Affordable Duffel Bags
Following Jesse’s link to the story on affordable tote bags, I thought I’d share some finds I’ve come across for affordable duffels. Some time ago, I realized that I needed another bag to help bring things to the Post Office. Nothing fancy or expensive – just something that didn’t look terrible and would help me ship things I’ve sold on eBay.
The best in affordability and make is probably Beckel, which Jesse wrote about a while ago. These bags are constructed from a sturdy 20oz canvas and 2” cotton webbing, and then reinforced with leather. The green round-a-about bag Jesse bought for his brother-in-law looks especially nice. 
For something preppier, there are a number of small companies producing New England style bags that are similar to those sold by Wm J. Mills. Island Canvas and Port Canvas, for example, make customizable bags, where you can choose your own color combinations or pocket detailing, all for prices that start as low as $28. Island Canvas also confirmed for me that they could add piping to edges (which I thought would give some nice stylistic detailing) for just $15. This poster at Ask Andy has some photos of Island Canvas bags he bought a while ago.
Brand names such as J. Crew and LL Bean Signature seem a bit expensive when compared to the other options above, but on the upside, they often hold sales. I imagine you could get this West Branch duffle at 25% off and Rail & Wharf duffle at 50% off with some patience. American Apparel also has nylon duffels at prices as low as $24. I like the look of canvas better, personally, although nylon will be easier to clean.
In the end, I went with the cheapest option of all: a basic Army duffle bag made out of cotton canvas that runs for $17 on eBay.* I imagine if you’re carrying a load of bricks, you might need something sturdier, but for the kind of things my skinny arms can reasonably lift, this has been surprisingly good. At 9” x 19”, it’s a bit smaller than your average duffel, but I also find the smaller size more manageable. If you’re interested in getting something similar, but need a different size, check Sportsman’s Guide.    
* Addendum: Looks like the olive green just sold out. A different seller seems to have the same bag here. 

Affordable Duffel Bags

Following Jesse’s link to the story on affordable tote bags, I thought I’d share some finds I’ve come across for affordable duffels. Some time ago, I realized that I needed another bag to help bring things to the Post Office. Nothing fancy or expensive – just something that didn’t look terrible and would help me ship things I’ve sold on eBay.

The best in affordability and make is probably Beckel, which Jesse wrote about a while ago. These bags are constructed from a sturdy 20oz canvas and 2” cotton webbing, and then reinforced with leather. The green round-a-about bag Jesse bought for his brother-in-law looks especially nice. 

For something preppier, there are a number of small companies producing New England style bags that are similar to those sold by Wm J. Mills. Island Canvas and Port Canvas, for example, make customizable bags, where you can choose your own color combinations or pocket detailing, all for prices that start as low as $28. Island Canvas also confirmed for me that they could add piping to edges (which I thought would give some nice stylistic detailing) for just $15. This poster at Ask Andy has some photos of Island Canvas bags he bought a while ago.

Brand names such as J. Crew and LL Bean Signature seem a bit expensive when compared to the other options above, but on the upside, they often hold sales. I imagine you could get this West Branch duffle at 25% off and Rail & Wharf duffle at 50% off with some patience. American Apparel also has nylon duffels at prices as low as $24. I like the look of canvas better, personally, although nylon will be easier to clean.

In the end, I went with the cheapest option of all: a basic Army duffle bag made out of cotton canvas that runs for $17 on eBay.* I imagine if you’re carrying a load of bricks, you might need something sturdier, but for the kind of things my skinny arms can reasonably lift, this has been surprisingly good. At 9” x 19”, it’s a bit smaller than your average duffel, but I also find the smaller size more manageable. If you’re interested in getting something similar, but need a different size, check Sportsman’s Guide.    

* Addendum: Looks like the olive green just sold out. A different seller seems to have the same bag here

