If you went to a preppy East Coast school like I did, you know about the “uniform”. The particular $150+ jeans that were in at the moment, the fleece, the flip-flops, the embroidered pants and so on. The “uniform” was foreign to me when I arrived on campus, my first time even visiting anywhere west of Texas in the US, nevermind that this would become my home for the next eight years. I had never heard of The North Face or Rainbows and could not for the life of me understand why the guys insisted on using thin stretchy bands to hold their sunglasses around their necks (later I found out they were called Croakies, which is a terrible name). But being the label-grubber that I
am was, I decided fairly quickly which of these East Coast staples I would adopt (like a wear-everywhere fleece) and which ones I would openly mock (the pants with the little whales on them). I was always an outsider in my college to most people since I came from a public school in California and not Exeter, but I never minded. The people that mattered didn’t mind…you know the rest of the saying. Anyways, it didn’t mean I was a loner or totally immune to the styles preferred on campus. Students on campus dressed overwhelmingly alike: most people were very clean-cut and put together and preferred Polo to Billabong, madras to ripped jeans, muted pastels to choke-on-it 80s neon. Or, the opposite of everything I like. Still, there were some things that I felt like I had to have:
The North Face Denali Fleece
College kids and rappers have to be keeping The North Face in business. After a while, I noticed that 90% of the population had this fleece jacket in one or more colors. Even though I wanted this jacket, I eventually settled on The North Face’s less popular rival: the Patagonia R2 fleece for a cool $150.
The R2 didn’t look quite as cool as the Denali fleece, but for someone who is constantly cold and was new to snow in the winters, it was amazing. I loved this fleece and wore it regularly for years, until I lost it to a hall closet somewhere. In college, especially in a cold climate, a simple fleece like this was a 4-year staple of your wardrobe. Girls would wear women’s The North Face jackets over a party outfit without blinking because the look was totally entrenched in our minds.
The Longchamp Le Pliage bag or Herve Chapelier bag
Once again, the preferred bag of choice for girls on campus was something I had never heard of. This Longchamp Le Pliage bag is a simple nylon tote bag that is $145 and comes in a rainbow of colors. I don’t know about you, but when I notice a brand that some people are wearing, pretty soon it feels like everybody has one and you are left out of a cool club. I never got the appeal of the Longchamp bag but I did spring for another popular tote, which was the Herve Chapelier nylon tote for close to $100. I admit that peer pressure got me to buy this overpriced nylon bag, but I still have mine and use it all the time, from beach trips or as an overnight bag. I bought one for my mom years ago as well and it’s still her everyday gym bag.
One of the last must-haves that I will never forget from my college days were the polos. Polos were everywhere. Even though I went to a top California high school that sent at least a dozen kids to Ivy League schools every year, no one in my high school dressed as formally as my college classmates. High school was tees and jeans, with the more adventurous girls in cuter, summery outfits. College was polos and dress shirts and boat shoes, preferably all Ralph Lauren Polo or Lacoste (and Sperry for the boat shoes). Lacoste polos could easily become a small-time habit if you weren’t careful. The colors available were seemingly endless and each polo was $72.
Cost: $144 for two polos
Total Cost of College Must Haves: $394
Wear It Because You Like It, Not Because Everyone Else Has It
I have so many more items on my must have list, but I’ll stop there for now. I eventually stopped trying to keep with my classmates when it came to shopping and keeping up appearances. I can’t imagine buying much these days more than $30 when it comes to clothing. But in college I thought nothing of buying expensive items. Even though I am amazed at how much I spent on clothes and appearances for trivial things, I know that some items really give you your money’s worth. As in, I definitely could use another Patagonia fleece right about now!
Did you have any must have items in college? Were they expensive or cheap? Would you still wear/use it today?