Style for College Students
There’s no kind way to put this: college students are some of the worst dressed people in America. I say that as man who has spent the last eleven years on college campuses – four as an undergraduate, two as a researcher, and five as a graduate student. This has been at three universities, but with many visits to other schools throughout the years.
To be sure, students are in a uniquely hard bind. They’re broke, very busy, and have little time for gainful employment. Not having a lot of time or money doesn’t lend itself well to picking up nice things. Plus, as a graduate student instructor, I’d rather see students spend more time on their studies than worry about what they should wear.
Still, dressing well in college isn’t that hard. Especially when the bar is set so low. So, in an effort to help students smarten up, I’ve come up with some tips.
Focus on Smart, Mid-quality Basics
The downside to being a student is that you’re broke, but the upside is that you can have a complete wardrobe with very few pieces. No need to worry about having separate weekend and weekday wardrobes; it’s just off to class and libraries for you. So, focus on buying mid-quality, versatile basics. Don’t go for anything too nice. Whether you’re getting straight-As or barely passing class, your lifestyle in college will be mostly rough on clothes and probably not very hygienic. Get things like decent jeans that can take a beating, or thicker merino sweaters, not thin cashmere-blends. Build your wardrobe off grays, blues, and browns, so things can easily coordinate without you needing to have to put in too much thought.
Upgrade 
The best way to not look like a college slob is to not dress like a college slob. Instead of graphic t-shirts, pick solid colors tees. Better still, try to wear shirts with collars, as they’ll help frame your face. Plaid flannels for fall, colorful madras for summer, and stripes year-round will help make those button-up shirts look less like office-attire. Long sleeve polos can also work, so long as they don’t look too fratty (I like Kent Wang’s). 
Instead of ratty or pre-distressed jeans, pick up a solid pair of dark, raw denim jeans that fit well. Levis is relatively cheap and easy. Maybe add a pair of chinos and corduroys too, so you have other things to wear.
Instead of college-branded sweatshirts, get merino sweaters. Club Monaco’s are pretty good on sale (they also offer a student discount year-round, which you can stack on top of sale prices). Cardigans can also work in theory, but they’re much harder to fit well than a simple crew- or v-neck sweater.
Instead of flip-flops and running shoes, get camp mocs, boat shoes, plimsolls, or desert boots. Clarks desert boots are a particularly good option if you’re on a student budget. You don’t have to put too much care into them besides applying some Obenauf’s LP for the beeswaxed versions or waterproof spray for suede, and the crepe soles will be comfortable for long-walks. Jesse has some other suggestions here as well.
Finally, there’s no alternative to cargo shorts, sweatpants, or basketball shorts. You just have to stop wearing those (unless, you know, you’re exercising or playing basketball).
Don’t Overdress
I know this site is often about sport coats and ties, but unless you’re a member of the Model United Nations or College Republicans, I encourage you to not wear ties as a college student. There are some campuses where this is normal, and you’ll know when you’re at one, but for everywhere else, you’ll just look out of place and over-dressed. For many campuses, sport coats may also make you stick out in a bad way.
If you really want to wear a sport coat, tweeds and corduroys can look a bit more natural on a college campus. For everyone else, I encourage reaching for more causal options. A vintage peacoat can be had for $50-75 through eBay, Vintage Trends, or a local thrift store. You can use this guide to help date your peacoat finds. For something new, check Fidelity.
There are also some go-to brands for decent, cheap(ish) outerwear. LL Bean Signature, Land’s End Canvas, and J Crew can be workable once they have their end-of-the-season sales (when things will be discounted 50-75%). J Crew also has a student discount, but only for in-store purchases. Additionally, Land’s End mainline is probably be less well-suited for a younger person, but this oilcloth jacket might be a good Barbour alternative. It can be had for under $100 if you wait for the right coupon codes. You can read Broke & Bespoke for a review. Lastly, Ben Sherman’s Harringtons can also be had through eBay for about $80.
And the Standard Advice
Add to this the standard advice.
Learn how clothes should fit. We have a few guides you can read through here. You have more wiggle room as a young, college student, but avoid things that are skin-tight or overly baggy.
Find a good alterations tailor and bring as much as you can to them. There are very few things a good alterations tailor can’t improve.
Make a wish list and tightly edit it. Make sure you’re building a wardrobe, and not just a collection of outfits. If something doesn’t mesh well with the other things you plan on buying, strike it off your list.
Set a budget and shop slowly. Especially at this age, your tastes can change rapidly, and if you buy everything now, you may find yourself regretting it next semester.
(Photo by John Morgan)

Style for College Students

There’s no kind way to put this: college students are some of the worst dressed people in America. I say that as man who has spent the last eleven years on college campuses – four as an undergraduate, two as a researcher, and five as a graduate student. This has been at three universities, but with many visits to other schools throughout the years.

To be sure, students are in a uniquely hard bind. They’re broke, very busy, and have little time for gainful employment. Not having a lot of time or money doesn’t lend itself well to picking up nice things. Plus, as a graduate student instructor, I’d rather see students spend more time on their studies than worry about what they should wear.