An Affordable Spring Look
Outerwear tends to be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Depending on your budget, you can get relatively affordable coats and jackets nowadays from Club Monaco, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and Ralph Lauren. At the end of every season, they’ll have nice looking designs for about $150-200 (Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren have really good mid-season sales as well). More affordably, there’s Pointer’s chore coat for $87. It looks pretty good if you like workwear.   
For rainy days, I sometimes wear LL Bean’s Trail Model Rain Jacket with jeans, a Shetland sweater, and some LL Bean boots. The shell is made from a waterproof rip stop nylon and the interior seams are taped. The pocket bags are also made of mesh, so that if you store away any wet things, they’ll dry quicker. The best part? It’s $79. Possibly $71 if you wait for one of LL Bean’s occasional 10% off coupons. Additionally, they have a similar jacket this season under their “Signature” line. Although I haven’t handled it, the jacket looks like it comes without a chest logo (which the mainline does, unfortunately, although it’s tonal). I also assume it fits slimmer all around.
In the photo above, I’ve paired my LL Bean rain jacket with an oxford cloth button down shirt from Ascot Chang, a Shetland sweater from O’Connell’s, and a pair of straight legged jeans from 3sixteen. All of these tend to be a bit on the pricey side, but you can find more affordable alternatives at a number of places. Brooks Brothers will have oxford cloth button downs for about $50 during sale season, while Kamakura sells them for about $79 year round. More affordable Shetlands can be had for about $75-100 at Brooks Brothers and LL Bean when they’re on discount (although they don’t always carry them). Lastly, raw selvedge denim jeans can be had for about $89 from our advertiser Gustin, or $82 from Unbranded. Both get regularly recommended in the denim community.
Together, these pieces make for a reasonably classic look, and more importantly, can be had for not too much money. 

An Affordable Spring Look

Outerwear tends to be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Depending on your budget, you can get relatively affordable coats and jackets nowadays from Club Monaco, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and Ralph Lauren. At the end of every season, they’ll have nice looking designs for about $150-200 (Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren have really good mid-season sales as well). More affordably, there’s Pointer’s chore coat for $87. It looks pretty good if you like workwear.   

For rainy days, I sometimes wear LL Bean’s Trail Model Rain Jacket with jeans, a Shetland sweater, and some LL Bean boots. The shell is made from a waterproof rip stop nylon and the interior seams are taped. The pocket bags are also made of mesh, so that if you store away any wet things, they’ll dry quicker. The best part? It’s $79. Possibly $71 if you wait for one of LL Bean’s occasional 10% off coupons. Additionally, they have a similar jacket this season under their “Signature” line. Although I haven’t handled it, the jacket looks like it comes without a chest logo (which the mainline does, unfortunately, although it’s tonal). I also assume it fits slimmer all around.

In the photo above, I’ve paired my LL Bean rain jacket with an oxford cloth button down shirt from Ascot Chang, a Shetland sweater from O’Connell’s, and a pair of straight legged jeans from 3sixteen. All of these tend to be a bit on the pricey side, but you can find more affordable alternatives at a number of places. Brooks Brothers will have oxford cloth button downs for about $50 during sale season, while Kamakura sells them for about $79 year round. More affordable Shetlands can be had for about $75-100 at Brooks Brothers and LL Bean when they’re on discount (although they don’t always carry them). Lastly, raw selvedge denim jeans can be had for about $89 from our advertiser Gustin, or $82 from Unbranded. Both get regularly recommended in the denim community.

Together, these pieces make for a reasonably classic look, and more importantly, can be had for not too much money. 

Wearing Boring Outerwear

Next to tailored clothing and shoes, most of my clothing budget is spent on outerwear. In my closet are some field jackets – the kind with two pockets at the chest and two at the hips. Then I have some coats with various belted riggings, which are used to help cinch in the waist, as well as some “designer” pieces with unusual pocket placements. It’s said that these sorts of jackets are often inspired by hunting coats, but I can’t imagine anyone who has bought these sorts of things (including me) has ever hunted for anything but their keys and an open bar. 

Some of my coats, however, are quite simple. Boring, even. There’s a waxed cotton Barbour Bedale, which I bought in the standard dark green colorway. It has a corduroy collar, but the overall look is so generic at this point that the jacket has become almost nondescript. I also have a heavy Melton wool pea coat from Buzz Rickson, a green barn coat from LL Bean Signature, and a brown, waxed field coat from last season’s Barbour x Norton & Sons line. The brown field coat actually looks something like this vintage piece I found on eBay over the weekend.

Each of these lack the kind of bells and whistles that can make an outfit interesting, so to balance things out, I sometimes layer in some heavy, textured knitwear. Above are some examples. Underneath the pea coat is a very subtly textured, black Shetland, which is also from last season’s Barbour x Norton & Sons range. Underneath the LL Bean Signature barn coat and waxed cotton Bedale are some heavy, cream-colored sweaters, which are from Inis Meain. The first is a basket weave sweater that’s been made with an open interlocking lacing on the front body. The second is your standard cable knit Aran, although done to Inis Meain’s design. Finally, underneath the brown field coat is also an Aran from Inis Meain, but this time, in navy. The pairing of blue jeans and a navy sweater can sometimes look off, but the jeans here, I think, are light enough that there’s enough contrast.

