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)

Fourth of July Sales Events

A bunch of retailers are running Fourth of July sales. Note that even if you don’t care for the items I’ve highlighted below, you may want to browse each store’s selections, as many of them have discounts on a wide variety of items. 

  • Brooks Brothers: Brooks’ summer clearance event has begun. Up to 50% off select items. I’m particularly a fan of this sand colored jacket as a spring/ summer outerwear piece. 
  • Gap: Although I’m generally not that crazy about The Gap, I think their undershirts offer a good value. They’re priced at $15 for two, and you can take an additional 10% off with the code GAP4TH at checkout. 
  • Gant: Up to 50% off select items. There are some madras shirts in there you can check out. 
  • Jack Threads: Bass bucks and Supergas for about $50 each. 
  • Lands End Canvas: A ton of shirts on sale for pretty cheap. Their construction isn’t the most well done, and the cuts are sometimes all over the place, but they remain a good option for people on a tight budget. 
  • Levis: Take 20% off orders over $100 and 30% off orders over $150. Use the code SUMMER at checkout
  • Allen Edmonds: Clearance sale on select summer items. These chocolate brown unlined suede chukkas seem like a good deal at $125. 
  • Ovadia and Sons: Significant discounts on outerwear.
  • Far Fetch: A ton of sales going on right now. Just select an item category and mark the brands you’re interested in. 

You can get more sales announcements each week by signing up for the Inside Track

It’s On Sale: Brooks Brothers and Lands End selections

Two sales worth mentioning:

  • Brooks Brothers clearance section: Shirts available for $34 and sweaters discounted by 60%. The selection of good items is somewhat slim, but there are still a few notables. The blue bengal striped shirt above, for example, would work well in both casual and workplace environments. I just wore a similar shirt last night with khaki linen trousers and brown suede shoes.
  • Lands End: Take 30% off your entire order with the code ENJOY30 and pin 1850. This includes stuff already in the sale and Lands’ End Canvas sections. If you spend over $50, you also get free shipping. The Silentist has a good run down of some things you can consider. The best deals, in my opinion, are probably the tailored-fit suit for those on a tight budget, as well as the knit ties

For more sale announcements, you can join Put This On’s Inside Track for just five bucks a month. I list sales each week at the beginning of every edition. 


Strategic Frugality
If you’re just starting to build a better wardrobe, funds can be limited, so it’s good to know where you should focus your money. Not all clothes are created equal. Skimp on some things, and you’ll look terrible; skimp on others, and few will notice. The key here is to be strategically frugal. 
Where You Can Skimp
Knit ties: Supposedly, there are only a few knit tie producers in the world and they all make ties around the same quality. I haven’t confirmed if this is true, but all the knit ties I’ve owned - from Lands End to Charvet - have been only differed in material and design. If you stick to a reputable brand, you can get a good knit tie for about $20.
Socks: Over-the-calf Gold Toe socks can be had for about $3 a pair. Sierra Trading Post also sometimes sells Pantherella socks for $6, and those are a bit more comfortable.
Belts: The starting price for a decent belt is about $50 (e.g. Equus Leather and Narragansett Leather). However, if you go to some place like Kohls, you can get a serviceable belt for about $20. Just make sure they’re full grained leather on both sides.
Pants: If you happen to live on the East Coast, check Daffy’s for Mabitex. They cost about $25 for chinos and $40 for wool. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, the rise has been getting shorter, and since they’re often factory seconds, they sometimes have loose stitches or poorly made seams. Just pay close attention when you buy. 
Casual shirts: Lands End Canvas’ Heritage shirts can work in a pinch. I hesitate to fully recommend them because the collars are so skimpy and the stitching, though durable, isn’t particularly well done. However, if you don’t plan to wear these with sport coats or ties, they’re passable and can be had for as little as $12. 
Where You Can Splurge
Suits, sport coats, and outerwear: This is where I think you should concentrate your money. An excellent sport coat or jacket can really make an ensemble, and even the most untrained eye can spot a cheap suit. Put a really nice jacket over a mediocre button-up shirt and pair of chinos, and you’ll look great. 
Shoes: Cheap shoes are false bargains. A well-made pair of shoes can last you thirty years while cheap shoes last for three. Get full-grain leather shoes that are made with Goodyear or Blake/ Rapid construction, and learn how to properly take care of them. Doing so will mean they’ll look better with age, not worse. 
Briefcases and bags: If you work in a traditional business environment, it’s worth the money to spring for a nice briefcase. Like the nice suit and shoes, it reflects a certain level of professionalism and competence. 
Sweaters: Poorly made sweaters will lose their shape quickly and pill more easily. Own fewer sweaters, and buy the best you can afford. 
That Said …
That said, there are smart ways to work with a limited budget for the things above. 
Bags: Avoid materials that try to be what they’re not. If you only have a limited budget, a well made canvas bag will be better than a cheap leather one. A $50 leather briefcase will always look like what it is. 
Sweaters: Similarly for sweaters, stick to merino wool, lambswool, or cotton. Many companies sell cashmere sweaters at basement-level prices, but they don’t last very long. 
Shoes: If you’re buying from a lower-tier brand, aim for suede. The differences in quality from the low- to high-end suede are much smaller than it is for smooth calf. The soles and grommets might still give out, but at least you won’t get those really ugly creases you see on corrected grain leathers. 