Still, dressing well in college isn’t that hard. Especially when the bar is set so low. So, in an effort to help students smarten up, I’ve come up with some tips.

Focus on Smart, Mid-quality Basics

The downside to being a student is that you’re broke, but the upside is that you can have a complete wardrobe with very few pieces. No need to worry about having separate weekend and weekday wardrobes; it’s just off to class and libraries for you. So, focus on buying mid-quality, versatile basics. Don’t go for anything too nice. Whether you’re getting straight-As or barely passing class, your lifestyle in college will be mostly rough on clothes and probably not very hygienic. Get things like decent jeans that can take a beating, or thicker merino sweaters, not thin cashmere-blends. Build your wardrobe off grays, blues, and browns, so things can easily coordinate without you needing to have to put in too much thought.

Upgrade

The best way to not look like a college slob is to not dress like a college slob. Instead of graphic t-shirts, pick solid colors tees. Better still, try to wear shirts with collars, as they’ll help frame your face. Plaid flannels for fall, colorful madras for summer, and stripes year-round will help make those button-up shirts look less like office-attire. Long sleeve polos can also work, so long as they don’t look too fratty (I like Kent Wang’s). 

Instead of ratty or pre-distressed jeans, pick up a solid pair of dark, raw denim jeans that fit well. Levis is relatively cheap and easy. Maybe add a pair of chinos and corduroys too, so you have other things to wear.

Instead of college-branded sweatshirts, get merino sweaters. Club Monaco’s are pretty good on sale (they also offer a student discount year-round, which you can stack on top of sale prices). Cardigans can also work in theory, but they’re much harder to fit well than a simple crew- or v-neck sweater.

Instead of flip-flops and running shoes, get camp mocs, boat shoes, plimsolls, or desert boots. Clarks desert boots are a particularly good option if you’re on a student budget. You don’t have to put too much care into them besides applying some Obenauf’s LP for the beeswaxed versions or waterproof spray for suede, and the crepe soles will be comfortable for long-walks. Jesse has some other suggestions here as well.

Finally, there’s no alternative to cargo shorts, sweatpants, or basketball shorts. You just have to stop wearing those (unless, you know, you’re exercising or playing basketball).

Don’t Overdress

I know this site is often about sport coats and ties, but unless you’re a member of the Model United Nations or College Republicans, I encourage you to not wear ties as a college student. There are some campuses where this is normal, and you’ll know when you’re at one, but for everywhere else, you’ll just look out of place and over-dressed. For many campuses, sport coats may also make you stick out in a bad way.

If you really want to wear a sport coat, tweeds and corduroys can look a bit more natural on a college campus. For everyone else, I encourage reaching for more causal options. A vintage peacoat can be had for $50-75 through eBay, Vintage Trends, or a local thrift store. You can use this guide to help date your peacoat finds. For something new, check Fidelity.

There are also some go-to brands for decent, cheap(ish) outerwear. LL Bean Signature, Land’s End Canvas, and J Crew can be workable once they have their end-of-the-season sales (when things will be discounted 50-75%). J Crew also has a student discount, but only for in-store purchases. Additionally, Land’s End mainline is probably be less well-suited for a younger person, but this oilcloth jacket might be a good Barbour alternative. It can be had for under $100 if you wait for the right coupon codes. You can read Broke & Bespoke for a review. Lastly, Ben Sherman’s Harringtons can also be had through eBay for about $80.

And the Standard Advice

Add to this the standard advice.

  • Learn how clothes should fit. We have a few guides you can read through here. You have more wiggle room as a young, college student, but avoid things that are skin-tight or overly baggy.
  • Find a good alterations tailor and bring as much as you can to them. There are very few things a good alterations tailor can’t improve.
  • Make a wish list and tightly edit it. Make sure you’re building a wardrobe, and not just a collection of outfits. If something doesn’t mesh well with the other things you plan on buying, strike it off your list.
  • Set a budget and shop slowly. Especially at this age, your tastes can change rapidly, and if you buy everything now, you may find yourself regretting it next semester.

(Photo by John Morgan)

