When it comes to college fashion, we’ll be the first to admit that pencil skirts and polished dresses aren’t exactly the first items that come to mind. The reality is, when it comes to the daunting task of waking up for that 8 AM class, it can be a bit of a struggle to craft the perfect OOTD. Luckily, it turns out elevating your style beyond your go-to leggings and sweatshirt is actually way simpler than you think—all you need are a few easy wardrobe hacks!
1. Never underestimate an amazing dress
You know the feeling: you've slept through your alarm, rushed through your shower, and have absolutely no idea what you’re going to wear to your class that starts in 10 minutes—but before you reach for your sweats, why not try a dress? It’s always a good idea to have at least one casual but classic dress for those “I have nothing to wear!” days.
Catenya McHenry, owner of the styling service Nothing2Wear says dresses are one of the best things to have on hand for a fast but polished outfit. “Dresses are likely the most versatile pieces a girl can have,” McHenry says. “Layered with a chambray top and tied in the front, or worn with a cropped denim jacket or even styled with a tissue-thin tee underneath, the options are endless.”
Our pick for a casual day dress? A striped midi dress with side slits ($33 at ASOS) is super versatile, and the neutral stripes ensure it will stay classic. Florals are also timeless, and the sleeves on this one ($34.99 at H&M) make it more casual than cocktail. If you’re looking for a fit-and-flare shape, try a dress with an on-trend high neckline ($58 at Abercrombie) in chambray. Is there any fabric that’s more effortless?
2. Keep it simple
We’ll admit that we’re the first to be drawn to a pretty print or pattern, but Marquecia Jordan, a wardrobe assistant and owner of the Chicago-based graphic design studio Tonbo Elements, says that less can be more when it comes to polishing and elevating your style. “The most important thing college women can keep in mind when putting together a more mature and sophisticated look is to keep it simple,” Jordan says. “Tailored fits and lots of solid colors like gray, navy, cream and brown. Nice-quality fabrics also help bring the look together.”
Even if you’re a self-proclaimed prints girl, hear us out: it’s never a bad idea to have a wardrobe of high quality basics on hand to wear with more statement-making pieces—a well-made piece will instantly polish any look. Blazers are definitely not just for your internship! Try styling a sharply tailored one ($39.99 at Zara) with jeans and a tee for a laid-back look that’s still sophisticated. For tops, a striped tee à la French girl-chic ($50 at Aritzia) and a flowy, wear-with-everything blouse ($45.80 at Aralleus) are total must-haves. Minimal basics don’t have to be boring either! This super classic gray boucle wrap skirt ($68 at Topshop) is the proof.
3. Step away from the leggings!
We mean no hate to every collegiette’s go-to pant, but for days when you want to look polished, ditching the leggings is a no-brainer. Stylist and founder of Little Pink Moto Alexa Alford suggests swapping them for a simple pair of black skinny jeans instead. “Trade in your leggings for some well-fitting black skinny jeans,” Alford says. “I know, I know, they are so dang comfy, but a great black pair of jeans are essential for every woman's wardrobe. Almost anything you wanted to wear with your leggings will look instantly more sophisticated with black skinnies.”
One easy swap to instantly elevate any outfit? We’re so there. For the perfect pair of universally
-flattering black skinnies, Alford recommends Madewell’s high-quality version ($115 at Madewell)—they’re a little pricey, but totally worth the investment. Bonus: for leggy ladies, they come in tall sizes so that your pair is tailored for you! For fashionistas on a budget, ASOS Ridley jeans are also on-point ($54 at ASOS), and their high rise will create the illusion of legs for days.
4. Ankle boots are everything
When all else fails, a killer pair of shoes can instantly add a more dressed-up vibe to any outfit. Ankle boots are classic, and unlike a pair of stilettos, they’re both fashionable and functional. Alford says they’re the perfect quick switch for your UGGs. “Swap out your UGGs or Hunter boots for a pair of high-quality ankle boots,” Alford says. “It's so incredibly important to invest in great shoes. A simple pair of black or brown ankle boots will go with almost any outfit you can think of, which makes them ideal for a college student.”
Like Alford recommends, booties in black or brown will go with anything—and we love the idea of a block-heeled pair to add a little bit of height pain-free. For an edgier, model-off-duty look, a simple black Steve Madden pair ($148.95 at Nordstrom) does the trick. If you want to go classic, try a bootie in brown leather with buckle details ($32.90 at Forever 21)!
5. Classic carryall
The final touch you need to up your style game? The perfect wear-forever carryall. When it comes to bags, you can never have just one—but every girl does need a signature bag that goes with any outfit, and more importantly, holds everything.
To ensure you’re picking a timeless, high-quality bag, look for one that’s simple but still sophisticated—and if it’s in your budget, a quality leather bag is always worth the investment. There’s a reason Madewell’s signature leather transport tote ($168 at Madewell) has such a cult following—its simple shape will allow you to wear it with absolutely any outfit. For petite collegiettes who want a slightly smaller pick, this half-satchel, half-tote ($59.99 at Mango) is perfect (not to mention it’s totally giving us major Céline vibes!).
You don’t need to spend hours planning your outfit in order to look timeless and polished! With a few simple changes, you’ll be rocking a ***flawless, updated look in no time!