College Essentials: What You Need in Your Wardrobe

September 22, 2015

While the average size of a dorm room can vary from college to college, the bottom line is it’s not a big area. And, it’s typically shared with a roommate, meaning your living space is cut in half.

The college experience usually overshadows this detail, but what about your closet? How can you get all of your clothes into such a small space?

When your closet is the size of a department store bathroom stall, less is more. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a large amount of clothing to make an array of stylish outfits that will take you from your Monday morning class to a Friday night party. Here’s a look at some essential clothes for college.


It can be easy to go overboard with shirts. They are flirty, fun, dressy, casual and all styles in between. But, with limited space, it’s important not to get carried away. Instead, pick a few and use them in a variety of ways.

A Dressy White Shirt

A dressy white shirt can be your ultimate college essential when done right. It can be worn for interviews, work engagements, a night out or even as a casual piece.

To wear it:

  • For a casual look, pair your white shirt with denim. Go with shorts and sneakers on a hot day or, if the weather is a little cooler, opt for jeans and flats.
  • To dress it up, wear it over a little black dress to make it look like a shirt and skirt combo. You can also go with khaki or black pants, or a pencil skirt for a professional ensemble.
  • Going for the college chic look? Try wearing it under a cardigan or a sweater.

The important thing is to pick the right cut and style. You don’t want it to be too tight, too loose or too sheer. It can be a good idea to buy one size larger than you might normally wear. That way, if there is any shrinking or the shirt changes shape, it will still fit.

A thicker, cotton style works well for all settings. You don’t want people to be able to see through it, but you also want it to help you stay cool on a warm day.

You could opt for a non-wrinkle variety, and then you rarely have to iron it. But, don’t go cheap. Make sure you get a good quality shirt so it lasts wash after wash.


A t-shirt is a pretty basic college fashion essential, but if it’s the right style, it can be exceedingly versatile. V-necks tend to add a little pizazz to a simple t-shirt, without compromising comfort. Be sure to get a variety of colors and grab a white one. You can also get a couple long-sleeve variations for cooler days.

To wear it:

  • The right V-neck can be used as a layering piece under anything from a cardigan to a blazer. It can be used for working out or for simply relaxing around the dorm. A white t-shirt can be worn on its own and can easily be dressed up with a stunning necklace or dressed down for lounging.

The key to picking t-shirts or any other shirt is versatility. Choose fewer shirts, but use them in a multitude of ways to create an endless number of outfits.

Fancy Shirts

It never hurts to have a couple of fancier shirts to wear when the occasion calls for it. Something like a sequined blouse or a sheer tank top can work wonders.

To wear it:

  • If the weather is warm, you can combine a sheer tank with a pair of skinny jeans, some ankle boots and a long statement necklace for a fun look that will take you just about anywhere.
  • For cooler weather, use a sequined blouse to layer under a blazer or a simple cardigan. Skinny jeans or a skirt can complete the ensemble.

Jackets and Sweaters

When you’re running from class to class, heading to work or going out on a Friday night, jackets are important college clothing essentials. They need to coordinate with your outfit, yet be practical for weather conditions or the activity. Ideal jackets and sweaters include:

A Trench Coat

Trench coats come in many colors and styles, but a tan color is often the most versatile. Opt for a more expensive style. In many cases, the cut, quality and durability is superior to the cheaper versions. You can wear it in the rain, layer it on a chilly spring day or grab it when you just need a bit of extra warmth. Look for a style that hits just above your knee and is cut loosely through the sleeves so you can wear thicker shirts underneath.

To wear it:

  • On a cooler day, layer your trench coat over a sweater. Pair with some skinny jeans and knee or calf high boots (or a cute pair of rain boots for soggy days), and you’ve got a chic look for heading to class or even a night out.
  • If you need a little extra sophistication for your look, wear your trench coat over a dress or shirt and skirt combo. Add a little red lipstick, a sleek up-do and some simple pumps. It’s a look that can go to work, on a date or even add a little more excitement to a grocery store run or other regular errands.
  • You can wear your trench coat buttoned up and tied. If it’s raining or cold outside, this is the most practical. However, they also look great when they’re left open and not cinched.

