Ask A Washington DC Expert: Tips For College Style Essentials

August 27, 2013 8:00 AM

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Being stylish as a college student is difficult for many reasons – hectic schedules and the lack of disposable incomes top the list. That said, neglecting one’s appearance is never beneficial. Making yourself presentable and, most importantly, feeling confident helps set the tone for a good day. All it takes is a solid foundation of classic clothes that can be worn multiple ways and a little extra time toward getting ready. A local DC fashion expert weighed in to offer 10 tips for college students who feel their outfits are not up to par. Margaret Viator is a student at the University of Georgetown majoring in government with a minor in journalism. Viator is currently a style guru for popular fashion website College Fashionista and a staff writer for the Georgetown chapter of Her Campus, a Collegiate lifestyle community for women.

1. Start with the class basics

There are certain pieces of my wardrobe that I turn to time and time again when I am getting dressed in the morning. I call these my class basics, and they include a pair of flats, a pair of jeans, a favorite pair of shorts, jean jacket, shift dress, blazer, sweater, button-down shirt, scarf, bracelets and a belt. Make having one of each of these things a priority because mixing and matching them is super easy, and they serve as a nice base to build upon.

2. Don’t be shy when it comes to dressing up

I am used to the fact that all of my friends from home wear a t-shirt and shorts to class. I don’t think that has ever been the case for me. “Dressing up” for class is honestly one of my favorite parts of the day and rarely do I wear the same outfit twice. No, I don’t have an endless amount of clothes, but I am constantly thinking of new ways to put things together. To help with getting dressed in the morning, I made a collage of all of my style inspiration on the back of my closet door. This was a lifesaver for those mornings where I woke up, unable to put two pieces together, and then walked out my door in my most beloved outfits.

3. Learn to budget

As college students, our budget is precious. Balancing out what to spend money on can be difficult. It is best to save on the trendy pieces. In the fashion world, things go in and out of style more frequently than midterm season seems to come around. For affordable alternatives, Forever 21 is always a great option. I recently got a jean vest from there. Zara is also a great outlet for some of my favorite trends: leather and animal print.

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4. Use your time wisely

Second only to our money, our time, as college students, is hard to come by and equally as difficult to manage. For those weeks when there is simply not enough time to make a trek to my favorite stores, I turn to online shopping. I know, it sounds like the death of all of our savings and college budgets, but there are plenty of affordable websites that can be your best friend if you need them to be. Some of my favorites include (free shipping no matter where you are) and Topshop’s online store. Between studying, internships and spending time with your friends, sometimes it seems as if there is just not enough time in the day to maintain a well-styled wardrobe.

5. Invest in denim

If you are like me and go to school in a place where the weather is as unpredictable as your Friday night plans, having a couple of pairs of jeans that will withstand wear and tear is essential. That goes for jean shorts too. Jeans are the perfect aid to transitioning. Stay safe with one dark wash and one light pair for transitioning to spring. Also, don’t forget about the of-the-moment distressed look.

6. Find a fashion role model

Whether this is your favorite blogger or celebrity, having someone who inspires you to try new things and who pulls things off effortlessly is key. Some of my personal favorites are Olivia Palermo, Emily Schuman from Cupcakes and Cashmere, the Olsen twins and Rachel Bilson. These people are constantly photographed, so it is easy to find photos of them in a variety of different outfits.

7. Get a Tumblr and Pinterest

Obviously, it is always important to maintain your own sense of style, but I can honestly say that both of these social media outlets have played a major role in transforming my outlook on fashion and the way I dress. Freshman year, my best friend convinced me to get a Tumblr, and I was nervous about having something so public that anyone with an Internet connection can access. However, I was able to catalogue all of my outfit inspiration and refer to it in times of distress. Remember, fashion is personal.

8. Find one piece that you love

Everyone has his or her guilty pleasure when it comes to fashion. Mine is leather. I don’t care if it is a hundred degrees outside. I simply love it. Recently, I found a pair of leather shorts that have easily become my absolute favorite piece out of my wardrobe. When you really love something and feel comfortable in it, there is no limit to the amount of outfits you can pull together with it. I wear the shorts at least twice a week, and I don’t think I have worn them the same way twice.

9. Plan out your outfits

We are all familiar with tactics for procrastinating. Instead of endlessly perusing your Facebook newsfeed, turn that energy towards planning a couple of your outfits for the week. Sometimes, when I get a new piece of clothing, I try it on with several different outfits to see what works and what doesn’t. Build up a personal log of those outfits that were your favorite.

10. Don’t shop alone

Shopping alone is therapeutic for me. After a stressful week, I will sometimes retire to my favorite stores to peruse the racks for a little retail therapy. However, those times have been the most dangerous when it comes to my wallet because I have no filter. Take a friend along with you when you go shopping. If we are alone, we can easily convince ourselves to purchase something we don’t necessarily need. Having an extra pair of eyes certainly helps to hit the brakes on impulsive purchases while also convincing you to get something that you will regret walking out of the store without.

Related: 2013 Spring Fashion Tips From A Washington DC Fashionista

Kelly Johnston is a freelance writer living in D.C. She graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in Fashion Retail and Merchandising and a minor in Journalism. Her work can be found at

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