Wardrobe Essentials for College Girls 2021

The ultimate guide to what every college girl should have in her wardrobe. Includes wardrobe basics for every college student’s closet.

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Before starting my freshman year, I spent around 40 minutes stressing over which black t-shirt to pack; the only difference between the two was a scoop neck vs. an off the shoulder cut! This is the guide I wish I had while packing for college, and the one I use now.

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.

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.

Everyday/Class:

4 Classic Tees

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Buy from Amazon.com

Get a few basic tees or tank tops of varying lengths (cropped tees count, too) in different basic colors like black, white, grey and navy blue. Also throw in at least one fun tee in your favorite color for variety!

These can be worn alone in summer or layered under cardigans, jackets, and long-sleeved tops in winter. (See our guide to everyday outfits for how we love to 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, cute cami tanks, and button-downs!

Don’t bring too many from home since they’ll clutter up your closet, and you can easily exchange items between your dorm and house on trips home (or have your parents mail you things if needed).

4 Sweaters

Oversized, cozy sweaters are my favorite thing to wear during the winter, and no one can convince me otherwise.

Make sure the vast majority are not dry clean only options; I scored a nice sweater from J.Crew’s clearance section for $20, only to discover I almost never wore it in college because I was afraid of getting it dirty!

(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.

2-3 Casual Skirts/Dresses

If you can’t picture yourself being able to sit comfortably in your cute dress or skirt of choice, maybe reconsider packing it. (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.

Personally, my favorite jeans of all time are the ones above from Topshop. I live for their mom jeans (so incredibly flattering and no gapping at the waist). For wide leg jeans, the Agolde ’90s jeans are pricey but AMAZING. So cute and comfy for those Y2K vibes.

If you don’t want to shell out for Topshop or Agolde’s jeans, I’ve also had amazing luck with AE, especially their mom jeans!

4 Pairs of Black leggings

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.

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 Pairs of good walking shoes

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Buy from Amazon.com

Popular options include white Air Force 1s, classic footbed sandals, any type of Converse or New Balance sneakers, and slides. (See our article on the best casual shoes for college for an in-depth guide to these!)

2 Spring/Fall Jackets:

A classic leather or jean jacket can make you look more put-together, and either option goes with practically everything! (This faux leather jacket from Nordstrom is insanely popular with CF readers and it has tons of five star reviews!)

Don’t forget a sweatshirt with your college logo on it too; school spirit never goes out of style.

(For more, see our list of the coats and jackets you need for college.)

1 Winter Coat

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Make sure this option is warm and appropriate for the chilly months at your school. This North Face jacket is insanely popular on every college campus during the winter months.

Jewelry of choice

Buy a cute jewelry organizer if you have a lot of jewelry, and avoid bringing anything too sentimental or expensive if you know you’re prone to losing things (like me, yikes). (See our list of the best jewelry for college for to learn exactly what you need to bring.)

1 Backpack or tote

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Make sure your bag is large enough for your school supplies, secure enough to carry your laptop, and comfortable to carry.

The backpack above is a really popular choice on campus, but we have even more recs in our articles on cute backpacks for 2021 and bags for college.

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.

Skims cotton bralettes are life and their 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!)

Working Out

1 Pair of Good Sneakers for Exercise

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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!

That being said, don’t be afraid to buy really colorful or fun workout shoes; they’ll motivate you to get out the door and workout more often!

(See our guide to the best workout shoes for detailed help finding your perfect pair.)

3 Sports Bras

Sports bras come in three types: low impact, medium impact, and high impact. Know what category you 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!

4-5 Workout tops

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Buy from Amazon.com
Buy from Amazon.com

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 afterwards!

3-4 Workout bottoms

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Buy from Amazon.com

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 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 back-up pajama bottoms and study clothes!

Social/Going Out

1-2 Casual Statement pieces (Ex: sundress, romper, jumpsuit)

Find something comfortable and cute that you would want to wear for a night out with your friends.

1 pair of cute heels

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Go for block heels or wedges over stilettos; your toes will thank you the next day. That being said, don’t be afraid to buy shoes with different colors, textures, or embellishments!

1+ Clubbing Dresses

Bring at least one body-con or mini dress for any formals you might be going to; Lulus and Forever21 have great inexpensive options!

Avoid wearing expensive pieces; you will sweat while dancing, and you might be spilled on. Swap with friends to expand options!

