Collegiate Fashion 101: An A+ Style Guide 

School is back in session and collegiate fashion is the valedictorian of this year’s fall fashion trends. A rendition of this end-of-summer mainstay drives autumn fashion each year and evokes a sense of nostalgia without fail. Do you enjoy reminiscing on carefree campus days by wearing your favorite alma mater sweatshirt? Or, maybe your annual binge of Gilmore Girls makes you want to try a Rory-esque pleated plaid skirt. Whatever is drawing you to this scholarly trend, keep your outfits fun and fresh by infusing various trend-forward elements. In fact, we’re borrowing from the 90s grunge era to put a little rebellious spin on these otherwise buttoned-up styles. Don’t worry ladies, if you prefer a more classic preppy aesthetic, we’ve got your back. Whether you were the class clown or the teacher’s pet, there’s a collegiate outfit waiting for you. 

What is Collegiate Fashion?

Are you still asking yourself, “what is collegiate fashion?” Well, it’s fairly straightforward, as it’s rooted in traditional varsity styles—think monogram-emblazoned jackets and cricket sweaters. Anything representing school spirit or apparel showing off a university that you or a loved one attends is fair game. With that being said, there are no rules in fashion. Feel free to rock any college logos—current attendance not required. As an illustration, Princess Diana is a major style icon. There’s a famous photo of her in a Harvard sweatshirt and stylish bike shorts that completely encapsulates collegiate fashion. Most importantly, she showed that Ivy League looks are not confined to lecture halls and bleacher seats. Keep scrolling for an education on building a collegiate fashion closet along with outfit inspiration that’s worthy of the honor roll.

Varsity League Level Prints, Colors and Fabrics

To pull off the ultimate collegiate styles, you may want to incorporate some of  those quintessential Ivy League patterns into your look. You know the ones we’re talking about. The heritage prints and tartan plaids strewn across women’s Ralph Lauren catalogs. In addition, stripes are the MVP when it comes to putting together optimal collegiate outfits. From the rugby and nautical variety to micro and horizontal stripes, you likely have a few in your closet already. To pair with these staple prints, invest in a breadth of solids as well. Rep your school colors or opt for seasonal fall hues as an ode to a new semester. Neutrals like navy and khaki are not only easy to pair, but they’re also a nod to the classic school uniform. 

When it comes to prime materials to keep an eye out for, there are a heapful you can choose from. Firstly, flannel is a soft, cozy aesthetic fabric and is a given for fall. When tied around your waist, a flannel shirt can lend to a grungy Kurt Cobain look. Additionally, you can’t go wrong with an array of knitwear from lightweight cardigans to chunky cable knit sweaters. For an air of sophistication, opt for a sturdy tweed blazer or miniskirt. Lastly, leather bomber jackets and fleece hoodies will help you achieve peak collegiate fashion form. 

Collegiate Fashion Syllabus

Break out the spiral-bound notebook and gel pens because your next collegiate fashion lesson is about to begin. We’re confident you’ll pass this course with flying colors because you can easily repurpose pieces already in your wardrobe. It’s not cheating, it’s borrowing. Have a pair of classic-wash straight-leg jeans or a crisp white button-up shirt? You’re already on the right track. All you have to do is pop in a scholarly style here and there to pull off the college fashion look. We’ve compiled an assortment of stellar collegiate staples, so take a peek to see what speaks to your personal style.

Tops that Make the Dean’s List

Let’s take things from the top with the shirts and blouses that speak to this academic trend. Oftentimes, trends overlap each other and that is certainly the case with collegiate fashion. Borrow a black turtleneck from your Parisian style wardrobe or a laid-back button-up from your coastal grandmother closet. In addition to polos and raglan tees, these trusty basics are the perfect foundation pieces for this preppy trend. Looking to add a grungy twist? Swap your weathered sports jersey for a band tee that was popular when you were in school. The more faded and lived in, the better.    

Ultimate Collegiate Fashion Bottoms

Now’s the time to get to the bottom of which pants and skirts are ideal for achieving a collegiate fashion ensemble. Like we stated above, those dependable medium-wash jeans are a casual go-to. 501s coupled with a crew neck sweatshirt repping your university of choice is a chef’s kiss combo. In the market for something on the prim and proper side? Don’t underestimate the scholarly power of a sleek pair of trousers. Choose a plaid or solid tweed pair from your stash of women’s business attire for a mature feel. For feminine flair, swap your slacks for a pleated skirt that’ll keep you breezy during those warm, early fall days. 

Style Tip: To rock the miniskirt trend while staying comfortable and unrestricted, layer your tried-and-true biker shorts underneath. As an alternative, seek out a skort style to really lean into those varsity sports vibes. 

