The freedom of clothing choice is one of the most glorious privileges of finally becoming a college student. As a Catholic grade and high school student for fifteen years, I was personally burdened with the plaid skirt and polo combination that eventually graduated into khakis and polos. My public school counterparts, while not confined to such few and boring choices, were instilled with a dress code of their own as well. In college, it is pretty much a given that any fashion choice is fair game, so long as your body is mostly covered.
After two years in college, I realized that some of the staple fashion pieces in my closet are not necessarily items that I saw as “must-haves” my freshman year. Since I know that many of you may be fresh to campus, I have graciously concocted this list to help all of you out.
1. The Little Black Dress
There is a reason why a little black dress is consistently topping the list of necessary items for every woman. No matter what style, cut or brand, a black dress can be versatile for almost any event. Though it may not seem true at first, college is stocked with dressy events that require some kind of put-together attire.
Frats and sororities have recruitment events and formal mixers while even athletes have a myriad of professional banquet events. Owning a good-fitting and timeless black dress is indispensable purely for the reason that it can be used over multiple events when mixed when different accessories or shoe options.
2. (At Least One) Semi-Professional Outfit
During my first semester of freshman year, I never imagined that any of my general education classes would require me to dress in anything other than sweats and a Southeast Volleyball t-shirt. You could imagine my surprise when my professor for Interpersonal Communication revealed that our end of the semester speech would require business-casual dress alongside the PowerPoint.
While it is not necessary to purchase a three-piece power suit, a nice button down top combined with dress slacks and conservative heels can be useful for the surprise presentation, job or internship interview or if you decide to pitch a research design to a daunting professor.
3. Fun and Quirky T-Shirts
Veering from your fancy dress, fun t-shirts can make a big impact in spreading your personality across campus. Not only can they be used as interesting conversation starters, they can be used in a variety of ways. Obviously, they are a staple to mix with Nike shorts or leggings as a basic on-campus outfit.
If your college has a fun bar scene, T-Shirt Tuesday can be one of the most fun days of the week to show off your personal style while staying totally comfortable and partying with you friends. Amongst all the sorority letters and generic university tees, vintage or unique t-shirts will stand out in a crowd.
4. Bar Shoes
On the same vein, bar or party-specific shoes are a must-have. College bars and frat houses are notoriously messy and smelly with the floors typically covered in some kind of mysterious liquid. While it may be tempting to take out your brand new white Converse, take a minute to consider that thought.
From dancing on tables to potentially stepping in vomit or spilling a drink on yourself, they won’t last one night in a college town. Stores like Charlotte Russe or Old Navy sell knock-off slip-on shoes that will only set you back a couple dollars and won’t break your heart when you inevitably toss them in the dumpster a month later.
5. Feel-Good Outfit
We all have those days when it seems like nothing is quite going the right way. Maybe you bombed an exam, lost your dining hall pass and you found out that person you’ve been majorly crushing on is definitely in a relationship.
While it may be easy to wallow in your short-term misery, it is much more constructive to put yourself in a good mood, and a good outfit can change your frame of mind in an instant. It can be something simple, like a sweatshirt that reminds you of your best friend from back home paired with comfy leggings, or something electric, like a pair of killer heels and a hot dress.
6. Special Occasion
Between the endless amount of parties and bars to attend, it may seem like crop tops, mini-skirts and heels are acceptable for almost any social situation outside of the classroom.
However, some situations, like dinner with your parents or finally meeting your boyfriend’s family, may arise that call for something other than an oversized t-shirt or a bodycon dress. In this instance, a pair of dark-wash jeans and a casual-dressy top would be the perfect fit. Something casual, yet put-together shows that you are capable of exerting effort into an outfit, and yes, you do own other clothing besides XXXL t-shirts, Dad.
7. Cute Pajamas and Slippers
While living in the dorms, fire alarms are inevitable and always come at the absolute worst time. To attempt to combat this disaster waiting to happen, purchasing cute yet comfy pajamas can be a lifesaver. Trust me, when someone forgets to put water into their Kraft mac n’ cheese, you’ll thank yourself instead of being caught in boxers and your dad’s old t-shirt (or was that just me?).
Slippers can also come in handy for dorm life. Personally, I am not a fan of wearing socks while sleeping, but sliding into some slippers before trotting off to the bathroom in the middle of the night kept my feet from freezing on the tile.
8. Rain/All-Weather Shoes
One of the few good things about high school is the fact that most everything was contained in one large building. In college, this is often not the case, and thunderstorms do not give a damn if your Social Psych lecture is across campus from the Interior Design lab.
Simply wearing athletic shoes will not cut it, as the rain, mud, snow, sleet or whatever will storm right through and soak your socks (the worst). Rain boots are becoming increasingly popular and fashionable due to brands like Sperry Top-Sider and Hunter, and while they can climb in price they are designed to last for years and through all kinds of weather.
9. Fun Socks
This may seem kind of random, but hear me out: fun socks are one of the most low-key ways to spice up an outfit. As a college athlete, I rarely ever wear anything besides “athleisure” style clothing to class, but I always find time to wear fun socks.
Not only do they add a little pop to a potentially boring or basic ensemble, they are yet another way to show personality, and without spending all of your money. Target’s sock selection is a gold mine for quirky prints ranging from tacos and burritos to seasonally-themed characters like witches and skeletons for the upcoming spooky season.
10. Mix and Match Costume Pieces
As a category on this list, this is more of an umbrella term. In college, theme parties happen weekly if not every night of the weekend. Between beach-theme bashes or jersey darties, a couple miscellaneous items like your favorite sports jersey, hippie or ’80s style pieces and a couple leftover parts of some old Halloween costume can come in extremely handy. Not only are theme parties abundant, but having items like this in your arsenal once Halloweek rolls around will save time, money and stress. Mixing your fun socks and a neon graphic t-shirt with scrunchies and leggings makes the perfect ’80s workout costume!
Overall, college is a great time for self-expression and being able to embrace your individuality. Fashion is a great way to embody your true self while not totally doing a 180 right out of high school. Though all of these items are absolutely not necessary to have an amazing college experience, many of them are extremely useful and can help cut down on the “Oh God, I have X event and no time to shop what do I wear?” stress that will happen at least once. If anything, keep this quote from Bill Cunningham in mind when getting ready for the day: “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.”