3 sets of “Fratting” Clothes:

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If you plan on going out to frat parties in college, you need β€œfratting” clothes. That means a pair of beat up converse, machine washable crop tops, and your hardiest pair of jean shorts. (The Agolde ones above in the shorts section should survive, but you could also get some cheaper ones for parties.)

While movies show girls dressed to the nines and wearing nice heels, this is not reality. You will be spilled on, stepped on, but hopefully not puked on.

Add an inexpensive jacket that you would be okay with losing for the colder months, preferably not black since it will be impossible to locate in a giant pile. (See our post on frat party outfits for even more ideas!)

Other College Clothing Essentials

1 Pair of Good Rain boots or Snow boots

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Buy from Amazon.com

This is mostly dependent on where you go to school; check with current students to find out if your campus handles rain well, and if snow will be a concern.

If rain is the main concern, you can get away with Joules boots, pictured above. They’re a great dupe for Hunter boots, and they hold up well!

Duck boots are a great option for snowy campuses, although North Face boots are popular because they will last you all four years and beyond.

1 Umbrella

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Trust me, you’ll be stuck walking in the rain to class at least once. 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

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Please don’t even 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

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Buy from Amazon.com

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. (And 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 or sending an email!

What are your closet essentials? Let me know in the comments!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2008; it was completely updated and revamped in 2021 with new photos, items, and information.

180 thoughts on “Wardrobe Essentials for College Girls 2021”

  1. Chic Girl – Thanks so much!

    Cadi – Carabiners? Okay, added to my “must-google” list. I definitely need those because I’m always losing stuff! Thanks for the suggestion!

    Reply
  2. Hey! I just found this site and it is AMAZING! Anyway, I kind of had a question for anyone reading…

    I wear a size 10 shoe and it is EXTREMELY hard to find cute shoes in my size that look good! The flats make my feet look like clown feet, and I’m pretty tall (5’8″), so if I wear heels, I tower over people! Not to mention, they’re uncomfortable to wear everyday. Does anyone have any suggestions for me?! Thanks! πŸ™‚

    Reply
  3. Ciera,

    I knew a girl in my class that had this same issue with her shoe size. She overcame it by wearing a lot of low heeled shoes with straps or open toes and always having a perfect pedicure.

    Also, the detailing on a shoe can help to define your foot better. Wearing a pair of simple ballet flats vs. ballet flats that flash a little toe and have some detailing with will be very different.

    Barefoot Tess has some cute (albeit a bit expensive) shoes made specifically for larger sizes, and most retailers have online sites that offer a greater variety of sizes.

    Hopefully that helps some!

    Reply
  4. Ciera i wear a size 12 1/2 shoe and i am 5’11 i am about to go off to school as a sophmore and i can normally find cute flats and heels at payless.com in my size, but i cant ever find them in the store but i know online goes up to a 13 women. I genenerally stick with flats, but that is because my campus is small so everyone walks everywhere so i were to walk from my dorm to food it would be a good quarter mile so i wouldnt want heels, but dont be afraid to be the tall one! its fun:) hope that helps πŸ™‚

    Reply
  5. I live in my yoga pants at school and hardly ever wear jeans. There is no point getting dressed up all the time for just classes. Anyway I agree with some of it but you do need professional cloths for those guest speakers and important lunches. Also SLIPPERS I use them it the door so much you have no idea.

    Reply
  6. My college essentials are a few pairs of everyday jeans from Charlotte Russe and a few from Old Navy. I love the sweetheart jeans because they are comfortable and fit me perfectly. One or two dresses for going out or when I feel like dressing up, a few sweaters to keep warm from the cold and yes I live in California, but I live in the North Bay so it does get cold. You are wrong about that. You must be talking about the South Bay when it gets hot. What else? Oh, and 4 or 5 pairs of sneakers to walk around in. For sweats I usually buy them from nike and adidas, never Victoria’s Secret because I do not like the words on the butt. I do not want anyone to look at my butt and the sweats are a bit pricey.

    Reply
  7. Hello!!??? I LIVE in California and that DOESNT mean that every single day here is warm! Not everybody lives in LA, or that So Cal area. And, heck, it gets cold there too, I would know.

