7 Ways to Make Your College Wardrobe Withstand the Test of Time

I have an entire drawer filled with T-shirts. At least five of them are from Dance Marathon. Two are from the Honors Program. Three are oversized summer camp tees I grabbed from my boyfriend’s apartment and never returned. Two more are from the Jewish Student Union — I think I had another one featuring Drake in a Hanukkah sweater, but I’m not sure where it went. Oh, and then there’s a pre-med shirt from freshman year buried at the bottom somewhere.

When I was first starting college, someone told me I’d wear many hats. I’ve honestly only worn two or three — and they’ve all been baseball caps — but I’ve certainly cycled through at least two dozen T-shirts. Not to mention the numerous pairs of shorts, countless hoodies and plenty of Gator memorabilia (including a pair of knee-high socks). But now I’m a senior, with an internship and graduation right around the corner. Whenever I look into my closet, I can’t help but think — when am I ever going to wear half of these clothes again once I’m in my post-grad life?

Like many college seniors, I’ve recently been figuring out how to bridge the worlds of “campus casual” and “trendy young professional.” At first, these two realms appeared so vastly different. There seemed to be this drastic jump from T-shirts and Nike shorts to knee-length dresses and tailored blouses, and it left me feeling torn between two identities. Am I a student, savoring my final football game days, cooking ramen out of a dorm room and sleeping in until my 10 a.m. lectures? Or am I a 20-something, pursuing a career, paying rent on a big-city apartment and finally swapping cheap tailgate beer for a nice glass of wine? Am I defined most by where I’m coming from — or by where I’m going? The truth is, there’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle, and no matter how awkward it can be in this sort of developmental limbo, I’m embracing it as well as I can.

Whether you’re a younger student hoping to curate a closet with pieces that will take you through undergrad and beyond, or an older student trying to figure out what to do with all those T-shirts you’ve amassed over the years — this piece is for you.

1.  What should I save on, and where should I splurge?

There’s an almost unspoken college dress code that we all know and love. Pick a T-shirt from any student organization and pair it with shorts (if it’s small) or leggings (if it’s large). If you’re going to a tailgate, you’ll wear denim cutoffs. If you’re going to Midtown, you’ll probably wear a tiny romper or a mini skirt. And if it’s a cold day — which in Florida means anything below 70 degrees — you’ll pull out the hoodies and sweatpants.

However, it’s important to realize that most of these sartorial choices are exclusive to the undergrad years. Once you leave this town, the Comfort Colors tees become pajamas or workout clothes. You might save your favorite pair of cutoff shorts for a beach day, but the others will get passed down to your younger sister. A classy restaurant in the city usually requires clothes that cover more than a bralette and mini skirt will. And no matter how much you love your letters, you’ll have to admit that a Greek zip-up looks a little out of place if there isn’t a sorority house just down the street.

This said, I suggest getting most of the clothes on the left side as cheaply as possible. Look for sales, ask an older friend or sister for hand-me-downs, or check out a brick-and-mortar thrift store or a website like Poshmark (which is where many of those pieces will end up in the end, anyway). On the other hand, invest in the clothes on the right side. Stay away from fabrics that easily shrink or warp (like rayon), which are common in stores like Forever 21 and H&M. (You can find some decent-quality pieces in those stores, too — just be sure to check the tags!) While these nicer pieces may seem a little out of place at first on such a casual campus, there are definitely ways to make them work. From there, you’ll be able to use them for interviews, internships, dinner dates and maybe even some formal events. Read on and discover just how versatile they can be!

2.  Try pairing your t-shirts with skirts.

Your nicer skirts don’t have to be reserved for going out. When paired with a T-shirt, they can make for a polished yet casual look that will take you all the way from the lecture hall to a brunch out with friends and then back to the books for a study sesh. Add cute sandals or flats to tie the look together, and you’re good to go! Additionally, if you need to wear a buttoned polo or other specialized shirt for tabling or some other event — and if the dress code doesn’t require pants, shorts or jeans — a skirt can be a fun way to stand out while still keeping things classy.

3.  Get a basic black knee-length skirt (or two, or three!).

A black skirt will go with almost anything, and can be dressed up or down. They’re just as comfortable and soft — if not more so — than running shorts, and they’re breezy on the hottest days. As the weather cools down, you could play around with tights or leggings underneath. Every girl should own a plain black circle skirt, but this look can work with other styles (such as pencil) as well.

4. Swap out your typical sweats for loose-fitting printed pants.

You can feel like you’re wearing pajamas, but look like you actually put in effort to coordinate an outfit. What could be better than that? One of my favorite pairs is from The Elephant Pants, a website that donates 10 percent of proceeds to saving elephants around the world. Sometimes I’ll wear them with braided hair and a wide headband for a bohemian vibe. I’ve also found some cool prints at stores like Nordstrom and Charlotte Russe, so be sure to look around.

5. Buy longer dresses and rompers (aim for knee-length).

I attend weekly Shabbat dinners at Chabad, so these have become a staple in my closet. By opting for knee-length or longer (rather than the shorter clothes you might have originally considered for your nights out), you’ll have more versatility. Depending on the particular piece, you could wear it downtown on Saturday night, then for brunch with your boyfriend’s mother on Sunday and again to your internship on Monday (Just make sure to throw it in the laundry as needed!). They’re also great for any other event where you’d want to come across as more mature, such as an important meeting with a professor or a class presentation.

Unlike the typical Midtown fare, these dresses and rompers are virtually guaranteed a home in your closet no matter where life takes you — so stock up! I’ve had my greatest finds at Jupe NYC (an online Brooklyn-based boutique), Nordstrom and Zara.

6.  Think of trendy ways to cover your shoulders.

I’m not saying that you need to cover them all the time, especially in a place as hot and humid as Florida. As you mature, though — and if you move to an area with a cooler climate — you’ll need some pieces to transition the sleeveless fare. Sequined, leather and denim jackets look anything but frumpy. Kimonos are a lightweight option for warmer days — I wore them all the time in Israel when visiting museums, seminars and holy sites. You could also layer shirts underneath lower-cut pieces, such as the white romper I paired with a black, long-sleeve tee. In fact, this layered look is on the rise, with companies such as Spanx cashing in. Think of it as a way to transition your favorite summer pieces all the way through fall and winter — and all around the globe!

7.  T-shirt dresses are your next staple.

They take little thought — just throw one on and bam! You have an outfit. They’ll look a little nicer than your typical T-shirt, and they can be easily dressed up with accessories. Unlike your stash of Gator tees, they’re less likely to become passé. And as long as you get ones made from quality fabric, you’ll be able to wash and wear them whenever. Target and H&M usually have good selections. Denim dresses are also a great option! Mine is from the now-defunct Wolfgang boutique (#rip University Avenue), but you could probably find a similar one elsewhere.

With these ideas in mind, you’ll be able to curate a wardrobe that can take you from fraternity row to NYC, from the hottest party to your first “big girl” job, and from the lecture hall to the life of your dreams. No matter where you find yourself, may you be there in style!