun choice, too.
(See our guide to the best workout shoes for detailed help finding your perfect pair.)
2 Sports Bras
Sports bras come in three types: low-impact, medium-impact, and high-impact. Think about what category you’ll need! If you’re an A or B cup, you can also typically get away with medium-impact sports bras for high-impact activities.
My favorite brands for sports bras include Nike and Under Armour. I really like listening to music while running, so I included my favorite sports bra with a pocket that can fit my iPhone, ID, and house key!
3-4 Workout tops
Moisture wicking is key to avoid looking like you jumped in a pool. Definitely invest in some workout tops that are comfortable and cute; you can wear them to class, which will motivate you to run straight to the gym afterward!
3-4 Workout bottoms
I swear by my Fabletics running shorts. I’ve had mine since high school, and I’ve since concluded that they’re practically indestructible. That said, Amazon has some insanely good running shorts these days—these ones are my newest favorites and they’re amazing quality!
Bring some joggers or sweatpants to throw over your leggings or shorts for the winter time too; no one wants to walk to the gym with freezing legs. And at least one pair of black leggings from the section above can totally count for workouts.
Bonus: These all work as backup pajama bottoms and study clothes!
1-2 Casual Statement pieces (Ex: dress, matching set, romper, jumpsuit)
Find something comfortable and cute that you would want to wear for a night out with your friends. Bonus points if it’s a matching set you can break up as needed!
1+ pair of cute heels
If you could only pick one type of heels to bring with you, let them be a shade similar to your skin tone. That way, they’ll match everything, and they’ll make your legs elongated. Trust me on this one! And, of course, classic black heels would be my #2 pick.
I’d suggest choosing an inexpensive pair with a block or wedge heel since they may very well get ruined eventually (the dirty, sticky floors are no joke), and they’ll be more comfortable than impractical stilettos.
1+ Clubbing Dresses
Avoid wearing expensive pieces; you will sweat while dancing and you might be spilled on. Swap with friends to expand options!
3 sets of Tailgate/Darty Clothes
Dressing up is fun, but depending on your college social life, it’s not always going to be realistic. If you plan on attending frat parties, tailgates, and “darties” (day parties), you’re going to need clothing. Also, shoes that can handle spills, sticky floors, muddy grass… and hopefully not puke.
Think of sneakers that can get beat-up, machine-washable bodysuits, crop tops, and your hardiest pair of jean shorts. (The Agolde ones above in the shorts section should survive, but I’d also get some cheaper ones for parties — Abercrombie makes a great affordable pair.)
Add an inexpensive jacket that you would be okay with losing for the colder months, like a faux leather moto jacket or a shacket.
(See our post on frat party outfits for even more ideas!)
Other College Clothing Essentials
1 Pair of Rain boots or Snow boots
This is mostly dependent on where you go to school. Check with current students (or Instagram location tags) to find out if your campus handles rain well and if the snow will be a concern.
If rain is the main concern, I love ankle boots like the pair above. Also, these don’t look like rain boots but are waterproof! Their fashion-forward design makes them way more versatile than traditional rain boots. (But of course, rubber boots are your best bet if you’ll be dealing with higher-than-average rainfall).
Ugg, Sorel, and North Face are all great brands for snow boots, with sturdy yet stylish designs.
Trust me; you’ll be stuck walking in the rain to class at least once. I prefer a compact-sized umbrella that will fit in my bag and is lightweight. Like this one, which comes in a bunch of colors.
Be sure to check out our list of can’t-forget college accessories for even more items you need to pack.
1 Pair of Shower Shoes
Please don’t think about setting foot in a communal shower without shower shoes. You can’t be sure what you’re stepping in. I’m a big fan of my Adidas slides, but clean flip-flops work too!
1 Bathrobe & 1 Set of Really Cozy PJs
For my freshman girls using communal bathrooms, a bathrobe will save you the trouble of worrying about a nip slip as you walk down the halls in a towel. Bring your favorite cozy pjs to remind you of home and to reward yourself after all that studying!
What are your college wardrobe must-haves?
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. (For more on packing for college, see our guide to the college essentials you didn’t know you needed.)
Let me know if you agree with me or if you think something is missing by leaving a comment!
What are your closet essentials? Let me know in the comments!
Excited about your college wardrobe transformation? Check out more of our college outfits and tips below:
- 21 On-Trend Basic Fall Wardrobe Essentials for 2023
- Summer Essentials 2023 – 15 Trending Fashion & Beauty Must-Haves
- Summer Skincare Essentials for College Girls
- College Party Clothes: 10 Wardrobe Essentials for College Parties
- 15 Dorm Essentials to Make Life Easier
- 4 Timeless Spring Fashion Essentials