Lecture-Approved Layers

The cherry on top of collegiate style outfits (or any outfit) is your choice of outerwear. The art of layering can elevate a look in a flash or hide everything you worked hard to pair together. To avoid the latter scenario, choose complementary layers to focus on clean lines and minimize bulk. For example, a sweater vest is professorial perfection when paired with a simple collared shirt. Why do these two work so well together, you ask? The vest adds dimension and warmth while allowing the collared neckline to shine. 

Be mindful of proportions as well. A buttoned-up long-sleeve cardigan adds balance to a short skirt while a longline blazer does the same for a fitted dress. On the other hand, a cropped sweatshirt looks great with high-rise jeans or a midi-length skirt. To add a trend-forward twist to your look, opt for oversized outerwear. Size up in a letterman jacket or denim shacket—it’ll feel like you’re borrowing from a college sweetheart, without the heartache. 

Collegiate Fashion Shoes and Accessories

Whether you’re headed back to school or not, there’s never a wrong time to pick up a new pair of shoes. No matter which footwear completes your collegiate outfits best, choose a lug sole for a modern twist. When coupled with plaid and other dark hues, black patent loafers are ideal for a dark academia aesthetic. On the flip side, platform high-tops in all white add a clean spin to an off-the-court varsity look. Looking to shake up the status quo? Reserve those ballet flats for your balletcore outfits and reach for leather dad sandals instead. They’re comfy and easy to slide on when you’re running late for class.   

Are you trying to decide which types of bags are peak collegiate fashion? Pick one that’s large enough to stow a laptop or a few notebooks. A leather messenger bag or oversized tote will do wonders to hold all of your necessities. After all, you’re going to need a substantial bag to carry your newly rented books from the library. Or, to house a selection of midday snacks to keep you energized throughout the day. Lastly, a handbag with a crossbody strap is optimal for schlepping from class to class or meeting to meeting. 

Now for the small, but mighty details. Turn up the dial on your collegiate outfits with accessories that go the distance. Cramming for an exam and need to keep your hair out of your face? Swap a traditional headband for a claw clip to create a Rachel Green style half-up, half-down hairdo. Baseball caps and bucket hats are casual must-haves while rugby striped scarves honor the traditional Ivy League aesthetic. 

Sporty Collegiate Fashion

Hey Alexa, play “All Star” by Smash Mouth. Do you ever miss those Friday night football games or the tangible energy at pep rallies? If so, you’re not alone. Your inner athlete is calling and inspiring you to take a sporty turn on your collegiate fashion journey. Rather than a full-on uniform, go for an off-duty look you can wear from night class to cardio with ease. Start with a hoodie or crew neck pullover with a brand logo or college emblem of your choice. From there, focus on performance materials like yoga pants or a tennis skort to kick your outfit into gear. Pull it all together with chunky trainers, a fitness watch and a hip pack for the complete campus cool package.

End-of-Summer Collegiate Fashion

Has Labor Day come and gone and yet it’s still warm where you are in the world? It can be a challenge to begin building your fall wardrobe while the summer sun is going strong. With that being said, a toasty afternoon can quickly turn into a crisp evening. To tackle those tricky end-of-summer collegiate outfits, lean on a few transitional pieces. A lightweight cardigan tied around your shoulders will come in clutch for those unexpected shifts in weather. Style it with a cotton collared shirt and chino shorts for a polished look. Heading to a casual backyard cookout? Add miles to your summer styles by swapping the shorts with your favorite denim cutoffs.

A midi dress is another borrowed summer staple to add to your collegiate wardrobe. Wear it with an open button-up shirt early in the season with sneakers or flats. As the months continue to cool, layer it under a warm turtleneck pullover. Add a pair of boots that come up to your calf to bridge the gap and keep you warm and covered. Remember, ladies, the more versatile an item, the higher the likelihood you can wear it all year long.   

Chilly Autumn Collegiate Fashion

Would you like to know our top tip for elevating a collegiate fashion ensemble during the chilly autumn months? Simply mix in a few varying textures into one outfit. Layer a luxury fabric cashmere cardigan over a satin camisole for a studious duo. For a third texture, pop in a burgundy pair of corduroy pants to bring your autumn outfit full circle. To combat the rain puddles and potentially sloshy ground, slip on some all-weather Chelsea boots. Lastly, keep your noggin warm while traversing the quad with an eyelash yarn beanie. Our mitten-clad hands are applauding your stylish campus-ready look in the making. Class is officially dismissed.

Whether an undergraduate at university or a student of life, each day is filled with learning. With that being said, you’ve passed the Collegiate Fashion 101 course. Ready to bookmark your favorites and try them on in real life? Take your style quiz, order your first Fix and request a mix of campus-ready pieces. Try before you buy, keep what you love and send back the rest. While you wait, head over to Stitch Fix Freestyle™ to find items selected for your style and size. Shipping, returns and exchanges are on us.      

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