"I lived in Poland, so we were persecuted from the first day of the war. First they took us from our home, then they put us in a ghetto, then they made us march, then they sent us to the camps. I was separated from everyone, but my brother later told me that my father froze to death. But I have children now, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren— a great big family, all of them educated. Look at everything that came from just one person who escaped. Just goes to show that you can never kill a people with hate. There will always be someone left to carry on.”
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.
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).
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)
Finding Affordable Shoes
Shoes may or may not be the most important part of a man’s ensemble, but they can certainly be the veto point. A man can look sharp as a tack in a well-tailored suit, but if he’s wearing dull, square toe shoes, everything was for naught. Unfortunately, nice shoes are expensive. Even the ones commonly recommended as “entry level” brands will retail for $350 or more. So, in an effort to direct readers to where they can find well-made shoes for less, I’ve compiled a list of every place that I know of.
eBay: The most obvious is eBay. We have a customized search link you can use, but you can also employ other methods. Last week, for example, I talked about how Ralph Lauren shoes are some of the hidden gems on eBay, so long as you know how to look for them. The same goes for shoes made by Brooks Brothers. Theirs don’t get as bad as some in Ralph Lauren’s range, but you would still be wise to look for indicators of quality. You can also check out sausages234, an eBay seller who specializes in footwear.
Thrift stores: These will take a little more work than doing a search on eBay, but you could potentially walk away with some better deals. The key is in knowing where to thrift and how to spot quality. Use Jesse’s series on thrifting as a guide.
Good online retailers: There are two online retailers who consistently have some of the most competitive prices around - Pediwear and P.Lal. It would be smart to check with them before you purchase anything, as they’ll often offer price-matching guarantees. You can also check out A Fine Pair of Shoes. They sell really nice English models, and will discount much of their stock at the end of each season. Finally, Franco’s will often have shoes on sale. Right now there are a bunch of Rider Boots, which are very well made.
Online discount houses: Likewise, there are a bunch of online discount sites. Classic Shoes for Men, Shop the Finest, and Virtual Clotheshorse come to mind (though the last two focus more on the Italian variety). Sierra Trading Post also regularly stocks Trickers. You can knock 30% off or more if you sign up for their DealFlyer newsletter. Different coupons are released every day.
Affordable brands: There are probably more brands than ever before selling well-made, affordable shoes. Here’s a list:
- Loake: Loake makes a few different lines, but the one that’s generally worth buying is their 1880 range, particularly the ones that are Goodyear welted and made with hard-bottom leather soles.
- Charles Tyrwhitt: Many of Charles Tyrwhitt’s shoes are made by Loake or equivalent factories. Ignore the lure of sale prices, however. Charles Tyrwhitt’s stuff is always on sale.
- Herring: I have no first hand experience with the line, but my understanding is that many of their shoes are also made by Loake (or, again, equivalent factories).
- Meermin: One of my favorites of the lot. Their shoes are handwelted, which is believed to be a better construction method than Goodyear welting, and they have a semi-affordable made-to-order program. You can read a review I did of them here.
- Shipton & Heneage: Shipton & Heneage sells shoes made by various well-respected manufacturers in England and Italy. Sometimes you’ll find shoes here selling for less than what the original manufacturers would have you pay. Sign up for their Discount Club to receive coupons.
- Made in Maine: There are a bunch of quality shoe manufacturers in Maine. The first that comes to mind is Rancourt, who sells handsewn shoes at a very reasonable price. There’s also Town View Leather and Arrow Moccasins, both of whom also sell handsewn shoes, but mostly of the moccasin variety. Those give less foot support, but they can be good for short walks. Additionally, there’s Eastland’s Made in Maine collection. I bought one of their boots last year, and on the inside, there was a strip of reconstituted leather covering the back (where the heel cup would normally go). The leather fell apart after my third wear, and customer service wasn’t terribly helpful, but to be fair, the shoes still wear fine. Finally, a reader of ours suggested Dexter 1957, but I have no first hand experience with them. Reviews online are scant and mixed.
- Kent Wang and Howard Yount: Both these companies can usually be relied upon for selling decently made things at lower-than-average prices.
- Markowski: I have no first hand experience with this line, but their customers have given positive reports on StyleForum. The shop is based in Paris, but the shopkeepers speak decent English. They also hold sales, which knocks their prices down somewhat even further.
- Andrew Lock: Jesse gave a good review of them here (he even had a shoe expert take them apart).
Allen Edmonds factory seconds: The term factory seconds just means shoes that haven’t passed the quality control process, but often the “defects” are incredibly minor (like a very small nick). You can contact Allen Edmonds’ “shoe bank” store in Brookfield, Wisconsin to make a purchase. Their number is (262) 785-6666.
Suede: Let’s say all the above are still out of range to you. If you can’t afford higher-quality shoes, at least aim for suede. They’ll generally look better with age than a pair made from corrected grain. Perhaps the most affordable suede shoes I know of are Clarks’ desert boots, which sometimes go for as little as $60 on sale. Once you get them, know how to take care of them well, so that you get as much out of your purchase as possible.
Hyperbole and a Half posted again, and everyone needs to read it because:
- If you are depressed, it will resonate with you like whoa.
- If you are not depressed, it will clarify some stereotypes about depression that need to be said. An explanation like this has been needed for a LONG time.
- If you know someone who is depressed, you’ll be better at interacting with them after reading this.
(Hint: It’s okay to laugh at the dark humor.)