Dressing well in college is a fine line to walk. It’s very, very easy to drift over into that “trying too hard” territory. Especially when most of your peers are wearing pajama pants to class. But that doesn’t mean you have to wear sweats for four years. Here’s a few ways to dress a bit better and increase your style, while pursuing your degree, without straying too far from the campus norm.
Grow up your T-Shirt game.
- Gustin Made in the USA T-Shirt 3 Pack – $39 (colors vary/rotate)
- Target Goodfellow & Co Standard Fit T-Shirt – $6
- Goodthreads Short-Sleeve Sueded Jersey Crewneck Pocket T-Shirt – $15
Think you’re clever? Great. Use your words and not your wardrobe to project that. Solids and stripes are classy. Nobody ever saw a “funny” t-shirt and thought “now THAT is a guy I want to hire/buy a beer/get in bed with.” Even if your shirt isn’t trying to be funny, busy graphics and huge logos can look tacky. Stick to the basics and keep any graphics/logos subtle.
Wear slim (but not “bro tight”) solid or basic patterned button downs, sweaters, & polos.
- UNIQLO Extra Fine Merino Wool V-Neck – $29.90 ($39.90)
- Amazon Goodthreads Merino Wool V-Neck – $35
- Banana Republic Slim Luxury-Touch Polo – $26.70 when 40% off ($44.50)
- Target Goodfellow & Co. Standard Fit Elevated Ultra-Soft Polo – $15.29 ($16.99)
Clothes should skim your frame. Not cling to it. Not hang off it and billow in the breeze. Shoulder seams should land about where your arm meets your shoulder. Short sleeves should go about halfway down your bicep, and not be tucked up in your arm pit. And skip the flashy colors and patterns made to be noticed in a nightclub. It’s just an obvious cry for attention.
Wear a watch. Keep the phone tucked away as much as possible.
- Timex Leather Strap Weekender Chrono – $52
- Seiko 5 Blue/Red Dive-Style Watch – $150
- Casio MDV106-1AV Dive Watch – $47
Especially keep that phone in your pocket and off the table when on dates. Everyone else has their nose in their phone. It pays to keep your chin up and your eyes looking about. Wearing a watch means you’re less likely to whip that phone out and check the time. Checking the time only leads to checking Facebook. And Twitter. And Instagram. And before you know it, you’re a mindless dope walking around addicted to the dopamine rush that plastic and glass rectangle in your pocket keeps hitting you with.
Own 2 pieces of non technical outerwear.
- J. Crew Dock Peacoat w/ Thinsulate – $298 (often on sale, or check local army/navy stores for similar/cheaper)
- Old Navy Built-In Tough Corduroy Trucker Jacket – $50ish
- Old Navy Built-In Flex Twill Mac Jacket – $60ish
- UNIQLO 90% Wool / 10% Cashmere “Chesterfield” – $149.90
- Banana Republic Vegan Suede Bomber – $107.40 when 40% off ($179) full review here
You’re going to want one heavy, wool or wool blend coat for the cold (peacoat, topcoat, car coat, whatever) and one three-season mac, bomber jacket, or quilted jacket. Leave the ski jackets for the hill.
Rely on clean, white leather sneakers.
You can waste a ton of money on casual shoes that look awful. Or, you can stick with clean, simple, white leather sneakers that’ll go with everything. Shoe trends, especially super-casual/sneaker shoe trends, come and go pretty quick, but clean white sneakers seem to always be acceptable. The Stan Smith is the epitome of this kind of shoe. They won’t let you down. Ever.
Get a consistent barber/stylist.
Doesn’t have to be someplace fancy and expensive, but do use the same person each time. You’ll get to know them, they’ll get to know you. And when it comes to avoiding bad haircuts, consistency is key. So is communication.
Stick to dark wash, slim but not tight, hole free jeans.
- Levi’s 514 in Tumbled Rigid – $39.99
- JOMERS White Oak Cone Slim Jeans – $34
- Banana Republic Rapid Movement Jeans in Slim or Straight Fit – $70.80 when 40% off ($118)
- Slim Dark Rinse Japanese Traveler Jean – $70.80 when 40% off ($118)
I don’t care what’s trendy. Putting on some dark wash jeans, maybe with some stretch woven in, is hardly a big ask. They look great too.
Don’t live your life on social media.
Our social media coordinator is gonna kill me for saying this, but, less is more when it comes to social media. Style is often sexy. And there’s nothing sexy about someone who posts every thought, outfit, and travel update to social media. Be at least a little mysterious, and get off the social networks every so often. Or, a lot.
Wear new wayfarers (or similar) in tortoise shell or black.
- Ray-Ban Polarized Wayfarers – $79.97 ($188)
- Kirkland Wayfarers – $25 – $30 (Costco in-store only)
- Sunski Madrona’s Blue Lens/Tortoise Frames – $58
Unlike chunky sport shades or chromed up designer specs, these are classy classics (no, that’s not redundant). They’ll go with everything. Ray Bans are awfully nice, but check Costco for the quite nice (and less expensive) Kirkland knock offs. Uniqlo makes decent foldable pairs too.
Own a decent, tailored suit, & know when and when NOT to wear it.
- Spier and Mackay Core Line Suits in Charcoal, Gray, or Navy – $328
- Suitsupply Blue Line in Charcoal, Gray, or Navy – $359 – $399
There aren’t a lot of reasons in college to wear a suit. Wear one on a date and boy, that almost certainly is gonna be seen as over kill. But heading to a wedding, a job interview, or (heaven forbid) a funeral? You’ll need one. Charcoal or Navy should be your first suit purchase. And it doesn’t have to be pricey at this point if you’re not wearing it all that often. Make it wool with a breathable lining (bemberg or acetate, not scratchy all polyester). And beware overly trendy cuts that come with super cheap suits (like Uniqlo or Target). A slightly shorter tail or slimmer lapels? Fine. But skip the hyper-chopped tails and razor thin lapels.