The chunkiness of these sweaters and their texturally interesting designs help make boring outerwear pieces look slightly less boring. If you wanted to wear a scarf with these, it would be better to stick to something that’s also solid-colored, but textured - such as a grey cabled knit. That way, no element sticks out too much on its own. By relying on complementary colors and playing with textures, you can make outfits look interesting without needing to turn to the brashness of patterns or unusual design details. It’s a quieter, arguably more sophisticated, way of making a statement. 

(Pictured above: sweaters and coats as described; straight legged 14.5oz selvedge denim jeans from 3sixteen; undyed thick harness leather belt from Don’t Mourn Organize, made with a buckle bought at Slash Clothing; and shell cordovan boots from Brooks Brothers)

It’s On Sale: LL Bean Signature’s Barn Coat

LL Bean Signature’s barn coat is on sale right now for $149. It’s a bit more robust than the barn coat offered by J. Crew this season, but like the J. Crew version, it’s slimmer fitting than the traditional models you might find in vintage stores or through LL Bean’s mainline. I picked one up last year in dark green, and wear it on occasion with heavy wool sweaters. Free shipping and the ability to return the item any time I’m not satisfied with it are nice bonuses from LL Bean. 

It’s On Sale: Barn Coats
As much as I try to make affordable recommendations on here, some categories are just hard. For example, unless you’re willing to go second hand, well-made shoes are difficult to find for less than ~$175. It can also be difficult to buy suits, jackets, and coats unless you’re willing to drop some money. 
At the moment, however, there are a couple of barn coats on sale. Barn coats are single-breasted coats used for casual, weekend country wear (hence the word “barn”). The shell is typically made from a sturdy cotton canvas, the collar from leather or corduroy, and the sides are built with capacious pockets so you have room for almost anything you’d want to carry. Good versions will also come with a quilted or wool liner, so you can be warm in cold climates. 
The most famous maker of barn coats might be LL Bean, who still sells them today for $119 and up. Reasonably affordable for the kind of coat you’re getting, and they age very well. They do fit kind of roomy, however, so if you want something a bit more “fashionable,” you can turn to the LL Bean Signature’s interpretation (which I own). That one is on sale for $199 and fits slightly slimmer. A more affordable version still is available at J. Crew right now for about $83 (just use the code FALLSALE at checkout). It’s also slim fitting, but the material isn’t as robust as what LL Bean offers. Still, not a bad coat for under $100 if you’re just aiming for style. 
Wear these with corduroys or jeans for a rustic, New England look. They’re a decent alternative for those who can’t afford something like a $350+ waxed cotton Barbour jacket. 
(Pictured above: A vintage LL Bean barn coat found by Thrift Store Preppy for $25)

It’s On Sale: Barn Coats

As much as I try to make affordable recommendations on here, some categories are just hard. For example, unless you’re willing to go second hand, well-made shoes are difficult to find for less than ~$175. It can also be difficult to buy suits, jackets, and coats unless you’re willing to drop some money. 

At the moment, however, there are a couple of barn coats on sale. Barn coats are single-breasted coats used for casual, weekend country wear (hence the word “barn”). The shell is typically made from a sturdy cotton canvas, the collar from leather or corduroy, and the sides are built with capacious pockets so you have room for almost anything you’d want to carry. Good versions will also come with a quilted or wool liner, so you can be warm in cold climates. 

The most famous maker of barn coats might be LL Bean, who still sells them today for $119 and up. Reasonably affordable for the kind of coat you’re getting, and they age very well. They do fit kind of roomy, however, so if you want something a bit more “fashionable,” you can turn to the LL Bean Signature’s interpretation (which I own). That one is on sale for $199 and fits slightly slimmer. A more affordable version still is available at J. Crew right now for about $83 (just use the code FALLSALE at checkout). It’s also slim fitting, but the material isn’t as robust as what LL Bean offers. Still, not a bad coat for under $100 if you’re just aiming for style. 

Wear these with corduroys or jeans for a rustic, New England look. They’re a decent alternative for those who can’t afford something like a $350+ waxed cotton Barbour jacket. 

