Step-by-step menswear tips for building your professional wardrobe.
Universal rules of fashion aren't — choose the ones that fit your role in life.
This series of articles looks at clothing choices for men in specific, individual careers, from undergraduate college student to high-powered financier and everything in between.
Find the style and the menswear that suits you and your path in life!
At the undergraduate level, “student” isn't generally a paid occupation — but it is often the primary investment of a young man's time for several key years.
Depending on the educational institution, his general appearance during those years could be anywhere from a uniform blazer to wrap pants and a tie-dye T-shirt, with most people's experience falling somewhere in between those two extremes.
Can classic menswear be a part of the student wardrobe?
Absolutely — within the limits of the average undergrad's budget, and the social conventions of modern academia.
The Undergraduate Wardrobe: Casual Comfort
Realistically speaking, most male undergraduate students are primarily concerned with convenience and comfort in their clothing. Anything you have to button is iffy; ties are right out.
In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with that, but there's still room for looking good in the world of the casually-dressed — and looking good matters to professors and potential dates a lot more than it matters to most guys.
Happily, this is the classic “in the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” scenario, and a very little bit of effort can set a college student apart from his fellows in the eyes of professors and peers alike.
Stylish Clothing: Shirts with Buttons
It's really as simple as this: on a campus filled with guys in T-shirts, someone with buttons on his shirt stands out.
They don't even have to be done; just having them there sets you a notch above most guys.
And except for the hottest days, an unbuttoned dress shirt thrown on over a T-shirt and rolled up at the sleeves won't add anything that inconveniences you, or that draws comment as being unnecessarily dressy.
A plain white or lightly-colored dress shirt is great day-to-day wear, or you can throw on a bolder pattern (even a plaid) and stand out a bit more.
Untucked, unbuttoned, and rolled, it's classic campus chic, and much more noteworthy than yet another T-shirt or hoodie.
The breast pocket is also a handy place to stick scraps of paper like, say, a scribbled-down phone number, and you can always button the shirt up hastily if you need to ask a professor for a favor or your parents drop by unexpectedly.
In the winter, go ahead and button the shirt up and add a sweater — you can leave it untucked with the tails showing for a deliberately messy look, or tuck the shirt away for the classic prep-schooler chic.
Pants for the Undergrad
If you're playing a sport or otherwise exerting yourself outside, go ahead and wear shorts, preferably mesh athletic shorts of a comfortable cut. Otherwise, wear pants.
Lightweight khakis or generously-ripped blue jeans will be fine even on the hottest summer days, and either one is preferable to hanging out with your knees on display (shorts that fall past the knees are not even worth considering — all these do is make people think you're hiding flabby thighs under extra cloth).
If they flatter your figure, undergrad is the time to wear tight jeans — you don't have a lot to carry in your pockets, you're unlikely to have to exert yourself beyond walking a few blocks, and it's a reasonably safe bet that there are actually people around you who might be interested in checking out what you've got.
Otherwise, opt for comfortably loose, straight-leg jeans or slacks, but avoid pleats at all cost.
Even if they're more comfortable, they make you look like your father, which is death at your age. Sweatpants are strictly for girls, even ones that don't have writing on the butt.
Details of College Style
Assuming you've perfected the basic snappier-than-thou ensemble of jeans and a casually tossed-on dress shirt, start playing with little personal touches. A pair of casual brown leather shoes makes a nice alternative to Nikes, and girls will ask you where you get your shoes (if you can notice theirs and ask them first, this is obviously even better).
Hats are always a unique touch, as long as it isn't the exact same hat du jour that everyone else on campus is wearing.
A decorative belt buckle or a bolo tie makes a casual Western touch, but don't take it any further unless you go to school in Texas…in general, just find a few “extras” to mix in with your daily no-thought-required outfits. Your friends probably won't even notice, but the people you need to impress (professors, girlfriends, visiting relatives, etc.) will.
Sample Wardrobe: The Undergraduate Student's Closet
“The Undergraduate Student's Floor” might be more accurate, but the point is — there are fundamental basics that any well-dressed collegiate should have kicking around the dorm room somewhere.
Mix, match, and add as personal taste and budget dictate, but try to at least keep the bare necessities on hand:
Wardrobe Essentials – Clothes Every Student Needs
- 10+ T-shirts (simple designs are best, ideally nothing with extremely bold graphics or logos)
- 5+ dress shirts (missing buttons or rips don't matter much, so most can come from thrift stores)
- 3+ pairs mostly-intact jeans or slacks
- 1+ pair neutral-colored shoes
- 1 belt (brown and black are the most versatile, or better still, get a reversible brown/black)
- 10+ pairs underwear (the more you have, the longer you can go between laundries)
- 10+ pairs athletic socks (ditto)
- 2+ sweaters
Wardrobe Options – Additional Styles for the Undergrad
- 1+ sport coat (for church, dates, presentations, etc.)
- 1+ hat
- 1+ letter jacket (if you lettered in a sport – wearing someone else's letter jacket is strictly for girlfriends)
- brown dress shoes
- leather sandals or moccasins
- decorative belt buckles