This is it. This year will be your year. It’s finally the year that you can live young and wild and free. But with great freedom comes great responsibility; for every unforgettable Friday night when you’ll dance on tabletops, you’ll need an equally unforgettable outfit!
There are several wardrobe essentials that are a must to ensure that when you walk into the club or frat basement (let's be real), all eyes are on you and only you. Before you arrive on campus, make sure you have all the clothing basics you will need to feel fancy for your first nights out on the college party scene!
A Little Black Dress
Marilyn Monroe once said, “I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one.” If you’re worried you’ll wear the wrong outfit to a party and feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, look no further than a little black dress. An LBD is a classic party must-have because, for collegiettes, versatility is key. “The perfect little black dress can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion,” says Elora Clifford, a recent graduate of Boston University.
You want to find a dress that, given the right accessories, you can wear to multiple types of parties. Pick a style that compliments your figure—you should always feel your cutest in your LBD. Your perfect dress should show off a little skin, but not too much. Keep it plain and let the dress be something your accessories can play off of.
Forever 21 is a gold mine for LBDs; check out their Ribbed Crisscross Dress or their Twisted Cutout-Back Dress, each for $12.90. With the right purse and pair of heels, a black dress is the perfect look for almost any party. Once you've found your perfect LBD, check out HC’s 20 ways to wear a little black dress for some style inspiration.
A Black Skirt
Don’t be afraid to show off your legs! A black skirt has the potential to be one of your most-worn party staples. Although you might not want to wear your LBD every weekend, you can easily wear the same skirt over and over again as long as you match it with different tops, shoes and accessories. “You want clothes that are versatile so you can get the most use out of them,” says Cassie, a recent graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Tuck a cute tank into a high-waisted black miniskirt, and voilà—you have yourself an easy, stylish outfit. Elora says, “My go-to party outfit is usually a black skirt paired with a hot shirt, usually something with chiffon or lace with a bandeau underneath, and heels.”
You should look for a tight, above-the-knee skirt, but make sure it’s long enough that you’ll be able to comfortably dance or sit in it. Consider trying out this Bodycon Midi Skirt from Charlotte Russe.
For Under Your Clothes
Little girls wear neon Band-Aids. Party girls wear neon bralettes. A necessity for every collegiette’s wardrobe, a bralette can be worn under a shirt instead of a tank top when your outfit needs a little extra coverage. They’re perfect for parties where you'll be spending the night on the dance floor because you’ll be wearing less fabric, so you won’t get as hot. Try to buy a bralette or two that goes well with multiple items in your closet. “A black bralette is essential. You can wear it under almost anything,” Cassie says. You also may want to consider choosing a colored bralette to wear under a sheer top to add a bold accent to your outfit. Try Free People's Galloon Lace Racerback for $20. Not only does this bralette come in a ton of colors, but because it’s ruched, it will create the illusion of a bigger bust. If you’re looking for a bralette with an even more feminine flair, try this Lace Halter Bra from Urban Outfitters, on sale for $16 (marked down from the original price of $20).
To avoid a wardrobe malfunction second only to Janet Jackson's, get a pair of spandex shorts to wear under short dresses and skirts. It’s vital to wear these when you’re going to be dancing, because there’s a good chance your skirt could fly up. You really don’t want to be known as that girl who accidentally flashed everyone at the party. Try these Stretch-Knit Bike Shorts from Forever21 for $8. You want to opt for a discreet color that will blend with what you are wearing, so it won’t be too noticeable if anyone gets a peek. Just remember to try your shorts on under one of your skirts or dresses first to make sure they lay flat and don’t create lines.
For Theme Parties
Wearing nothing but a sheet to a toga party is perfectly acceptable (and often encouraged), but most theme parties at college will actually require clothing (unless you’re headed to an ABC—anything but clothes—shindig). There are lots of items that you can wear to multiple types of theme parties. For example, you can wear the same cute green top for Saint Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, a stoplight party (a party where you wear green if you are single, yellow if your romantic situation is complicated, and red if you are taken), or a Christmas party. A button-down can be your go-to when dressing up as a nerd for a jocks vs. nerds party, or as business executive for a CEOs and office hoes party. “Some kind of animal print is always a must for a jungle party, or a costume party, if you can get a pair of ears,” says Cassie.
You also should bring old costumes you might have—you never know when they may match the theme of a party. See if you can borrow your brother's old sports jersey for sports-themed parties. Thinking ahead about items that you have at the back of your closet that could potentially be great for a themed party will help ensure that you won’t have to scramble to buy a last-minute outfit.
Elora advises to pack “items that can be worn for a theme but won't make you stick out like a sore thumb at a different party. You never know where the night will take you.” This is extremely important, because although you might start the night at a party with one theme, you may end up at a different party at the end of the night.
White tees are so useful that having a few of these stashed in your drawers at all times is always a good idea. You can guarantee that you'll go to glow parties, where everyone will decorate each other’s shirts with highlighters, and paint parties, where everyone gets slathered in a mass of paint. At these types of parties, you don’t want to ruin any of your nice clothes. A simple white Hanes tee is easy on your wallet at the sale price of $5.99. They come in both crew neck and V-neck styles.
Keep in mind that you can easily cut a plain white shirt into a cute crop top. If you get really good at cutting your own shirts, try making the back into a cute bow style shirt. Plain tees are also perfect if you get invited to specific themed parties where you have nothing to wear, because you can create your own custom shirt for the night.
A Cross-body Bag
If you don’t already have one, you should buy a cross-body bag. You don’t want to have to think about holding onto your purse, wristlet or wallet all night at a party. After all, you may end up putting your belongings down for a game of pong or flip cup and end up losing track of your stuff. Look for a small bag, since all you need for a night out is P-MILK: your phone, money, ID, license, and keys.
Macy’s has a variety of options that are sensible for a range of budgets. Try this Rebecca Minkoff Mini M.A.C. Crossbody for $88 (originally $175) or this French Connection crossbody for $49.97 (originally $98).
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but fast flats ($7.95) are a party girl’s best friend. Fast flats—very thin flats that can roll up to easily fit into a purse—are so small that they don’t take up much room and are so light that they won’t weigh your bag down. Just throw a pair of these into your purse when you’re wearing a pair of heels so you have a backup option if your feet end up killing you later in the night or on your walk home. Sometimes beauty is pain, but it doesn’t have to be when you’re going out!
A Cheap Jacket
At the end of the night, searching through a mountain of jackets can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack—finding yours will be downright impossible. Since there’s often not a good place to stash your jacket at a large party, it’s not unusual for everyone to throw their jacket in the same massive heap. Because of this, it’s possible someone may end up taking your jacket, either accidentally or on purpose. You don’t want to lose an expensive coat at a party, so you should have a cheap jacket or zip-up hoodie that you don’t care about that you can wear instead. Try this denim jacket from H&M for $9 (originally $29.95) or this cool Canvas Drawstring Parka from Forever 21—just $19.99, marked down from $29.90.
That way, you will be warm on your way to the party, but won’t really care if there is a mix-up and you lose track of it by the end of the night.
With a little advanced planning, you’ll always be prepared when you feel you gotta get down on Friday. Remember that parties are danger zones for expensive or easily stained materials, so when shopping for clothes that you’ll wear to parties, you probably don’t want to wear anything too expensive or sentimental. If you’re going to a party where there will be dancing, light colors that show sweat also aren’t the best idea since hundreds of people dancing in a basement can make the dance floor pretty hot and humid.
These essential items are vital to any party girl’s wardrobe. With the help of this guide, if you fall into your bed right after a party, you’ll never wake up in the morning feeling embarrassed—you’ll be well-dressed!