(Pictured above: A vintage LL Bean barn coat found by Thrift Store Preppy for $25)

The Transitional Shirt Jacket

The weather’s still pretty chilly where I live, but in a month’s time, it’ll hit those cool temperatures that’ll remind us summer’s not too far away. If you have a very casual American sense of style, a good garment to rely on for such transitional periods is the shirt jacket. The term “shirt jacket” can be pretty nebulous. I’ve seen Italians use it to refer to things many would just consider outerwear. Here in the States, however, it commonly refers to shirts that fit like jackets, and have a certain outdoorsy, workwearish, lumberjack-y feel. They’re not for everyone, to be sure, but if you want something very casual to wear with jeans and boots, these can be fairly useful on casual nights while strolling through the neighborhood.

The most well known in this field is probably Pendleton’s board shirt, which from my experience fits kind of baggy, but you can have a tailor take in the sides a bit. Filson’s Jac-Shirt is somewhat similar, but is made from a more substantial cloth. For something a bit more “fashionable,” you can consider Apolis, Orlebar Brown, Barbour, and United. Engineered Garments and Woolrich Woolen Mills can also usually be relied on for good options, although this season, I’ve only seen ones made from shinier fabrics (which may or may not suit your style). I also like Aspesi’s many takes on classic military designs. They’re slimmer fitting than what you’d typically find in military surplus store, and while they’re inspired by military garments, they won’t leave you looking like Robert De Niro from the film Taxi Driver.

All of these brands are a bit expensive, but they’ll come down 50% or more by the end of the season. If you’d like something more affordable now, there’s Club Monaco and Penfield. The second is particularly good to check in with every once in a while if you’re on a tight budget and in need of some outerwear.

Another option is to just use a moleskin or chamois shirt as a layering piece. LL Bean’s mainline has a very well priced one, and it fits surprisingly well. I’m a size 36 chest and fit nicely into their extra-small. My only complaint is the tonal buttons, but you can easily swap those out to something more agreeable if you’d like. Filson also seems to have a nice moleskins option, though I’ve never tried it. If you’d like something slimmer, you can try LL Bean Signature’s chamois shirt. The cloth isn’t as heavy or thick as their mainline chamois, and the cut is considerably shorter, but it could give a slightly more fashionable look to someone with a slim build. Epaulet also has a really nice looking moleskin jacket, though I admit I think people should at least give the LL Bean’s moleskin shirt a spin before they jump on a pricier option.

For $50 You Can Buy …
Following on my “style for college students" post, I thought I’d suggest some "under $50" options that I think would work well for students. Above is what I sometimes wear on weekends if I have errands to run, but I think it can also work for someone in college. 
Shoes: The canvas shoes are a collaboration project by Billy Reid and K Swiss, and they’re on sale right now at J Crew for $30 (use the code OURTREAT). I think they work well with casual chinos and jeans. If you want other options, LL Bean Signature sometimes discounts their blucher and ranger mocs to about $50, and I think they can be worn with the same things. 
Sweatshirt: The grey sweatshirt above is by Onassis. The fit on their website looks skinnier than how mine wears, but perhaps they had the model size down (or maybe they changed the cut). Either way, it’s a decent, casual sweatshirt, albeit thinner than other models on the market. For other affordable options, check out Uniqlo and J Crew (the second of which offers them in grey and navy). J Crew’s cost over $50, but hardly a thing in their store doesn’t make to their end-of-the-season sales.
White tees: I usually wear my sweatshirt over a Levi’s 1950s pocketed tee, but those don’t seem to be online at the moment (they might have them in-store though). A similar model seems to be the pocketless version. If you wait, those go on sale for about $9. Hanes’ beefy tees are also good, cheap beaters. For more options, look into Alternative Apparel (which I know Jesse likes), American Apparel, Uniqlo, J Crew, and Velva Sheen. 
OCBDs: You also can pair the grey sweatshirt with an oxford cloth button-down, which in turn will give your collarline some more structure. The cheapest ones I know of are at Uniqlo, but Brooks Brothers and Land’s End Canvas will often discount theirs to about $35. Here’s some striped ones from Brooks now for about $40.  
Jeans and chinos: My preferred jeans are 3Sixteen’s SL-100x, which I think are one of the best values on the market right now. They’re expensive, but the fit and quality of the denim and construction are excellent. For something cheaper, check out Uniqlo’s Made in Japan line or Gap’s selvage jeans. For something cheaper still, Levis has a bunch of options, so long as you stay clear of any pre-distressed stuff. The non-raw, non-selvedge stuff won’t age as beautifully, but they’re also much more affordable. Alternatively, you can wear the above with Uniqlo’s vintage chinos, which are on sale right now for $40. Jesse has recommended them in the past. 
Belt: Finally, I bought the belt above for $20 at a local jean shop, but you can buy nicer belts from Voyej, Corter, and Don’t Mourn Organize.
The best thing about everything here is that nothing requires much maintenance. I know most college students don’t have time to iron their clothes, polish their shoes, or do any of the other recommendable things for clothing care. The stuff you see above are all items you can throw on, not pay too much attention to, and not worry if things get stained. These are the kind of clothes that look better beat up than brand new anyway. Pretty much ideal if you sleep in libraries, go to parties where cheap beer is often spilled, and don’t even own an iron. 