A Black Blazer

A great-fitting blazer is a must-have college fashion trend since it can be worn in so many ways. It’s great for dressing up, but it can also be used to add flair to a skinny jean and t-shirt combo. Oversized blazers are in style right now, but when you’re looking at versatility (and a small closet space), it may be better to pick one with a classic fit. The sleeves should hit right at your wrist, and there should be enough room in the shoulders to allow for layering underneath. In the front, it should be fitted, but not be tight around your chest.

To wear it:

  • Use a black blazer over a dress to make it classic chic and applicable for work or a night out. Pair the dress blazer combo with stilettos or ankle boots, along with a flashy necklace.
  • For a date night or a party, skinny jeans, stilettos and a fancy blouse or tank top work great with a blazer. Finish off the look with a classy clutch.
  • If you like geeky casual, go for a blazer over a graphic tee, colored jeans and sneakers. Fast, cute and fun!



There are many styles of cardigans to choose from, but you don’t need a large number to create a variety of looks and outfits. Just get a few with some different cuts and weights so you can wear them at various times of the year. A light cotton cardigan can be great for summer, while a luxurious cashmere cardigan can be a lifesaver in the winter months.

To wear it:

  • Sometimes, a cardigan can be a bigger college essential than a thick sweatshirt or a jacket during a concert or sporting event. They are generally thinner and easier to fold up, which means they can quickly be stashed into a bag or purse!
  • If you get too warm, wear your cardigan around your shoulders for a sophisticated, preppy look. Pair with a black dress or a sundress, and you’ve got a great sunny-day style.
  • An oversized cardigan can be perfect with leggings or skinny jeans, especially when layered over a V-neck t-shirt. For shoes, go with a pair of ballet flats, and you’ll be running to class or around town in comfortable style.

Dresses and Skirts

You definitely don’t need to go crazy with dresses, but including a couple in your college fashion essentials can be beneficial. You could wear a dress for a party or even a sundress for a breezy style when heading to class on a warm day. Pick dresses that can be worn in a variety of ways.

The Little Black Dress

Everyone always talks about the little black dress, or the LBD. Having the right LBD can make you feel confident and stylish, and it can be an asset in any setting. Ideally, you want to find one that hits right around your knee; however, you don’t want it too short or too long. You also want a flattering cut for the chest area, but avoid showing cleavage to make the dress more versatile.

To wear it:

  • The LBD can be worn in just about any setting. Going to a party? Wear your LBD with some stilettos, an up-do and a bold necklace to rock the scene.
  • If you need professional attire, pull a blazer over your LBD and add some modest pumps. You might also decide on a cardigan for your outer layer and, if you really want to go business chic, add a pearl necklace to the ensemble.
  • Wear a white button-down shirt for a classy look, but if the fit of your dress allows, try layering your dress over the button-down. This will give your dress a whole new look, resembling a sophisticated jumper.


Sometimes, when the weather is warm, you just need an easy, breezy dress to get you through. You might want to pick one that is slightly fitted in the body with a flowy skirt. Any length would work, but just make sure it’s not too short. Then, you can wear it to class, out on the town or even dress it up to wear to work. Look for a style that’s a bit brighter and cheery, while not being too bold.

To wear it:

  • If the weather and style allows, wear the dress on its own. Combine it with a cute pair of flats or sandals and a bright necklace or pearls. Finish it off with a great pair of sunglasses. This look can take you from class time to evening time.
  • You could also layer a cardigan over your dress. This can work if there is a bit of a chill in the air, and it also makes for a classy style while maintaining a pop of color.


If you have a couple of dresses you adore, you may not need any skirts. You can layer various shirts over your dresses to give them a shirt and skirt combo look. However, sometimes a skirt or two can be very useful. Pick a skirt that flatters your figure and is the right length for your style and event.

To wear it:

  • A warm day? Add a sheer tank to a skirt along with some flats, and you’ll be the hit of just about any event, even just heading to class!
  • During cooler weather, a shorter skirt goes great with knee or calf-high boots. Then, you can layer t-shirts, cardigans or blazers for whatever look you may need. Professional chic? Done. Grocery store acceptable? Yes. Friday night party? You’d better believe it.


A few pairs of pants can go a long way, but you want to pick the right ones. Look for pants that are comfortable or that can be professional and dressy when you need them to be.