Strategic Frugality

If you’re just starting to build a better wardrobe, funds can be limited, so it’s good to know where you should focus your money. Not all clothes are created equal. Skimp on some things, and you’ll look terrible; skimp on others, and few will notice. The key here is to be strategically frugal. 

Where You Can Skimp

  • Knit ties: Supposedly, there are only a few knit tie producers in the world and they all make ties around the same quality. I haven’t confirmed if this is true, but all the knit ties I’ve owned - from Lands End to Charvet - have been only differed in material and design. If you stick to a reputable brand, you can get a good knit tie for about $20.
  • Socks: Over-the-calf Gold Toe socks can be had for about $3 a pair. Sierra Trading Post also sometimes sells Pantherella socks for $6, and those are a bit more comfortable.
  • Belts: The starting price for a decent belt is about $50 (e.g. Equus Leather and Narragansett Leather). However, if you go to some place like Kohls, you can get a serviceable belt for about $20. Just make sure they’re full grained leather on both sides.
  • Pants: If you happen to live on the East Coast, check Daffy’s for Mabitex. They cost about $25 for chinos and $40 for wool. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, the rise has been getting shorter, and since they’re often factory seconds, they sometimes have loose stitches or poorly made seams. Just pay close attention when you buy. 
  • Casual shirts: Lands End Canvas’ Heritage shirts can work in a pinch. I hesitate to fully recommend them because the collars are so skimpy and the stitching, though durable, isn’t particularly well done. However, if you don’t plan to wear these with sport coats or ties, they’re passable and can be had for as little as $12. 

Where You Can Splurge

  • Suits, sport coats, and outerwear: This is where I think you should concentrate your money. An excellent sport coat or jacket can really make an ensemble, and even the most untrained eye can spot a cheap suit. Put a really nice jacket over a mediocre button-up shirt and pair of chinos, and you’ll look great. 
  • Shoes: Cheap shoes are false bargains. A well-made pair of shoes can last you thirty years while cheap shoes last for three. Get full-grain leather shoes that are made with Goodyear or Blake/ Rapid construction, and learn how to properly take care of them. Doing so will mean they’ll look better with age, not worse. 
  • Briefcases and bags: If you work in a traditional business environment, it’s worth the money to spring for a nice briefcase. Like the nice suit and shoes, it reflects a certain level of professionalism and competence. 
  • Sweaters: Poorly made sweaters will lose their shape quickly and pill more easily. Own fewer sweaters, and buy the best you can afford. 

That Said …

That said, there are smart ways to work with a limited budget for the things above. 

  • Bags: Avoid materials that try to be what they’re not. If you only have a limited budget, a well made canvas bag will be better than a cheap leather one. A $50 leather briefcase will always look like what it is. 
  • Sweaters: Similarly for sweaters, stick to merino wool, lambswool, or cotton. Many companies sell cashmere sweaters at basement-level prices, but they don’t last very long. 
  • Shoes: If you’re buying from a lower-tier brand, aim for suede. The differences in quality from the low- to high-end suede are much smaller than it is for smooth calf. The soles and grommets might still give out, but at least you won’t get those really ugly creases you see on corrected grain leathers. 
This Fits has a good tip about a Lands End Canvas sale right now. There are certainly better oxfords out there, and he’s right about the disappointing collars, but the pricepoint can be very attractive if you need affordable options. A better oxford would  be Brooks Brothers. Those go on sale for about $40-50 once the season ends, so make the chioce that’s right for you.
thisfits:

TODAY ONLY: Lands’ End Canvas Heritage Oxfords for $20 Shipped
Use promo code STILLTIME (PIN 4268) for no minimum free shipping.
This month, Lands’ End Canvas is running one-day-only promotions through the 20th. Today’s deal is pretty good: $20 for select shirts, including their well-regarded heritage oxfords.
With their fairly slim fit, LEC’s oxfords are some of my favorite shirts. In fact, if they redesigned them with slightly beefier collars, I’d probably not look elsewhere for OCBDs. 
Today’s sale is a bit of a rare event: I’ve watched the price on these oxfords steadily increase since LEC launched two years ago, and they’re now sitting at nearly $50 full price. While a number of them go on sale, a few staple colors almost never do, including the blue-striped oxford above. If you’re looking to stock up on a few basic shirts, don’t miss this.

