The Late, Great Back To School Wardrobe List

Thank you all for your patience and support. Fear not, all is well, and I am back in the saddle.

I am late with my traditional back to school wardrobe list, but good information is good information, regardless of its delivery date.

Before we get into the actual articles of clothing, I did want to repeat a sartorial concept that I shared with a young man who was starting his first year of college. He had quite a few questions about what to wear as he entered higher education.

I suggested this: dress like the British royal family when they’re in the countryside: functional, durable, discreet ensembles that work with the weather and never go out of style. The wool sweaters, sturdy cotton shirts, khakis, tweeds, and all-weather coats and footwear are casual, not sloppy. They’re timeless, not trendy. Most importantly, they’re versatile: you can dress them up or down with the addition of a jacket or tie, depending upon the occasion.

Of course, the inevitable tide of denim jeans and sneakers (trainers) will come in to the mix, but if students hold to the ‘royals in the countryside’ concept, I think they’ll be well served as they curate pieces of their wardrobe that will look good and last, from freshman to senior year, and beyond.

The practical reasons for adopting this concept are numerous: this wardrobe isn’t going out of style because it wasn’t created for style. It was created for function: being comfortable while one is walking and working, staying dry and warm, wearing well for a long period of time, and mixing easily as an ensemble.

For the college student, these attributes might come in handy when closet space is limited and clothes have to work for class, leisure time, and evenings out in fall, winter, and spring. Sturdy, traditionally styled clothing can also be an asset when you’re involved in a (literal) pub crawl one night, and running late to class the next morning (no need to try to match the right shirt with the right sweater, etc. Everything matches everything, and wrinkles are no concern.)

To put it bluntly, well-made traditional clothing looks great new, and might look even better when it’s well-worn…or even beat to hell. This can’t be said for a lot of fashion items.

So, let’s go down the list of the Back To School Basics that I think will serve every student well.

  • Ralph Lauren or Lacoste polo shirts (navy blue or dark green to start, pink, white, sky blue as you add on).
  • Mercer and Sons or Brooks Bros. oxford cloth button down dress shirts (iconic blue to start, white to follow, blue and white stripes as you add on).
  • Banana Republic merino wool sweaters, V neck or crew (grey or navy blue to start). If you’re going top-shelf for cold climates, the J Press Shaggy Dogg wool sweater in grey.
  • Lands End khaki pants, Levis jeans, grey wool slacks for the gentlemen.
  • Khaki skirt, grey, navy, or black skirt for the ladies. (Talbots…?)
  • Weejun penny loafers in brown leather.
  • Sperry Topsiders in brown leather.
  • Adidas sneakers in white (Stan Smith model or the basic white model with 3 black stripes).
  • LLBean all weather boots.
  • The North Face McMurdo for all weather, cold climates.
  • Peregrine wool socks from the UK.
  • Harris Tweed sport jacket.
  • 100% wool blue blazer from O’Connell’s of Buffalo, New York. (Also investigate Ralph Lauren or other traditional brands.)

Okay. I think that’s a good start. Of course, you’re going to have your comments and additions. These will be critical in rounding out the list and adding nuance to the philosophy.

One last piece of advice for college students, especially freshmen. Don’t over-do it. Not with clothes, not with cars, not with jewelry, not with name-dropping. You are in a new environment. There are rules–written and unwritten–that you do not know. It is best, therefore, to ease into this brave new world without attracting undue attention to yourself, and learn those rules before you spread your wings.

You do, however, want to present yourself well, as you will be making a multitude of first impressions. Old Money Style, what we’ve described in this post and what we’ve advocated for years on this blog, will enable to you to strike this balance effortlessly.

It will also make your shopping for clothes–Back to School or otherwise–economical and efficient.

Dressing this way will make it difficult for strangers to ascertain how much or how little money you have. They will be left to learn who you are from your manners, your work ethic, your intelligence, and your integrity.

So, parents and students alike, I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the list.

Bonne rentree, mes amis! 

  • BGT




20 thoughts on “The Late, Great Back To School Wardrobe List

  1. Hello Byron. It’s good to have you back. I did a bit of wardrobe update the other day. It is a bit of trial and error with sizes, but I think I have found a couple of online stores that have more to offer for the preppy/OM style for plus size women: Lands end, Woman Within and Jessica London. Button down shirts. Polo-type shirts. Corduroy skirts, sweater sets, etc. Hope this helps.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      I feel a bit like you updating certain items. BodenUSA is another place in which to look for sales for larger limb ladies. Located some lovely linen slacks in navy and white on a sale/clearance.

      There are also some ladies on Etsy which do wool skirts and coats which are made to measure and they have regular sales. xiaolizi. Hope this helps out too! Tartan and check pattern headbands are located on Etsy too.

