When it comes to packing clothes for your first year of college, you may be wondering what you’ll wear to class, parties, formal events, or just hanging out with friends on campus. But the kinds of clothes you’ll need for career fairs, class presentations, networking events, or interviews may not cross your mind until those events or opportunities come your way.
Instead of scrambling to borrow a blazer from a friend or squeezing into too-tight flats from that girl who lives down the hall, start your semester by building a professional college wardrobe that will come in handy throughout the next four years. Here are six must-haves you need to start the back-to-school season in style.
1. SIGNATURE PAIR OF PANTS
Whether you’re giving a presentation for your public speaking class or interviewing for a position in a student organization, a professional pair of pants will instantly amp up your look. Plus, depending on what you wear on top, your outfit can easily be dressed up or down.
“A wide leg trouser works great in an office setting,” says Elise Armitage, a travel and lifestyle blogger and founder of What The Fab. “You’ll want to make sure your pants are comfortable for sitting, and not too tight or form-fitting, since you’ll likely be at a desk all day.” Plain black trousers are a popular staple and are especially important if you’re planning on pursuing a career or major that’s business-formal — AKA anything in the business school, pre-law, and even pre-med. It’s a good idea to invest in a quality pair of black pants since they’re incredibly versatile and you’ll be able to wear them throughout your college career and beyond.
If you’re ready to branch outside of black, try these adorable corduroy crop pants from Madewell (the burgundy shade is perfect for fall!). If you’re in a more creative major, like communications, arts, or anything where you can incorporate design or color into your personal brand, opt for a pair of patterned pants, like this culotte-style version from Lulus. Pair them with a solid top, and you’ll look so classy!
2. SIMPLE BLAZER
Every savvy college student needs a go-to blazer in their closet. Not only is it professional, but it’s super versatile — you can layer it over a patterned dress, throw it over a blouse and pants for an interview or presentation, or you can wear it with a t-shirt and jeans for an effortless-yet-chic look to a meeting with your professor.
Remember that your blazer doesn’t have to be old school or stuffy; explore different looks and have fun with it! You definitely want to start with a classic black blazer, like this one from H&M, and if there’s room for creativity in your look, build your wardrobe with a fashion-forward cutout version, bold colors, or even one with a floral print!
3. ELEGANT DRESS
In college, it’s typical to see people wearing casual sundresses for class presentations and even networking events, but this isn’t always the most professional option. Instead of rolling up to an interview wearing the first spaghetti-strap dress you found in your closet, try a more streamlined look, like this knit dress from Nordstrom or this purple seersucker style that’s comfy yet still appropriate for class.
4. COMFY FLATS
There’s no bigger buzzkill than running around campus (or anywhere) wearing shoes that give you blisters. Don’t leave for college without a solid pair of flats that you feel comfortable wearing to interviews, presentations, and career events. There are many different styles to choose from, but remember that in college, comfort is everything.
“Stylish flats are an easy go-to,” Armitage tells Her Campus. “Usually anything open-toe — except for maybe dressy, heeled sandals — wouldn’t be appropriate for [every] office setting. So when in doubt, go with closed toe shoes.”
If you want to add length to your legs — especially if you’re wearing trousers that are more loose-fitting — try going for pointed-toe flats. You can also stick with a more traditional rounded-toe style, like this pair from Lauren Ralph Lauren. If it’s cold out but you still want comfy shoes that’ll work for both campus and professional settings, ankle boots can be a versatile option as well.
5. BUTTON-UP SHIRT
A quality button-up shirt is a reliable option for just about any college activity, especially when paired with a blazer and trousers. You can dress the shirt down with your favorite dark-wash jeans for a cool, but not too formal look, or up with a statement collar necklace, funky beaded jewelry, or layered gold chains.
“A crisp, button-up shirt is always appropriate,” Armitage tells Her Campus. “Just make sure you bring a steamer with you to college so you can get any wrinkles out!” This short-sleeve button-up from Madewell is a great option to start with, and chances are, you’ll find yourself reaching for it more often than you think.
6. TRUSTY TOTE BAG
Backpacks are great for carrying your books, laptop, and library must-haves on a daily basis, but when it comes to bringing copies of your resume and stacks of business cards to career fairs, networking events, and interviews, a simple-but-sophisticated tote bag will do the trick. “A classic tote bag is perfect for storing all your essentials, and is more appropriate than a casual backpack you might use for class,” Armitage tells Her Campus.
While a reusable canvas bag might be great for weekend grocery runs or hanging out with friends in the quad, you’ll want to elevate your tote bag game for professional settings. A classy tote bag is perfect to bring along for internships, jobs, and more, so it’s a good idea to start your college career with a bag that will be with you for a while! This reversible tote from Target is a sleek option, or opt for something like this foldover-style bag from Nordstrom.
When you’re packing for college, be sure to pack the above professional staples to ensure you’re ready for the semester. They are bound to come in handy as you get involved in student organizations, land interviews, go to job fairs, and give presentations for classes and clubs. With these must-have wardrobe items, you’ll be sure to work hard and play hard during your first year of college — and you’ll look fabulous while doing so!