College Wardrobe Essentials: Purchasing Tips & Checklist

If you are planning to go to college and are not sure what wardrobe basics you will need to take with you – here are a few basic tips to help you decide what clothing you will need to purchase for college. Also, if you scroll down the page, I have created a checklist that lists specific items you may need.

Make a Checklist that includes the types of clothes you need to purchase (see my College Wardrobe Essentials Checklist below).

Take an inventory of what you already have at home and put those items aside.

Set a time line for what needs to be purchase and by what date so that you won’t end up running around at the last minute trying to buy everything.

Set a Laundry Schedule: It is a good ideas to determine how many of each item you want to take with you. If you plan on wearing jeans everyday, you don’t want to go to school with only 2 pairs. It is important to set a schedule on how often you will be doing laundry, this can help you decide how many of each item you will need to take to school.



The best tip I have for finding deals is to visit the website of the store(s) where you may want to shop and sign up for their email list. Many stores will notify when they are having a sale, and some may even include a coupon that you can use online or in the store.

  • Outlet Malls: Many outlet malls offer incredible savings on clothes. For additional savings, sign up for the VIP or Preferred Shopper Program for your local outlet mall. You can get advanced notice for special sales and get access to special coupons to help you save more money.
  • Department Stores – carry all the popular brands of clothing for men and women. Also, many offer online shopping and special discounts through their websites. If you shop at the end of a season, you can find some amazing deals on clearance merchandise.
  • Gap or Old Navy – has more than just jeans, they have tailored blazers, button-down shirts, outerwear, and much more. You can find some good bargains on basic wardrobe items.
  • – offers discount prices on apparel, handbags, accessories, and much more. You can find great deals on designer-brand clothing.
  • – carries many of the popular designer brands of apparel, shoes, and accessories at discount prices. You can find amazing discounts for as much as 50%-70% Off.
  • or – Find shoes and handbags – these online stores carry women and men’s athletic, dress, and casual shoes, as well as backpacks, duffel bags, and computer bags.

**Before buying anything online, it is always best to check the return policy. Some stores do not allow returns on clearance merchandise. See my article for How to Protect Yourself When Ordering Online.



Wardrobe Basics

  • Jeans
  • Casual shirts (t-shirts)
  • Button-Down Shirts
  • Polo Shirts
  • Sweaters
  • Sweat shirts
  • Sweat pants
  • Pajamas
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Stockings (women)
  • Slippers/Flip Flops
  • Robe
  • Light-weight Jacket (trench coat)

Business/Formal Attire

  • Suit or Business Attire
  • Button-Down Shirt (men)
  • Blouses (women)
  • Tie (men)
  • Dress pants
  • Suit Jacket
  • Trench Coat


  • Tennis Shoes
  • Casual walking shoes
  • Dress Shoes

See Also: College Wardrobe Essentials

College Wardrobe Essentials

It can be difficult to decide what wardrobe essentials you will need for college. If you are going to be moving and staying in a dorm, you don’t want to take your entire wardrobe with you, but you also don’t want to be in a position where you don’t have anything to wear.

When trying to decide what clothes to take with you to school, it is easier to break it down into categories of the types of clothes you will need and when. Here are some situations you might want to consider before buying wardrobe essentials for college (this information can apply to both men and women):

  • Attending Classes: you will most likely wear casual clothing, like jeans or a sweatsuit to class, except for special occasions, like giving a speech or lecture that may require more formal attire.
  • Business/Formal Attire: There may be certain occasions that you will need to dress up from what you would normally wear to class. If you have to give a speech, go to an interview, or decide to join a professional group, you may need to wear a suit or at least a nice pair of dress pants and blouse (or shirt for men) depending on the event. To make sure you are prepared for any event, you should have formal wear (business suit) and business casual attire (dress slacks and blouse/button-down shirt).
  • Clothes for Work: If you already have a job or decide to get one after school or on the weekends, you will need clothes for work. The type of job you have/get will determine what type of clothes you will need to purchase.
  • Weekends and After School: think about what you normally wear on the weekend or after school, what types of activities you will be participating.
  • Shoes: You may have all the clothes you need to wear for every occasion, but if you don’t have the right shoe, it can break your outfit. Be sure to take shoes (and socks/stocking) that match the clothing you are planning to wear. Nothing can ruin an outfit more than a pair of shoes that look out of place.

See also: College Wardrobe Essentials: Purchasing Tips & Checklist

Basic Wardrobe Staples for Work

When building a work wardrobe it is important to buy wardrobe basics or key pieces that can be worn with a variety of items you already own.

In order for an item to be considered a key piece, it must be classically styled, neutral in color, with little embellishment or design accents so that it can match various items you already own.

