Watch old movies. Scan vintage fashion magazines. You get the message: College students tended to dress very much alike in the old days.
Sweaters and pearls starred in one era. Blazers and preppy khakis ruled in another. Plaid grunge once dominated. But times change.
Today’s young scholars are more creative. They may have many of the same items as their dorm roommates. They have the skinny dark blue jeans, the message T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts and puffy vests.
But do they want to look the same as their roommates? Probably not.
They prefer to set themselves apart with a little tweak. Making a statement is a priority. They’ll mix unlikely layers and relish juxtapositions even when they draw raised eyebrows.
"It’s very important for women to show personal style," says Gregg Andrews, Midwest fashion director for Seattle-based Nordstrom stores. Young women are wearing dresses over pants, skirts and shorts over cropped leggings and short jackets over long sweaters.
College men have the same yearning for individuality. They like the "crumpled look," Andrews says.
"A guy will wear a hooded sweatshirt and a puffy parka with shorts and thongs. They love thongs. They wear them with everything. But it should look as if it was picked up off the dorm room floor."
Even preppy and traditional pieces are worn in unconventional ways. Polos are popped over long-sleeved T-shirts. An argyle sweater is paired with a swirling skirt.
Today’s students tend to have a casual attitude toward clothes, especially for class and especially at the start of the school year.
Marshal Cohen, senior fashion analyst for NPD, which tracks shopping trends, says students may buy a new pair of jeans but because they start out with summer clothes, they usually wait until later in the fall for serious shopping.
"They don’t want to show up with stuff that was cool in Wisconsin but not in Chapel Hill, N.C.," Cohen says.
Evidence of the low-key approach can be found in the school-oriented fashion media. In July, Seventeen magazine was promoting Christina Aguilera’s cover shot for the September issue, traditionally the back-to-school book.
At the same time, students are devoting money to furnishing dorm rooms and apartments. College kids have returned to fashion, Cohen says. For a time, they were spending their money on electronics. But now it’s about the dorm room, having the cool coffeemaker, towels and pillows. "It’s all about style," he says.
In general fashion trends, young women want to separate themselves from the guys. They are wearing skirts, Cohen says, and leggings are a surprise hit. Pants in menswear fabrics in a range of shapes, including wide legs, are likely hits. And some women will love the gauchos.
A shift in clothing proportion is making the biggest news, says Patricia McCune, J.C. Penney’s trend analyst for juniors. With leggings, high boots and skinny jeans, legs are a new focal point. They are balanced by longer tops and tunics often anchored by a wide belt. Layers are also important.
"Just put layers upon layers," McCune says.
For women, short, shrunken jackets are good basics that can be dressed up or down. For guys, the blazer will go from jeans to twill trousers to shorts.
Accessories offer a good way for women to explore personal style. Tall boots can be paired with cropped pants or jeans, which will be tucked into the tops, says Eurydice Sanchez, J.C. Penney trend manager for accessories and footwear. Short ankle boots are getting attention from the fashion magazines. Platform shoes and ballet flats will go with ankle jeans and miniskirts and tights.
Slouchy oversized handbags are everywhere. Headbands are popular for both style and convenience. Layered long bead necklaces and pendants, including the dagger and skull icons, are the jewelry of the moment.
But the one look likely to be an all-round favorite for both sexes is the message T-shirt.
Some are inspired by music, Andrews says, but guys are going for the gothic graphics such as the skull, angels, wings and dragons. For women, they may be political or celebrity- or status-oriented.
"It’s like wearing your personality," Cohen says.
Isn’t that what it’s all about?
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