For $50 You Can Buy …

Following on my “style for college students" post, I thought I’d suggest some "under $50" options that I think would work well for students. Above is what I sometimes wear on weekends if I have errands to run, but I think it can also work for someone in college. 

  • Shoes: The canvas shoes are a collaboration project by Billy Reid and K Swiss, and they’re on sale right now at J Crew for $30 (use the code OURTREAT). I think they work well with casual chinos and jeans. If you want other options, LL Bean Signature sometimes discounts their blucher and ranger mocs to about $50, and I think they can be worn with the same things. 
  • Sweatshirt: The grey sweatshirt above is by Onassis. The fit on their website looks skinnier than how mine wears, but perhaps they had the model size down (or maybe they changed the cut). Either way, it’s a decent, casual sweatshirt, albeit thinner than other models on the market. For other affordable options, check out Uniqlo and J Crew (the second of which offers them in grey and navy). J Crew’s cost over $50, but hardly a thing in their store doesn’t make to their end-of-the-season sales.
  • White tees: I usually wear my sweatshirt over a Levi’s 1950s pocketed tee, but those don’t seem to be online at the moment (they might have them in-store though). A similar model seems to be the pocketless version. If you wait, those go on sale for about $9. Hanes’ beefy tees are also good, cheap beaters. For more options, look into Alternative Apparel (which I know Jesse likes), American Apparel, Uniqlo, J Crew, and Velva Sheen
  • OCBDs: You also can pair the grey sweatshirt with an oxford cloth button-down, which in turn will give your collarline some more structure. The cheapest ones I know of are at Uniqlo, but Brooks Brothers and Land’s End Canvas will often discount theirs to about $35. Here’s some striped ones from Brooks now for about $40.  
  • Jeans and chinos: My preferred jeans are 3Sixteen’s SL-100x, which I think are one of the best values on the market right now. They’re expensive, but the fit and quality of the denim and construction are excellent. For something cheaper, check out Uniqlo’s Made in Japan line or Gap’s selvage jeans. For something cheaper still, Levis has a bunch of options, so long as you stay clear of any pre-distressed stuff. The non-raw, non-selvedge stuff won’t age as beautifully, but they’re also much more affordable. Alternatively, you can wear the above with Uniqlo’s vintage chinos, which are on sale right now for $40. Jesse has recommended them in the past. 
  • Belt: Finally, I bought the belt above for $20 at a local jean shop, but you can buy nicer belts from VoyejCorter, and Don’t Mourn Organize.

The best thing about everything here is that nothing requires much maintenance. I know most college students don’t have time to iron their clothes, polish their shoes, or do any of the other recommendable things for clothing care. The stuff you see above are all items you can throw on, not pay too much attention to, and not worry if things get stained. These are the kind of clothes that look better beat up than brand new anyway. Pretty much ideal if you sleep in libraries, go to parties where cheap beer is often spilled, and don’t even own an iron. 

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)

For $50 You Can Buy …
LL Bean Signature discounted their suede Eastport moc toe shoes. The Ranger moc can be had for $40 and blucher moc for $35. Personally, I like the regular leather versions of each a bit more, but $35-40 is a great price for a casual pair of shoes. I think they would work particularly well with a pair of dark jeans in the fall. 

For $50 You Can Buy …

LL Bean Signature discounted their suede Eastport moc toe shoes. The Ranger moc can be had for $40 and blucher moc for $35. Personally, I like the regular leather versions of each a bit more, but $35-40 is a great price for a casual pair of shoes. I think they would work particularly well with a pair of dark jeans in the fall.