    I live in the Bay Area, and especially in San Francisco it can get freeezing! It even snows in the mountains sometimes! “States that actually have winters” well, we have winters. Sometimes even worse than others.

    It’s just that that California thing is a HUGE stereotype. Thats all. Otherwise, I liked the article πŸ™‚ Also, for bras and underwear, go to Nordstrom they have great service there.

    Reply
  8. Fashion is all inclusive, not exclusive, and there are NO rules, just look good, feel comfortable and have the confidence to wear it. Others can judge but its fun to make the choice not to follow trends but make them your own. So when i go for shopping i don’t check what is in or out but just check what suits me or otherwise and what look will make me different than the previous day simple and this is what a college goers will look and should look for.

    Reply
  9. Oh, & Suzie Q, I’m not trying to be a jerk but do you realize that in the same post you critisize these girls’ fashion sense yet cited “Forever 21” when speaking of fashion forward? Not that Forever 21 clothes aren’t cute, many are but, most would agree they don’t define you as a trend setter & just don’t hold up the way clothes from H&M, AE, GAP, or True Religion do. I have Cardigans from H&M that are 5 years old & look bran new & are still getting raves from people. I have Jeans from AE & True Religion that have withstood all kinds of hell & high water, still perfect. & Gap has so many looks that are stylish & professional for girls who like the natural look to those who enjoy looking “preppy” if you will. This is a very informative list that does fit for MOST college students. If you do your own thing, then power to you for believing in that. Although that doesn’t give anyone the right to tell an entire site full of women in agreeance that they are all wrong. It’s not always easy for incomming college students to be Victoria Beckham fashionistas. It’s expensive an impractical. These suggestions are timeless & work for most on a budget. Style in college is about taking timeless classics & adding your own personal touches to make it unique so you don’t just “blend in”, not about spending a fortune. If you make smart decisions in college that enable you to focus on saving money & having multiple go to items so that your attention is mostly on your studies and not 3 hours getting dressed, the degree you earn will pay off in a big way. Then it’s time to REALLY go shopping!

    Also, in the search for comfy shoes, Nike Shox are AMAZING for everyday wear. Adidas diPRENE runing shoes are great for working out. Very comfy. They have a sort of mesh on the outside so they breathe easy to keep your feet cooler & they also shape right around your feet. (Dick’s Sporting Goods sells them)

    Another thing that has gotten quite a few comments this season is this navy blue long sleeve burnout tee. I’ve worn it both with white dressy jeans from and shorts from AE. Both times with this (fake) Prada minibag and A&F flip flops in the same shade of dark brown. Several people have stated I look like I should be modeling for Nautica. It’s a really cool effortless yet dressy look!

    Reply
  10. Hey! So I google searched “clothing that every college girl should have,” and this showed up. Seriously, this is going to be a life saver for me this summer as I prepare to go to college in the fall!! After having worn a uniform to school for 7 years, I recently realized that I own practically no practical, essential clothes! So my mom and I decided to update my wardrobe this summer, looking for the sales of course! (I’m lucky I can afford college as it is!) I know this post is kinda old, but thank you so so much!

    Reply
  11. I absolutely love this article! A friend of mine is in fashion merchandising for Gucci & actually recommended THIS article rather than her own company for all my college wear (of course she did score me two really great scarves that go so well with a tank & jeans & a bag for free). I have only one arguement to it. The one about never wearing sweatpants to class. I think (as do many I go to school with) NEVER wear torn or unfashionable sweatpants to class. & definitely NOT Monday through Thursday to regular classes. My first year while doing mostly pre-requisite courses me & some friends made a habbit of having “Victoria’s Secret PINK Friday”. All of us would wear the PINK line on Friday with a fab pair of sandals or shoes to make it stand out a bit. So many people started calling us the “PINK ladies” and always complimented us. It became what we were known for & was really fun going shopping together on Thursdays after class or trading off from each other’s closets. I’m in my last year now with a lot of in-class labs for Nursing that require you to be able to move around easily & quickly. Wearing PINK has become a staple for these too. I think if you are going for something where you need comfortable yet fashionable clothing VS PINK (with some Abercrombie thrown in here & there) is the best way to go. Plus it is so easy to match their items it’s nearly effortless & completely stress free!

    Reply
  12. a white babydoll / loose tank type top is always awsome and easy.
    pair with cute accsories, cardie and denim for easy pretty!

    Reply

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