It’s back to school time for many high school and college students…and their parents. It’s sort of a tradition at this time of year to provide some suggestions and strategies for dressing the student well, regardless of your budget.
Product suggestions and personal experiences from our readers are most welcome, as I tend to not go too far afield from vendors I know and like. Also greatly appreciated will be suggestions from our Old Money Gals, as I know very little about what works in the category of Women’s Wardrobe.
For the young man returning to school, here are my suggestions:
The Blue Blazer. At the top of the list of essential, versatile garments, this is a fundamental of your wardrobe. A year round wool will serve you best, as a worsted wool will be too hot in spring and summer, and a linen is really only for spring and summer. Fully lined. Brooks Brothers makes the iconic model (pictured below), and perhaps one of the more expensive, but options abound. Avoid trendy styles with too-thin lapels and too-short tails. Online shopping is convenient, but I’d walk into a store to make this purchase. Try the blazer on, and consider how much room you want in the shoulders: you may want to wear it over a shirt and sweater. Buy 1 blazer.
The Crewneck Sweater. 100% wool or 100% cotton, this staple gets thrown over a polo shirt or cotton dress shirt when temperatures drop. Wool is obviously warmer. The most versatile colors are navy blue and charcoal grey. Burgundy and olive can appear in the rotation. I’ve received almost religious testimonies about the J Press Shaggy Dog sweater: unbelievably warm and well-made, but also eye-watering in price (pictured below). LL Bean and Lands End make durable and less expensive models, as does Ralph Lauren. Look around, shop for bargains on this one. Buy 2 sweaters.
Khakis (or Chinos). These are your go-to pants. Why? Because worn with a dress shirt you can be casual but well-dressed (ball game), and with a blazer and tie you’re set for almost anything else (dinner at her parents house…?). 100% cotton. Not too loose, not too tight. Cuffs or no cuffs, your call. Bill’s Khakis makes a high-quality, durable model. They are made in America and are not inexpensive, but wear well. Consider Orvis. The Usual Suspects–Brooks Brothers, Lands End, LL Bean and Ralph Lauren–also sell these at varying price points. Buy four pair.
Dress Pants. Invariably 100% wool and invariably charcoal grey. Cuffs for a dressier look. I’d lean toward Brooks Brothers for a year round model that’s traditional in style. Be careful not to buy a pair that fit too low on the hips. They often look too casual. Think about purchasing them unfinished and have a tailor measure you for the appropriate length. Note: the appropriate length for a pant is just touching your shoe tops, or a little longer. Pants that are too long make you look sloppy. Try to avoid that. Buy one pair.
Dress Shirts. Key garment here. They should be durable enough to handle commercial washing machines but quality enough to compliment your blue blazer. 100% cotton. Long sleeve. White or blue for starters. Button-down or pinpoint collar. Button cuffs are more versatile than French cuffs. There are chemicals in ‘wrinkle free’ fabrics that you may not want near your skin. Think about it. For college students who may be attending an alumni mixer one minute and playing touch football the next…in the same clothes…consider Mercer and Sons. The oxford cloth fabric is canvas-heavy, the construction is brick-outhouse, the cut is full. Not inexpensive, but they last forever (pictured below). Ralph Lauren makes a quality oxford cloth shirt as well. I suggest oxford cloth because it is durable. Durable will be your watchword until you graduate. Say it with me…durable. Buy 5 dress shirts.
Polo Shirts. These are 100% cotton short-sleeve pullovers. They are worn alone, under a sweater, under a button-down, or under a sweater and a button-down, which is just crazy. But warm. I’d start with solid colors in (again) navy blue, burgundy, and olive. Ralph Lauren and Lacoste make iconic models, as does Brooks Brothers. Lands End and LL Bean have theirs. These are the upgrade to T-shirts, which I abhor as visible clothing. I still consider T-Shirts underwear, but I’m a dinosaur. Buy 5 polo shirts.
Brown Casual Shoes. Boat shoes. Sperry Topsiders. LL Bean boots. These are your go-to, anywhere and any-weather shoes. Mud, rain, beer–these shoes should be ready to face it all and be no worse for the experience. They are an upgrade from sneakers and can be worn with khakis and a blazer for a solid, casual look. Buy 1 pair.
Brown Dress Shoes. Penny loafers or lace-ups. Brown. Brown is less severe and more versatile. My standby brand is Allen Edmonds for lace-ups. I’m a Strand man. American made, not inexpensive, but they last forever (pictured below). Bass makes the iconic penny loafer. I am not up-to-date on the quality of their products. Keep the style traditional. Avoid exotic skins, pointy-toes, square toes, and stacked heels. Monk straps are an option if you’re feeling stylish, but lace-ups are the first stop. Opt for leather soles, at this point, even if rubber-soled dress shoes are widely available. Dress means dress. Buy 1 pair.
Neckties. Rep ties, or regimental striped ties, as they’re often called, are available everywhere. Red, blue, green, and yellow diagonal stripes in various combinations are traditional, popular no-brainers, appropriate for 99% of your needs in school. A navy blue Swiss dot necktie will cover the more formal events. 100% silk, not too skinny, not too wide. Bowties can be an option. Learning to tie one can be a challenge. Buy 2 neckties.
Why dress this way? Several reasons. First, you’re in school to learn, not to attract undue attention by dressing horribly. Second, you’re in school to learn, not to impress other students with how much money you’ve spent on your wardrobe by becoming another casualty in the Sophomore Logo War. Third, you’re in school to learn. One of the things you will learn when you do your own laundry is how practical, convenient, and durable the above items can be to wear and maintain.
No one will know how much money or how little money your family has. Your wardrobe won’t be out of style next fall. You’ll be comfortable, stylish in a timeless way, and judged on your own merits. Good stuff, generally.
I wish you the very best of luck this school year.