Q and Answer: Dr. Martens
J.C. askes: I love my Doc Martens (classic black 8 holes)—they’re solid shoes, have lived through several moves, jobs, era’s of my life, and numerous repairs. I have been told, however, that they are not exactly a fashionable boot. Is this true? I’ve always assumed that they were at least not embarrassing shoes/boots, but I’m worried that such may not be the case.  If they are an embarrassment, do you have suggestions for something as durable and comfortable that is also a bit more fashionable?
Dr. Martens are indeed a classic.  We learned from Quadrophenia that they’re the only thing that the Mods and the Rockers have in common… they’ve always been a symbol of youthful rebellion.
But let’s get semiotic for a moment.  Like many sub-culturally specific clothes, they’ve developed very specific associations.  Their roots are in mods, punks and skins, but for most people, they recall something else entirely: grunge.  They are, essentially, the uniform of the man who has a crush on Janeane Garofalo.  Also, Janeane Garofalo.
If you’re old enough to have worn Docs in the early 90s, and you’re not a mod, a punk or a skin - that’s how you’ll be received.  As a guy who’s watched “Slacker” too many times.  Or, worse, like a guy who’s watched “Reality Bites” too many times.  Or even, possibly, like someone who’s watched “Empire Records” too many times.  And that’s not really going to fly in 2010.
That said, there has recently been a bit of a revival in skinhead and mod fashion.  In the last five years or so, brands like Fred Perry and Ben Sherman have gone from British niche products to worldwide, mass-market fashion.  And Dr. Martens have, to some extent, ridden that wave.  They even did a collaborative collection with Raf Simons, which yielded some crazy stuff, but also some really nice stuff.  So if you are a mod or a skin or a punk rocker - or even if you’re just cool or young enough not to send the message that you’re stuck in 1992 - then Docs can be a great way to go.  Just don’t ever, ever, ever wear those God-awful sandals.
One further word of warning.  When Docs last had a great revival, they were being made in England.  In the early aughts, all production of Dr. Martens shoes and boots was moved overseas to China.  If you’re the kind of guy who cares about that kind of thing, they brought back some UK production in 2007, with a line called “vintage.”
As for alternatives, if you’re looking for a Dr. Marten-style boot, Solovair or Gripfast are solid options.  Still made in England, and preferred by many of those in the know for that reason.
If you’re willing to consider other styles of boots, we’ve recommended the Red Wing Gentleman Traveler before, and will gladly do so again.  A much heavier boot, but it will take anything you can throw at it.  Other classic choices include the Alden “Indy” boot, which even looks good with a tweedy sportcoat, or a moc-toe work boot, like the Red Wing 875.  You might also consider these, from LL Bean.  In a completely different vein, I believe I’ve mentioned how ape-shit I am for my Arrow Moccasin Lace Boots, which can be ordered with a double leather or crepe soul.  And don’t forget Clark’s desert boots.

Q and Answer: Dr. Martens

J.C. askes: I love my Doc Martens (classic black 8 holes)—they’re solid shoes, have lived through several moves, jobs, era’s of my life, and numerous repairs. I have been told, however, that they are not exactly a fashionable boot. Is this true? I’ve always assumed that they were at least not embarrassing shoes/boots, but I’m worried that such may not be the case.  If they are an embarrassment, do you have suggestions for something as durable and comfortable that is also a bit more fashionable?

Dr. Martens are indeed a classic.  We learned from Quadrophenia that they’re the only thing that the Mods and the Rockers have in common… they’ve always been a symbol of youthful rebellion.

But let’s get semiotic for a moment.  Like many sub-culturally specific clothes, they’ve developed very specific associations.  Their roots are in mods, punks and skins, but for most people, they recall something else entirely: grunge.  They are, essentially, the uniform of the man who has a crush on Janeane Garofalo.  Also, Janeane Garofalo.

If you’re old enough to have worn Docs in the early 90s, and you’re not a mod, a punk or a skin - that’s how you’ll be received.  As a guy who’s watched “Slacker” too many times.  Or, worse, like a guy who’s watched “Reality Bites” too many times.  Or even, possibly, like someone who’s watched “Empire Records” too many times.  And that’s not really going to fly in 2010.

That said, there has recently been a bit of a revival in skinhead and mod fashion.  In the last five years or so, brands like Fred Perry and Ben Sherman have gone from British niche products to worldwide, mass-market fashion.  And Dr. Martens have, to some extent, ridden that wave.  They even did a collaborative collection with Raf Simons, which yielded some crazy stuff, but also some really nice stuff.  So if you are a mod or a skin or a punk rocker - or even if you’re just cool or young enough not to send the message that you’re stuck in 1992 - then Docs can be a great way to go.  Just don’t ever, ever, ever wear those God-awful sandals.

One further word of warning.  When Docs last had a great revival, they were being made in England.  In the early aughts, all production of Dr. Martens shoes and boots was moved overseas to China.  If you’re the kind of guy who cares about that kind of thing, they brought back some UK production in 2007, with a line called “vintage.”

As for alternatives, if you’re looking for a Dr. Marten-style boot, Solovair or Gripfast are solid options.  Still made in England, and preferred by many of those in the know for that reason.

If you’re willing to consider other styles of boots, we’ve recommended the Red Wing Gentleman Traveler before, and will gladly do so again.  A much heavier boot, but it will take anything you can throw at it.  Other classic choices include the Alden “Indy” boot, which even looks good with a tweedy sportcoat, or a moc-toe work boot, like the Red Wing 875.  You might also consider these, from LL Bean.  In a completely different vein, I believe I’ve mentioned how ape-shit I am for my Arrow Moccasin Lace Boots, which can be ordered with a double leather or crepe soul.  And don’t forget Clark’s desert boots.