Hardly Old School, Campus Clothes Go Stylish


It's not all jeans, sneakers and sweatshirts packed in those duffel bags headed to college campuses in the coming weeks. There might also be a ripped-from-the-runway look from Zara or H&M that mimics Celine or Chloe, and maybe — just maybe — a bona fide Diane von Furstenberg dress or Alexander Wang jacket.

Dr. Martens are a must-have.

It will all get worn, with the possible exception of the sweatshirt, says Amy Levin, founder of the blog site CollegeFashionista.com. "College students love to change up their look. ... They can do it by translating the most up-to-date looks for their lifestyles and budgets."

For some students, Levin says, going to class is a reason to get dressed up.

CollegeFashionista has regular contributors from more than 200 campuses chronicling clothes worn by their peers. On this day, for example, the site features a student and her Michael Kors bag and animal-print pumps at the University of Texas, and a Boston University student in a strapless sundress.

The fact that today's students are so plugged in certainly helps in staying so stylish. They can look at photos from designer collections and red carpets around the world in real time — and change their look in the time it takes to dig through their drawers and dirty laundry piles.

A shift in style doesn't take long for this crowd to digest. They are hungry for the next big thing and usually aren't married to a particular look. "You'll see in the U.S. that campuses in major cities are usually ahead of trends," observes Levin, and Londoners and students in Australia are even more fashion-forward.

(Levin says her alma matter, Indiana University, is more traditional and casual, but not by much.)

That brings us back again to the college sweatshirt students' parents still buy when the acceptance letter first arrives. News flash, according to Levin: They are too generic. "They might put their school name on a shirt, but they've done it in some creative way themselves. Everyone wants to be individual — no one wants to dress alike," she says.

New York University film student Carolyn Amurao, a Vancouver native who just moved to hip Williamsburg in Brooklyn, says she doesn't pay much attention to celebrity fashion anymore; she'd rather be inspired by what she sees on the street.

She has borrowed a few looks from her fellow students — like wearing socks with platform heels.

As a CollegeFashionista contributor, she says she has trained her eye to see it all. "There are so many different styles on campus. There's grungy and polished, more tailored, more sporty or hip-hop. I think that inspires me."

Madisen Matney, a fashion-design student at Savannah College of Art and Design, leans toward vintage looks, preferring not to shop in mainstream stores. Her outfit each day is influenced by mood more than magazines, she says.

"I see a lot of character in clothes, it's not just clothes to put clothes on — mood is important," she says.

On this day in her hometown of New York, for example, she explains her loosely crocheted top and denim shorts: "I don't dress very girlie, but I'll have those moments."

When she's back at SCAD, she'll wear dresses or jumpsuits most of the time. She says she'd like to wear high heels "but I can't really wear them to class as an art student."

Elizabeth Taufield is fairly dressed up during the summer since she's an intern at the office of designer Tory Burch, and Burch's town-and-country style serves as one of her influences year-round. She usually likes to put her own spin on things, but there was one outfit she copied head to toe.

"Tory Burch had these camouflage jeans, and they were styled with a black-and-white striped shirt and a black vest," Taufield, a soon-to-be-sophomore at George Washington University, says. "I literally wore the exact same thing. My suitemate said, 'I'm not sure if those things go together,' but I eventually told her that it was straight from the runway."

Anyway, she adds, mixing seemingly mismatched prints is one of her specialties. One of her favorite recent outfits was a peacock-print skirt with a striped shirt. "I try to wear what I think looks good. I'm tall ... and I can't wear heels, and I wear looser pieces. I'll wear tight jeans, but I'm rarely seen in a tight shirt."

Other than Burch, Taufield keeps tabs on what Proenza Schouler and Prada are doing. "Obviously, I'm not purchasing a Prada dress, but I like referencing it."

While she's in New York, she'll pop into luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman, but she's usually just shopping for ideas — and then takes those to H&M.

Cost is a factor for Amurao, too. She says, though, she puts a lot of planning into her clothes so they don't look cheap.

She offers her maxi-skirt look: "You can get one at Forever 21 and you can work it into an outfit so it doesn't look like it's $8. When I dress up, it's about the sum of all the parts. It's about making the proportion of the shirt work with the skirt, how you pull your back, cute shoes. ... I like to look like I'm wearing an outfit."

Levin says her bloggers are particularly proud of bargains. They'll boast about putting together an outfit for just a few dollars, but, for something they really love, they'll save and then splurge, she says.

Taufield seems pleased to be a student of style.

"I don't want to say I have innately good taste and style, but I do think that style and fashion is something you have or you don't. You can read Vogue and all the magazines and study the trends religiously, but you have to know how to apply the concepts instead of just copying them," she says. "It's like critical thinking in math or science class."