Making College Casual-Wear Fashion Forward

I came to college with an inflated sense of optimism about my fashion game. New city, new school, new me, right? Not quite. Despite my best efforts to dress well on a daily basis, I quickly fell prey to the vicious cycle of exhaustion and crushing workload that so many college students succumb to. This resulted in me attending class in my rumpled pajamas every day, my face bare and anything but clear, my hair in a messy ponytail, or, if I was feeling extra fancy, a braid. Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. I have certain genetically blessed friends who show up to class in exactly the same attire looking way better than I ever could. And yes, going to class or the library is not about looking good. My main goal here is just to not actively look not good. I have found that my best shot at looking not un-good is when I wear athleisure, because it is a) comfortable, b) cute, and c) lowers people’s expectations for how amazing I’m going to look on a daily basis. As Instagram baddies have shown us, it is really easy to make casual-wear look good. After slowly perfecting my own approach to college casual-wear, here are a few of my best tips:

1. Wear nice bottoms

A good pair of leggings make the difference between a slouchy, slovenly look and a casual-yet-cute one. I don’t fuck with Lululemon because it is too expensive, but if you can afford it, that’s wonderful and I am extremely jealous. For a cheaper alternative, I like Fabletics leggings, which are still fashion-forward and comfortable, but for way less money. If you’re feeling snazzy, you can go for some leggings with a tasteful pattern, or just plain black—the world is your oyster. If you are feeling a bit more ambitious, a pair of boyfriend jeans or something with stretchy denim is also a good bet. If you’re feeling less ambitious, sweatpants can work too, but make sure they’re of a more fitted variety (preferably joggers rather than huge, slouchy fabric balloons). Whatever you wear, you want to maintain some semblance of your shape, because that makes the difference between a cute-comfy look and a groutfit (used colloquially, to describe a ‘gross outfit,’ rather than what I recently learned it actually means, which is ‘gray outfit?’ No fucking clue). Anyway. Wear nice bottoms, and you are well on your way to a successful comfy-casual look, while still being able to curl up in a chair in the library and study until you want to die.

2. The Ultimate Guide to the Sweatshirt

Sweatshirts are my ride or die (I really really hate that I just said that, but it’s true). A good sweatshirt is probably one of my favorite things on this earth, and it can actually be pretty stylish when worn in ensemble with the right things. The type of sweatshirt doesn’t matter: I love a good school sweatshirt, something vintage, maybe an Adidas one if you’re feeling extra basic-bitch that day, something funny or political or maybe some YouTuber merch? The world is yours. I am especially partial to a good color-blocked look, because you are wearing something inherently fashionable, just in a more comfortable form. If it’s oversized, tuck it in or roll it up (again, to mitigate the potato vibe); if it’s cropped, good for you. You’re trendy and probably also fit, so congratulations.

3. Wear a stylish pair of sneakers

This is such a simple step, but it makes a big difference. As you know, unless you’ve been living under a rock, sneakers are very trendy at the moment. Whether you throw on a sleek pair of Nikes, a set of those divisive orthopedic looking shoes, or the typical black and white Adidas, this step will complete your ~lewk~ and make you look like a girl who runs. Or something. Not that I would know.

4. Accessorize

Accessorizing is a key step, one that brings this from a look to a lewk, if you catch my drift. I always like to add some big hoops because it is an extremely easy way to look like you tried. And it is of course very much in. I also like layered necklaces, rings, whatever. Oh—and sunglasses. While sunglasses are a much more appropriate accessory for those on the west coast, nothing makes me feel more like a bad bitch than walking through the New York cold in a bangin’ pair of sunglasses. And they do help shield from the harsh sun as it glints off the icy snowdrifts. At once stylish, functional, and useful for avoiding conversations you don’t want to have, sunglasses are such a cool-girl addition to your athleisure look. But any of the others are fine too. Oh, and airpods are always a good addition, if you want to be cool and casual but also flex your wealth. I wouldn’t know, unfortunately.

5. Put on some makeup

If you are not a makeup person, ignore this. But as someone with acne, hella uneven eyebrows and a genuine love of makeup, I have spent this past semester crafting a quick and easy makeup routine, one that brings me from a two to probably a five. For an in-depth tutorial on how to achieve a fresh-faced look, read my article on getting the coveted ‘Glossier Look,’ and I will also outline my current favorite everyday routine. I start with concealer (something like Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer, that is sheer but substantive) and use a light layer all over my face but concentrate it on areas where I have more imperfections (so: everywhere). And I know—their shade range is atrocious. I have the luxury of having really light skin so this isn’t an issue for me, but I do feel bad about supporting a brand that is seemingly doing so little for inclusivity. If you have deeper skin, a good dupe would be Fenty Pro Filt’r Concealer, with lots of moisturizer to maintain the radiant look, as Fenty products are much more mattifying. Once my base is down, I tap Glossier Cloud Paint onto my cheekbones and the tip of my nose, and add some highlighter (favorites include Benefit Watt’s Up and Glossier Haloscope) to my cheekbones, brow bone, the inner corners of my eyes, and to the tip and bridge of my nose. I brush some Glossier Boy Brow through my eyebrows to fill in and shape them (I like to brush the hairs up to achieve a bushier, more natural look), and add some color to my eyelids with either Glossier Lidstar or Charlotte Tilbury cream eyeshadow. I then add some mascara and lip balm (Glossier Balm Dotcom will always be my favorite), and I’m good to go.

6. Tame your hair

This final step can take any variety of forms, and only you know how your hair looks best. For example, some people look good with a messy bun or a ponytail, while those make me look like a young George Washington. Whether you get creative or just leave it down, make sure to brush it (if it’s not curly, that is), and maybe spray some hydrating oil or dry shampoo on it. If you are an overachiever, add some waves in with a curling iron. Spending an extra five minutes taming your hair before you go out the door is the key to making it look like you give some semblance of a shit. And that’s really all we’re going for.

Whether you are a lazy person trying to up your fashion game, or a fashion-forward person trying to integrate more casual-wear into your life, with these tips, you’ll be ready to do anything, whether that be attending a spontaneous social event or taking a long nap you really don’t have time for. Hey, at least you’ll look good, regardless of what you’re doing.