Carry a minimalist backpack, or, a smart casual style briefcase with a shoulder strap.
- Boarding Pass NYC Flight Brief – $199
- Banana Republic Waxed Canvas Briefcase – $95.40 when 40% off ($159)
- Bolang Water Resistant Nylon Laptop Backpack – $50
- Made in the USA Topo Designs Rover Pack – $139
Backpacks can be unavoidable if you’re spending almost all day running from class, to your job, to your next class, etc. And especially if your main mode of transportation is a bicycle. No shame there. Just try and keep it clean, smart, and minimalist looking, and less like you’re about to head up K2. Meanwhile, if you prefer a briefcase, stick with a canvas or nylon exterior. Hauling a leather attache into your Western Civ class is gonna look pretty damn pretentious.
Keep up on your grooming, but don’t go over the top.
Dudes seem to go one of two ways once they move out of their parents house and into a dorm or close-to-campus apartment. They either become enormous slobs, or, they wear enough scent and grease to scare anyone away with functioning olfactory receptors. Land somewhere in between.
Know how to tie a neat, tidy, 4-in-hand necktie knot.
No sloppy, bulky knots that drift half an inch away from your collar to expose the button. The four in hand is easy to tie and terrific looking. Practice till you get it right. One day it’ll come in handy. Want to move onto a half-windsor or something else later on? Fine. That’s up to you. Just get the four in hand down first.
Give it a rest with the binge drinking.
College is a land of opportunity. And it’s just 4, short years. The number of people I know who during those four years drank or smoked their way from huge potential, to nothing better than a yawn-worthy post college existence, is stunning. It gets better, way better after college. That is, assuming your potential doesn’t go down the crapper with the jager and pizza you just gagged up into the toilet.
Wash your sheets regularly.
The name of my first roommate in college was Andrew. Andrew was a pretty cool guy, but keeping his side of the dorm room clean wasn’t really a priority. And that extended to his bedding. Rarely was his bed made (I couldn’t care less about that) and he never changed his sheets. Like, ever. I found this out on the last day before break when he realized, just before he stripped his bed, that he hadn’t washed his sheets that year. At all. He said as much, and then ripped the covers back. The collection of dead skin cells and leg hair at the foot of his bed was so disgusting that he actually gagged upon seeing that nightmare. Wash your sheets once every other week. At least. More if you’ve been sick (especially the pillow case).
Break your baseball cap addiction.
That is, if you have a baseball cap addiction. You know who you are.
Lose the hoodie.
Or at least cut back on wearing hoodies all the time. They’re rarely if ever flattering in terms of the cut, and that bulky hood at the back of your neck hardly ever gets used. Besides, there are so many other options.
Acquire a casual, knit or chino sportcoat (& use sparingly).
- Old Navy Built-In Flex Blazer – $60ish ($79.99)
- Target Goodfellow & Co Deconstructed Knit Blazer – $49.99
- EXPRESS Slim Navy Double Knit Blazer – $71.99 ($198)
- B.R. Slim Micro-Stripe Blazer – $78.99 ($198)
A fuddy-duddy, gold buttoned, hard shouldered blue blazer is gonna look way out of place on a college campus. But a more casual option, with subtle buttons and a trim cut? You can absolutely wear one of those depending on the circumstances. Wear it with a collared shirt and dark wash jeans on a date. Wear it over a t-shirt to class when you’re out of clean laundry. There’s plenty of ways to wear one of these anything but stuffy jackets.
Keep your place relatively clean & organized.
It doesn’t have to look like Martha Stewart lives there, but if I see one more WIWT selfie of a college aged guy all dressed up, yet in the background his bedroom or living room looks like a dollar store exploded all over it, I’m gonna give up all hope. Dust. Vacuum every once in a while. And for the wind and the rain, clean your bathroom every now and then.
Skip the just shirt/tie/slacks look.
There are untold advantages to wearing a suit jacket, sportcoat, or blazer. Also, wearing a shirt and tie and skipping the jacket can look a little… 8th grade school dance. Use that suit and go tieless, or, wear your unconstructed blazer.
Make sure your Athleisure actually fits
- adidas Tiro Soccer Training Pants – $35 – $50
- Peak Velocity Long Sleeve Fitted Henley – $29
- Peak Velocity Trackster Athletic-Fit Pant – $27
- Under Armour Twister Pants – $36 ($45)
- Under Armour Sportstyle Pique Short – $33 ($35)
Loose fitting athleisure doesn’t make you look athletic. It makes you look like you just crawled out of bed with a raging case of strep throat. The fit, as always, is it. No one likes a compression fit shirt muscled out dope, but baggy looks sloppy. Let your stuff skim your frame. Not cling to it. Not billow off it either.
Grocery Shop/Watch what you eat in the dining hall.
If you’re living off campus, get your tail to the grocery store with some regularity. You’ll save money in the long run, and you’ll keep the pounds off (assuming you shop with some sort of healthy choices in mind). Learn to cook a few simple dishes. Not knowing how to boil an egg or roast a chicken makes you look like a doofus. If you’re in a dorm and stuck with the dining hall? Keep a food journal and avoid the junk. That Freshman 15 (or 25) can sneak up on you real quick.
Good luck to all of you pursuing higher education. And above all else, don’t fall into the trap that is thinking you’re currently, at college, living “the best time of your life.”
This post originally ran in 2018 but has since been updated with current product suggestions.