15 College Fashions That Will Never Go Out of Style


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College students — as young and inventive as they are — aren't always noted for their personal style. Depending on your campus culture, your major and the city you go to school in, you might be stuck in a cargo shorts and hooded sweatshirt rut. Or, you might wear popped collars and boat shoes every day. There's nothing wrong with being comfortable and dressing like your friends — college isn't that much different from high school — but if you want to class up your style a little bit, turn to these 15 college fashions that have been worn and reinterpreted by student bodies since the early 20th century: total classics that should get you excited about school again, and that you might pass down to your kids.

  1. The jean skirt: Mini denim skirts have become a stereotype for college girls, but when worn without a hooded sweatshirt, Greek t-shirt or shearling boots, they're actually a polished back-to-school staple. Wear them instead with sweaters, blazers, tights, or blouses, and a bottom that's trashy on one co-ed is a classic wardrobe piece on another. They're also practical: denim skirts don't need to be ironed, they go with everything, and if you get a durable version, it can last you all four years.
  2. Messenger bag: This unisex accessory is a favorite on college campuses because of its versatility (you can adjust the strap, wear it cross-body or over one shoulder) and durability. Leather, canvas and nylon messenger bags are all available in different colors, and they're a chicer, more grown-up alternative to a backpack. Laptops usually have a better fit with messenger bags, too.
  3. A good scarf: The blog Ivy Style points out that "back in the heyday of the Ivy League Look," girls would wear their boyfriend's college scarf to let other fellas know she was taken. Even if you aren't an Ivy Leaguer — or part of a twosome — scarves are a classic collegiate accessory that work all academic year round. During warmer months, a light scarf can keep you cozy in a chilled lecture room or library, and thick, wooly knit scarves wrapped around and around your neck will protect you from chilly weather as you dash from the dorm to class. Striped scarves offer the most throwback potential, while solids and other prints are more modern and show off your personal style.
  4. Blazers: Another favorite among college boys and girls is the blazer. Guys who usually shuffle around campus in cargo shorts and flip flops can add a blazer to jeans looks once the weather changes for easy polish without sacrificing comfort. And for girls: cropped blazers or boyfriend style blazers with cuffed sleeves are popular toppers right now, worn with jeans, skirts, knit dresses, and even shorts. It's sort of like dressing like your professor, but with better style.
  5. Converse: Converse sneakers have been popular since the 1970s, and while they come back as a major trend every decade or two, they never really fade out of style. They're perfect for college students: they're comfortable enough for walking around campuses all day, they're relatively inexpensive, and even if you are wearing the same style shoe as half the student body, you can choose your own colors, high tops or low tops, and shoes from special collections — adorned with studs, rhinestones and other appliques — to stand out from the crowd. Plus, nothing says "approachable alternative" like a pair of worn-in Converse.
  6. Argyle: If you think of Andy from The Office when we say "argyle," you're only thinking about one kind of argyle trend. While the classic diamond print is popular among boat shoe-wearing Ivy Leaguers and southern preppies, it's got more respectable roots — and fashion potential — than the doughy mama's boys give it credit for. Argyle first became popular after WWI in England and in the U.S. and was designed and manufactured by luxury knitwear company Pringle of Scotland. And when worn tastefully — on knee socks peeking under boots for girls or in a dark print on a fitted sweater layered under a sportcoat for guys — argyle references a fresh but tidy sense of young vivaciousness. Not douchebag-ness.
  7. Oxfords and penny loafers: Have you noticed how collegiate fashion often means unisex dressing? Good leather shoes — not flip flops are better for your feet, your comfort, and your overall presentation. While boots are often a good choice during colder months, oxfords, brogues and penny loafers work all year round and have been worn by college students since the early 20th century. While they were modern trends back then, today's oxfords and penny loafers are classic footwear choices that demonstrate a polished, professional sensibility and an appreciation for sartorial history. Save your flip flops for the shower or the pool.
  8. Hats: Another old-school trend we're trying to bring back is hats, but we'll admit that even baseball caps have their charm. A stylish cloche or fedora can hide the evidence of a late night of partying and give you some extra time to wash your hair after your 8:30a.m. class, and the little pops of color from baseball caps can probably be seen from outer space, or at least an airplane flying over a large state school.
  9. Cardigans: Cardigans are coming back for boys, too, so choose a button-up sweater to curl up in during the fall and winter months. A fine merino or silk-spun wool will differentiate you from the heavy, bulky piddling professor style, and a hip-length — or longer — style is freshest and usually most flattering. A cardigan with pockets will also give you a place to store your pencils, ID card and study snacks while you stash your bag in the library, and accessories like a brooch or belt make cardigans feel more feminine than Mister Rogers.
  10. Jeans: Jeans are the elemental symbol of American style, and they transcend every decade's defining trends. Perfect for college students, jeans don't have to be washed as often, or ironed (ever), and they go with everything. They're also appropriate for 95% of college activities, are comfortable, and come in every size, style and wash imaginable. Whether you're a husky fit, straight leg, bootcut, flare or skinny, your jeans are probably the cornerstone to your entire wardrobe, and they'll never go out of style.
  11. Minimal makeup: If you randomly bumped into your professor while out at a club or even a fancy restaurant, he or she probably wouldn't recognize you, right? That's because — besides the actual, tailored clothes you're wearing — you've probably also taken the trouble to fix your hair and makeup. But a fresh face — and we're not just talking about green freshmen — is an under-appreciated factor in college style for girls. Before you enter the real-world and pile on the eyeliner with a vengeance your mirror hasn't seen since 9th grade, or you fear going to the grocery store without a full layer of makeup, relish your laid-back lifestyle and the fact that you can get away with a swipe of mascara, blush and lip gloss, and still look better than all the made-up corporate clowns in designer makeup.
  12. Button-down shirts: Whether you're preppy, girly, outdoorsy or alternative, a button-down shirt is still a much more respectable option than a grimy t-shirt. Pick one that's in a comfy material and perfect fit, and then pair it with any of the other items on this list — a scarf, Converse, cardigan and jeans — and you'll look ready for class, a casual date, volunteer project or meeting with a professor.
  13. Corduroy: Another fashion choice we like stealing from the professors is corduroy, but there are a few ways to make it sexier and chicer. Girls can opt for more fitted pants or short skirts in fine and stretch corduroy, while guys' pants often look better in wider corduroy, depending on your build. Just avoid gold and anything that resembles the color of vomit or baby food, and you'll master that mix between easygoing and bookish.
  14. Ties: Back when college kids actually cared about impressing their professors and people wore nice clothes for an airplane trip, ties were worn even when it wasn't Easter Sunday. Whether or not you went to a private school and had to wear one every day, bring a couple of ties with you to wear loosely around a striped button-up: it's one of the few ways guys can accessorize, it will absolutely impress the ladies, and it shows that you actually care about being at school and impressing — or at least respecting — those who teach you. Girls can wear loose ties under feminine sweaters, too, or even wear them around the waist as a belt.
  15. The college t-shirt: You probably started wearing them in high school to a) show off your older siblings' smarts b) look older in public or c) get excited for your own college experience, and you'll keep wearing them long after you graduate. Most Americans are suckers for college t-shirts, even those emblazoned with logos of schools they've never visited. Just don't go overboard with wearing your school t-shirt to class everyday: you'll look like a school spirit geek with no other loyalties or interests besides campus life. And try to add a little interest to your college t-shirt by shortening the shirt sleeves, wearing it with a cute skirt, or slipping it under a v-neck sweater.
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