This Fits has a good tip about a Lands End Canvas sale right now. There are certainly better oxfords out there, and he’s right about the disappointing collars, but the pricepoint can be very attractive if you need affordable options. A better oxford would  be Brooks Brothers. Those go on sale for about $40-50 once the season ends, so make the chioce that’s right for you.

thisfits:

TODAY ONLY: Lands’ End Canvas Heritage Oxfords for $20 Shipped

Use promo code STILLTIME (PIN 4268) for no minimum free shipping.

This month, Lands’ End Canvas is running one-day-only promotions through the 20th. Today’s deal is pretty good: $20 for select shirts, including their well-regarded heritage oxfords.

With their fairly slim fit, LEC’s oxfords are some of my favorite shirts. In fact, if they redesigned them with slightly beefier collars, I’d probably not look elsewhere for OCBDs. 

Today’s sale is a bit of a rare event: I’ve watched the price on these oxfords steadily increase since LEC launched two years ago, and they’re now sitting at nearly $50 full price. While a number of them go on sale, a few staple colors almost never do, including the blue-striped oxford above. If you’re looking to stock up on a few basic shirts, don’t miss this.

(Source: canvas.landsend.com)

It’s On Sale
Lands End and Lands End Canvas are having a sale right now. Take 25% off and get free shipping on any order (no minimum) when you use the promotional code DISCOVERLE and pin 6702.
This promotion works on things that have already been marked down. So, for example, you can get their knit ties for $33.50 or Heritage line shirts for $9.75. Lands End’s ties are very good for their price and the Lands End Canvas’ Heritage shirts fit nice and slim. Note, however, that their shirts have short collars. Short collars are “in fashion” at the moment, but I don’t think they looks particularly good if you’re wearing them with sport coats, suits, or ties. If you’re on a budget though, and you don’t wear suits or ties often, these are a great value. 
(thanks to This Fits for the notice)

It’s On Sale

Lands End and Lands End Canvas are having a sale right now. Take 25% off and get free shipping on any order (no minimum) when you use the promotional code DISCOVERLE and pin 6702.

This promotion works on things that have already been marked down. So, for example, you can get their knit ties for $33.50 or Heritage line shirts for $9.75. Lands End’s ties are very good for their price and the Lands End Canvas’ Heritage shirts fit nice and slim. Note, however, that their shirts have short collars. Short collars are “in fashion” at the moment, but I don’t think they looks particularly good if you’re wearing them with sport coats, suits, or ties. If you’re on a budget though, and you don’t wear suits or ties often, these are a great value. 

(thanks to This Fits for the notice)

For those who might be interested in more sales, Brooks Brothers’ semi-annual sale starts on Monday, June 20th, and will go until Tuesday, July 5th. Discounts will go up to 40%. If you open a Brooks corporate account card (anyone can open one), you’ll also get an additional 15% off. 
Also on Monday, Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece line will go on sale at Gilt at 12pm EST. Black Fleece, for those unfamiliar, is designed by Thom Browne and represents Brooks higher end, slightly more contemporary line. As with most of Browne’s designs, things fit slightly cropped. It’s unclear on what will be at the Gilt sale, but you can take a look at their website to see what designs have been made for this season. Of course, Gilt could also sell Black Fleece’s previous seasons too. If you’re not already a member of Gilt, you can use my invite link. I suspect the discounts at Gilt will be bigger than the ones at Brooks Brothers since they usually sell things at over a 50-60% discount. 
Lastly, Lands End Canvas’ summer sale is going on right now. I don’t see much there that I like, but I do think their line of Heritage shirts make for decent basics if you’re on a very tight budget. Use the code CANVASDEALS (pin: 6266) for free shipping on orders over $50. 

For those who might be interested in more sales, Brooks Brothers’ semi-annual sale starts on Monday, June 20th, and will go until Tuesday, July 5th. Discounts will go up to 40%. If you open a Brooks corporate account card (anyone can open one), you’ll also get an additional 15% off. 

Also on Monday, Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece line will go on sale at Gilt at 12pm EST. Black Fleece, for those unfamiliar, is designed by Thom Browne and represents Brooks higher end, slightly more contemporary line. As with most of Browne’s designs, things fit slightly cropped. It’s unclear on what will be at the Gilt sale, but you can take a look at their website to see what designs have been made for this season. Of course, Gilt could also sell Black Fleece’s previous seasons too. If you’re not already a member of Gilt, you can use my invite link. I suspect the discounts at Gilt will be bigger than the ones at Brooks Brothers since they usually sell things at over a 50-60% discount. 

Lastly, Lands End Canvas’ summer sale is going on right now. I don’t see much there that I like, but I do think their line of Heritage shirts make for decent basics if you’re on a very tight budget. Use the code CANVASDEALS (pin: 6266) for free shipping on orders over $50.