  2. “Dressing this way will make it difficult for strangers to ascertain how much or how little money you have. They will be left to learn who you are from your manners, your work ethic, your intelligence, and your integrity.”

    Hallelujah and amen to that!


  3. Great rule of thumb about dressing like the royals in the countryside. And, a question and a suggestion:

    Q: how does this style fare in Paris? Does it more or less fit in or does one stand out in ways we might not want?

    Suggestion: the readers/contributors here usually have great suggestions on alternate sources for finding these styles (the ladies especially). Wonder if there could be some kind of live/active page where readers could contribute, and be an ongoing & update resource?

    Oh, and some of my sources for this style (may be more a PacNW vibe than New England though):
    * Filson (pricey though, even on eBay it seems. But you’ll have it forever)
    * Pendleton (eBay is a great source)
    * Orvis (watch for sales)
    * Duck Head (ditto)

    For chinos (khakis), LL bean is my go to source. However, a made in USA (and woman owned) brand I have heard good things about is Lawrence Trousers I have a pair on order.

    1. Thank you, Yank. Orvis and Duck Head have excellent reputations. Old Money Style in Paris is more tailored– tighter jackets, tighter pants, fitted shirts–I would say, with fewer checks and a tendency to orbit almost exclusively around earth tones and blues, with white shirts predominant.
      The exception, which I intend to write about, is the red cotton pants. These are a spring and summer staple of the affluent gent, usually paired with a blue blazer and white shirt. (The origins are military, as a branch of the French armed forces wear blue jackets with red pants.)
      The button-down shirt is not as popular. The navy blazers rarely have gold buttons. Loafers are usually not penny loafers. Many men’s trousers do not have cuffs.
      Subtle differences, but the bones are still there.
      Thanks. – BGT

      1. Interesting. It seems the color palette is generally the same as The Uniform, but more fitted. Makes sense. Looking forward to that article on the red cotton pants – wondering how they differ from Nantucket Reds. Cheers.

  4. What a treat to read this post each year. Makes me believe that Byron’s readers have the appetite for more sartorially themed posts. There aren’t as many trad clothing blogs out there as there were a few years ago.

    Unless I am wrong, both Lands’ End and LL Bean sell only solution-dipped khakis, yet one can buy four pair at either place for the price of one Mercer and Sons shirt. For a khaki / chino alternative in the traditional out-of-the-dryer variety, try All American Khakis. Twice the price of LL Bean but much less than Bill’s or Jack Donnelly, both of which I also own and enjoy.

    Finally, one note about Ebay. Well-made OCBDs are prevalent there, however, I often strike out because both sleeves and necks have shrunk from the size marked in the tag. Sellers rarely care to measure before they post, and, even if they accept return, the postage eats up the refund amount.


    1. JDV, Thank you for making us aware of AAK.

      Regarding Ebay OCBD’s I would suggest buying one size larger than normal.
      If it has shrunk, you are set. If it is too big, just wash it on Hot once or twice 🙂

  5. As someone who’s just within the last month been through the back-to-school wardrobe selection and the Great Pack to boarding school with a teenage girl, I thought I’d share my daughter’s choices for this endeavor. While she does not strictly adhere to the letter of the OMGuidelines, I think she has come to the spirit of them in her own way, mostly due to concerns about the ethics (or lack thereof) in fast fashion trends. Some selections are a bit more casual, a bit more forgiving of a body that is still in the years of growing both up and around, or just her own personal quirks, but the classic thoughtful base is definitely there!

    She has taken:

    Shirts – A mixture of polos and t-shirts, mostly 100% cotton, mostly from Lands’ End, mostly in neutral colors (navy, gray, olive) or soft pastels (ballet pink, peach, lavender), solid or stripe or floral patterns. Also a few basic solid cotton mock turtlenecks, one white button-down, and a few “athletic wear” type shirts for her more physically active interests.

    Skirts – Black corduroy, navy corduroy, and a black-and-ivory plaid twill, all Lands’ End. Denim skirt from J. Crew’s Reimagined line. A long black skirt bought at a festival a while ago.

    Pants and shorts – Lands’ End khakis, a few pairs each of jeans and jean shorts (Universal Standard and Warp & Weft are her favored brands), black Ralph Lauren bike shorts, a few pairs of leggings from Prana (made with organic fabric) or Girlfriend Collective (recycled fibers).

    Dresses – two lace-overlay “semi-formal” dresses, one in a darker color and one in a soft pastel. An organic cotton “little black dress” from Pact. I think there was another dress or two, but have forgotten the specifics.