Dress Pants

When you need to work, go to a job interview or add some flair to an event, be sure you have some dress pants. Even if you can’t think of an immediate need for these pants, they can be great for emergencies! Pick a style that fits and flatters, and also consider going to a tailor. With the correct length, you can wear your pants with either heels or flats. Black is a great color to start with since it coordinates with everything.

To wear it:

  • Pair your black dress pants with a blazer, and you’ll be ready to take on the world. Even if your pants and blazer weren’t bought at the same location, they can still be paired together to give you a business suit.
  • Add a white dress shirt and make sure it’s tucked in. Then, bring a fun scarf into the mix. Put it around your neck or in your hair.
  • For a fun party or out-on-the-town look, pair your black dress pants with stilettos and a sequined t-shirt for an instant dressy look.

Khaki Trousers

You may think a pair of khaki trousers may be boring, but they can be dressed up or down in many ways. With many modern styles, fear not — they’re nothing like the cringe-worthy khakis of decades past.

To wear them:

  • Combine khakis with a V-neck shirt and a pair of flats, and you’ll be off and running to class.
  • For a preppy look, consider pairing khakis with a chunky knit sweater. For smart chic, combine khakis with a white button-down shirt. A pair of ballet flats, in either case, can complete the outfit.


Jeans can be dressed down or dressed up, and they are comfortable. Including a couple pairs of jeans in your college clothing essentials means you’ve got modern, versatile style right at your fingertips. Styles to look for include:

Boot Cut

There are many cuts available, but boot cuts tend to be timeless and classic. Go for a dark wash without any fading for ultimate style flexibility.


With a pair of skinny jeans, you can be a bit more lenient with the wash. Light washes or dark washes work with just about anything. Since skinny jeans can be worn in a wide variety of ways, you might want to opt for buying a few pairs that are not quite as expensive.

To wear it:

  • With a boot cut, you can combine a white dress shirt and a pair of black heels for a dressy look suitable for many events: a luncheon, a night out or even just heading to class. If the weather is chilly, add a black blazer.
  • For skinny jeans, the possibilities are endless. An obvious look is to add a long, flowy V-neck shirt and boots. Or, for a little feminine James Bond, pair black skinny jeans with a black blazer, heels and a simple tank top — you’ll be ready to hit the town.


Shoes are often one of the finishing touches of any outfit. Yet, you also want them to be comfortable. You’ll be walking to class in them as well as maybe dancing the night away. Sore feet are the pits. Tread lightly and include some of these shoes in your clothing essentials for college:

High Heels

A couple pairs of high heels can go a long way. Opt for a pair of simple pumps. They can be worn with jeans, dress pants or dresses. For a more fun look, also include a pair of flirty stilettos as they can go from class to nighttime and anytime in between.


A couple good pairs of flats and sneakers can make any outfit stylish, yet comfortable. Perfect for class or just running errands, flats can go with skinny jeans, boot cuts and even skirts or dresses for a fun, relaxed ensemble.


Once the weather cools, boots are a terrific part of an outfit. Knee or calf length can go with jeans or dresses, and they can help keep you warm. Ankle boots are more versatile for any time of year, but they look especially chic when combined with a dress and a blazer.


Accessories can add flair to any outfit and even change the look entirely. The other great thing about accessories? They don’t take up much space. Include a few of these accessories in your college fashion essentials:


There are so many colors and varieties that you can easily change up any look with the simple addition of a scarf. Keep an eye out for different lengths, sheerness and shapes. You can wear a scarf in your hair or use it around your waist as a belt. To wear it around your neck, loop it loosely or add a twist before you knot it.


You don’t need a large number of purses, but a couple that can go with anything are a must. A classic clutch is ideal for a night out, whether it’s a date or a party. You’ll also want a stylish bag that’s large enough to carry the things you need on a daily basis. Go for a simple color and shape so it will coordinate with anything. But, there’s nothing wrong with adding in a purse with a fun design to mix it up.

Necklaces and Jewelry

Go for something bold to add some flair to your little black dress. A long, draped necklace can add a bit of flirty fun to a flowy V-neck shirt and skinny jeans. Pick jewelry styles that reflect your own tastes and that also coordinate with a variety of outfits.

When you’re off to school, you don’t have to ignore college fashion trends just because you have a small space. It doesn’t take many clothes to make a statement, and a few pieces make for endless outfit possibilities. At Dainty Hooligan, we have many clothing, shoe and accessory options to help you make your college experience fun and fashionable.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.