Here are four classic wardrobe essentials that we have found will work for every wardrobe (and will not go out of style):

Tailored Suit
Everyone needs at least one basic suit in their wardrobe. I recommend buying a classic black suit that has 3 pieces: blazer, trousers, and skirt (find tips for purchasing a tailored suit)

You can separate the suit and wear each item with other pieces you already have in your wardrobe or pair the blazer with either the trousers or skirt, depending on what look you are trying to achieve.

Classic Button-Down Shirt
A button-down shirt can be worn with so many different pieces you already have in your wardrobe. You can go casual by pairing it with jeans or get a professional look by wearing it with your suit

If you purchase a wrinkle-resistant shirt, you won’t have to worry about ironing it every time you want to wear it (find tips for purchasing a classic blouse).

Cardigan Sweater
The cardigan sweater is the perfect layering piece. Your cardigan will look great with a pair of jeans, pencil skirt, or dress pants. If you buy a cardigan in a neutral color, you can layer it over just about anything you own.

Boot-Cut Jeans
A pair of jeans can be dressed up or down and can be worn with so many different shirts, blouses, and sweaters that you already have in your wardrobe.

I would recommend a dark-wash jean since it is easier to dress up than a light wash or faded jean (find tips for purchasing boot-cut jeans).

How to Wear Wardrobe Basics
The basic wardrobe pieces listed above can be mixed and matched together to create a variety of different looks. Using just the key pieces listed above, we have listed 5 different outfits and options for how you can wear the pieces together.

You can also pair any of the pieces with items you already have in your wardrobe for endless possibilities and many different outfits.

Option #1: Blazer, Skirt, Classic Button-Down Shirt

  • perfect for an interview or important business meeting

Option #2: Blazer, Trousers, Classic Button-Down Shirt

  • great for an interview or business meeting or to wear to work

Option #3: Trousers and Button-Down Shirt

  • a professional look that is perfect for a day at the office
  • wear to an important business lunch or meeting
  • adding the cardigan sweater creates a different look for a day at the office

Option #4: Skirt and Button-Down Shirt

  • stylish and sophisticated, a great look for the office
  • add the cardigan for a layered look, perfect for the office

Option #5: Jeans and Button-Down Shirt

  • great for running errands or a day at the mall
  • wear your cardigan to create a casual, layered look
  • go professional and wear the blazer for a casual day at the office

Wardrobe Essential: Pencil Skirt

Why you need it: A pencil skirt is so versatile and can be worn so many different ways with a number of items you may already have in your closet.

How to wear: Pair your pencil skirt with a matching blazer, crisp white blouse, and black pumps for for a formal business function or interview. Dress it up for a night out with friends with a trendy blouse and strappy sandals.

Purchasing tips: When shopping for a pencil skirt, you will want to choose one with a classic look so you can wear it season after season. Try to stay with a neutral color and avoid bold patterns, buckles, and rivets. Be sure to purchase a quality fabric that will hold up to repeated wear and cleaning.

Take the time to try on a variety of styles and different lengths to find the one that best complements your body shape. A skirt that is too short or too long could make you look sloppy and dated.

For more tips, read our article How to Find the Perfect Pencil Skirt.

How to Build a Wardrobe on a Budget

Before going out to the mall and spending a lot of your hard-earned money on new clothes, here are some easy ways to help you build a great wardrobe on a budget:

Make a list of clothing items you need in your wardrobe
Decide what articles of clothing you want to wear on a daily basis (don’t forget shoes, handbags, and jewelry). For example, if you work in an office where you have to dress professionally, you may need to purchase a suit or at least dress pants, skirts, and blouses. Also include clothes for the weekends, evenings out, and casual events.

Buy Wardrobe Basics
Wardrobe basics will match a variety of items in your closet. Some basic staples everyone should own include: a tailored suit, pencil skirt, white blouse, boot cut jeans, trench coat, just to name a few; these items are great because they can be worn a variety of ways. We have a list of Wardrobe Essentials everyone should own.

When purchasing basic wardrobe staples, it is a good idea to spend a little more money and purchase clothing that is of good quality. Even though you will be paying more, you will be wearing it often, so you can justify the expense.

Only buy clothing that will match at least 3 items you already own
Before you buy anything new, make sure it can be worn with at least three other items you already have in your wardrobe. That way, you won’t have to buy more clothes to match what you just purchased.

Fit is Everything!
There is nothing worse than having a wardrobe of expensive clothes that do not fit you well. When buying clothing, it is very important the fit flatters your body shape. It doesn’t matter how much you paid or the designer name, when you buy something that is too big or too small, you look sloppy and unprofessional.

Take your time and buy clothing that complements your body shape. Keep in mind that sometimes you will need to have certain items tailored in order to get the perfect fit.