    Outer layers – A pink plaid flannel shirt. Two hooded sweatshirts from her grandparents – one maroon from LL Bean, one whimsical print that I don’t know the source of. An oversized and very comfortable gray cardigan, also from her grandparents. Her “lucky” Talbots blazer that she often wears when she has a test or a major project due. A denim jacket and a leather jacket, the latter obtained secondhand when she decided to be the heroine of a popular YA novel series for Halloween mostly as an excuse to get a leather jacket. A North Face raincoat with zip-in liner for extra warmth when that’s needed.

    Shoes – she WILL NOT wear white sneakers, and instead has a pink pair and a black pair (Adidas Stan Smith and Keds leather). Loafers from SAS. Black low wedge heels, maybe also from SAS or maybe from Rockport, can’t remember. Duck shoes and boots from Sperry. A cute pair of “shower” slides that incorporates recycled plastic, I forget the brand. And her fashion “trademark” – a very specific pair of ankle boots that she first fell in love with three shoe sizes ago and I have managed to search for online and find the next size up as she outgrows the old ones.

    Miscellaneous other things of note – flannel nightgowns and cotton knit pajamas, mostly Lands’ End. Socks are mostly Bombas or Darn Tough. I’m a recent convert to those socks, myself, and highly recommend them for all feet!

    1. Anneke, I have to tell you, I love the thought your daughter puts into her choices, and her clearly independent spirit! It is important to feel good about what you wear, being socially responsible and sure of who you are.

  6. Of course the increasingly Parisian Byron returns just after August holidays and the Labor Day weekend to gently offer suggestions for practical dressing as we return to autumn and settle into schedules.

    Agreed following Duchess Catherine’s style in the country or at a casual event is an elegant choice. She adds a feminine twist, which I appreciate!

    I continue to choose Nordstrom for the most part. They offer great sales and pieces are often discounted (or move over to the Rack). Anything can be returned without hassle. I like to buy items in the off season, and then feel fully ready for fall and winter so I am not tempted to keep looking. Also I primarily buy online now, because items in store are so limited in comparison. Reading honest reviews is essential for me to determine quality and how a piece feels (softness, fit, etc.)
    New additions for me include a short trench in blush pink and a beautiful pair of taupe ankle boots.
    Thank you for this discussion and hope your work went well!

  7. Q: how does this style fare in Paris? Does it more or less fit in or does one stand out in ways we might not want?

    I think that all the members who participate in this blog might offer the self-same answer as Anthony Hopkins when he says:

    I am what I am and I do what I do. What other people think of me and what other people say of me, is none of my business.

    A key OM trait.

    Kind regards,

  8. Great article. Prince William is an excellent muse.

    + Prince William has adopted Prince Philips’ sense of simple style and modernized it
    + You rarely see brand labels – occasionally I’ll see RL Polo sweaters on William
    + William frequently wears dark brown suede shoes and chukka boots
    + Prince Williams wears an Omega Seamaster given to him by his mother with a blue dial
    + Their clothing fits them properly
    + They buy a lot of their clothing from suppliers that are Royal Warrant holders such as Turnbull Asser and many others that you’ve never heard of. For example, try locating the vendor that makes their ivy caps

  9. Dear Byron,

    I would like to start by saying that I’ve enjoyed your blog and I apologize in advance for the length of this comments. I was wondering what would an old money man would wear to a funeral, would an old money man get a grey pair of flannel pants for winter as well as spring then get something like a grey pair of something like a fresco pants and would an old money man get shantung silk for the repp ties as well as the navy polka dot tie, which you had said is what they would wear formally. Thank you in advance for your answers.

    1. Hi Kyle, thanks for your questions. The funeral…a black, grey or navy suit, white shirt, black necktie. As for the grey flannel pants, that’s a winter staple. Other fabrics for pants are wool or cotton, depending on the climate. Rep ties from Brooks Bros are most reliable. The polka dot is usually navy blue with white dots, also can be a Swiss dot, which is much smaller. – BGT

      1. Hello Byron,

        I want to first thank you for your responses and I have a few more questions to ask. First, I was wondering if a Neapolitan suit or sports coat would be appropriate for the old money style if it had a sack shape. Second, I was wondering if shell cordovan would be used on an old money man’s shoes. Lastly, I was wondering what shoe style old money men would wear, excluding loafers, boating shoes and white sneakers. Thank you in advance for your answers.

      2. You’re welcome, Kyle. Neapolitan styled jackets and suits are fine. Just remember to stay within the classic range and not go too far in an extreme or exaggerated direction style-wise. For shoes, your cap-toe lace-up in brown or black is a timeless standard. See Alden or Allen Edmonds for examples.

        Finally, remember that Old Money Style revolves around versatile, classic garments in natural fabrics (100% wool or cotton). These garments are well-made and mix/match easily. They are worn at the appropriate time for the appropriate event. They do not call undue attention to the wearer. These general guidelines are the fundamentals to keep in mind. – BGT

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