Don’t be in a hurry to purchase a lot of items at one time
Sometimes you will get lucky and find everything you need for a great price at one store, but you can save money by doing comparison shopping at various stores. You might even want to check online. – there are quite a few website that offer discounts on designer clothing.

Always Shop the Sale!
Eventually everything goes on sale – before you buy anything anywhere, make sure you find out if that store is going to be having a sale. Some stores have a preview day, the day before the sale, where you can shop and avoid the big crowds.

Sign up for Shopper Programs and Store Mailing Lists
Also, you can save money by joining shopper programs and signing up for the mailing list for your favorite stores. Along with notifying you of upcoming sales, some stores will email you coupons that you can print out and use to save money. If you have a store where you love to shop, go to their website and see if they have an email list you can subscribe.

Don’t forget about the Outlet Malls!!
You can find some really amazing bargains at the outlet mall. Before going to the outlets, read our article: How to Save Time & Money at the Outlet Mall.

Wardrobe Essential: White Blouse

Why you need it in your wardrobe: A classic white blouse is a must-have for every wardrobe. It will match just about anything in own and can be worn a variety of different ways: you can wear it with your tailored suit, black dress pants, jeans, etc.

Purchasing Tips: To select the perfect blouse, you will want to find one that is made from good quality material. Because you will be wearing it quite often, you want to make sure the material will withstand frequent use and washing.

Also be sure the blouse fits you well; you don’t want to spend money on a nice blouse and have it be too big/too small for you.

If you can’t find a blouse that fits you the way you would like, you can take it to a tailor or have the store make alterations so that you can achieve the perfect fit.

Wardrobe Essential: Trench Coat

Why you need it in your wardrobe: Even on a rainy day, you want to look fashionable when running errands or going on an interview; the right trench coat will complement a variety of looks.

Purchasing Tips: Since you will want to be able to wear your trench coat over a variety of clothing, including your tailored suit, be sure not to purchase a coat that is too tight or fitted. A trench coat that fits snugly won’t complement your look and will make you look sloppy.

Color is important: Try to select a neutral color, like classic tan or black. A bright pink trench coat will be cute and fashionable, but you will be limited to what you can wear with it and where you wear it.

Wardrobe Essential: Tailored Suit

Why you need it in your wardrobe: Every woman’s wardrobe needs a classic suit. You never know when you will need to dress for an important meeting or get called at the last minute to interview for that great job you never thought you would get.

Purchasing Tips: When buying a suit, be sure to select a classic style; stay away from bright colors, wide pin-stripes, and trendy design features.

Keep your look simple and professional. You can add accessories to dress up your suit, but don’t overdue it. Stay with a sophisticated and polished look.

If you are bigger on the bottom than on the top, or vice versa, it might be better to buy suit separates; that way you will be able to get the perfect fit for your body shape. If that isn’t an option, check with the sales person to find out if the store has a tailor who can make alterations so that you have a perfect fitting suit.

The fit is very important, you can spend a lot of money on a suit, but if it is too big or too tight, you will look sloppy, not professional.

Wardrobe Essential: Strappy Sandals

Why you need them: Strappy sandals are so versatile – you can wear them with a dress for an evening out, or for a more casual look, wear them with a pair jeans (or khakis) and a cute top.

Purchasing Tips: When buying a pair of sandals You will want to find a pair that will be comfortable for those times when you will be standing for long periods of time.

Also, be sure the heel is balanced well, and you do not feel unbalanced when standing.

If you decide to buy a high heel (over 3″) you should try to find a shoe that has a built-in platform in the front, that will help keep the pressure off the front of your foot.

Make sure the shoe fits you well, and your heel does not hang over the back or sit too far in from the back the of the sandal.

Wardrobe Essential: Leather Jacket

Why you need it: A classic leather jacket can be worn with just about everything you own.

How to wear it: The right style of jacket can be worn so many different ways with almost everything in your wardrobe.

  • Dress it up for a night out with a trendy blouse, black dress pants, and strappy sandals
  • Go casual for a day at the mall by wearing it with jeans and a t-shirt
  • You can even wear it to work on those days when your winter coat is too warm

Shopping Tips: A classic leather jacket can make you look fabulous, provided you buy the right style and fit for your body shape. When shopping for a leather jacket, you will want to choose one with a classic look; stay with a neutral color and try to avoid bold buckles or rivets as they will only date your jacket and limit what you can wear with it. If you have a leather handbag that you carry, you may want to take it with you – you don’t want to get home only to find out that your jacket doesn’t look right with your handbag.

A jacket that is too short or too long can make you look sloppy and dated. If you want to accentuate your waist, buy a leather jacket that has a belt. The belt gives the illusion of an hour-glass figure. As always, it is best to try on a number of styles to find which one is best complements your body shape.