9 Tips for Building a Wardrobe in College and Beyond, According to my Mom
Mom knows best — especially when it comes to fashion!
As you may know, I am the writer for the “Ask CF” column here at College Fashion. However, I’d be lying if I said that I always have the answers to every fashion conundrum. In fact, to this day, I consider my mom Joanne (here’s her and I) to be the ultimate fashion expert. I can thank her for teaching me just about everything that I know about fashion today.
Having said that, it only made sense that I share some of my mom’s style wisdom with CF readers; so, I decided to give her a call and ask her how to build the perfect classic wardrobe that will last through college and beyond. Here’s the advice she had:
1. Consider Proportion
My mom’s first piece of advice is that in general, it’s a good idea to avoid wearing tight pieces with other tight pieces, and loose pieces with other loose pieces, as doing either of these things is usually unflattering, regardless of body type.
Instead, she advises mixing the tighter pieces in your wardrobe with looser ones, in order to create a well-balanced and proportional look that’s pleasing to the eye.
2. Don’t Spend Money on Cheap Pieces
My mom has always, always maintained that it is better to have fewer more expensive items than a bunch of cheap things that won’t last. Therefore, don’t invest in inexpensive, poor-quality pieces — even basics.
Now, that’s not to say that you have to drop hundreds on a single item; rather, the point here is that it is always better to save up for something that is high-quality rather than using that money to buy five equivalent items from a cheaper, lower-quality brand.
Although it might be frustrating to have a smaller wardrobe at first, in the long run, you will actually end up spending less money on clothes (since you won’t have to keep on replacing your wardrobe every few months).
Furthermore, better-quality pieces are more likely to be classic rather than trendy, meaning that they’ll look good for longer; and, as my mom says, “you’ll be building a beautiful wardrobe over time,” since “a nice wardrobe is an investment.”
However, since none of us (my mom and myself included) are immune to the siren call of cheap and trendy items from stores like Zara or H&M, my mom advises that if you do shop at cheaper stores, you must be careful and choose wisely. That means doing things like checking seams to make sure that they are strong, even, and intact; and making sure that there are no holes or missing embellishments in the garment.
Lastly, if you do decide to buy a cheaper item, she advises mixing it with more expensive pieces to make it look more expensive as well — something that she is an expert in, if I may say so myself!
3. It’s All About the Fabric
“Make sure the fabrics are top quality. Try to get ‘pure’ fabrics,” my mom advises.
By this, she means to keep an eye out for items that are made of 100% cotton, linen, silk, etc., as these non-blended garments tend to be better quality than those that are made of blended fabrics (although, of course, there are exceptions!).
If you can’t find “pure” fabrics that are within your budget, my mom says to seek out sturdy materials that look and feel similar to what you might come across in more expensive stores.
4. Use Color Strategically
For a wardrobe that will truly stand the test of time, my mom is a huge advocate of building your wardrobe around neutrals, and adding pops of color with shoes, bags, and accessories. She is partial to red, and simply can’t turn down a pair of red flats or a red bag to brighten up an otherwise-muted ensemble.
Of course, this is not to say that you can’t wear color as part of your “main” look at all — I know I couldn’t wear neutrals every single day! Rather, what this means is that, if you’re just starting to build your wardrobe, it’s a good idea to use neutrals as a foundation, and then move on to other colors once you’ve got the basics down pat.
5. Tailoring is Your Friend
My mom says that “Tailoring is huge.” In fact, she goes as far to call it “crucial” to building the perfect wardrobe. Furthermore, she says that you should consider tailoring things that you might not normally think of tailoring, such as sweaters.
Also, better fit equals better look overall; so, if you love something in a store that isn’t your size, don’t hesitate to buy it, as long as it can be altered and you factor the alteration into the cost of the item.
“Find a good tailor and make use of them,” my mom advises, as having a wardrobe that fits you like a glove is worth the extra few dollars that it costs to hem a pair of jeans or take in a blouse.
6. Keep Your Eyes Open for Sales
Keep a lookout for sales on more expensive pieces. Keep in mind, though, that this means that you may end up buying items in “off” seasons, e.g. sweaters in the summer, etc.
My mom has always told me to be patient when I was debating whether it was worth it to splurge on a more expensive item, as it would probably go on sale soon — and, she has always been right!
So, unless you’re looking at something that you know will sell out quickly, it’s almost always a better idea to take a deep breath and wait for it to go on sale.
7. Always Buy Good-Quality Shoes
As my mom always likes to remind me, “I have shoes that are older than you are, but they still look brand new and up-to-date.”
This is because she invests in classic, high-quality shoes, and, if they do get scuffed, stained, or the soles or heels get worn down, she takes them to the shoe repair place to get them looking like new again.
This might be a small detail, but it goes a long way towards making your outfits look better and saving you money in the long run. Also, higher quality shoes are almost always more comfortable than cheap ones!
8. Don’t Be So Quick to Get Rid of Things
Marie Kondo fans, prepare yourself: you might not immediately like this advice.
My mom says that if you get tired of something in your wardrobe, you should think twice before donating or selling it. This is especially true if you follow my mom’s advice and buy classic pieces, which are re-released every couple of seasons/years, only styled differently.
Furthermore, my mom has remarked to me on more than one occasion that the things that stores are selling now are very similar to the things that she wore when she was my age. So, if you invest in timeless items — even if you go through phases where you don’t wear them as often (or at all) — hold on to them. You never know when they might come back into style!
9. Wear What You Love
Although my mom is the hardest-working, most dedicated parent (and person in general) I know, she hasn’t let any “rules” about what she’s “supposed” to wear at her age or position stop her from rocking things like leather pants with button-up shirts, Stan Smiths with wide-legged trousers, and full skirts and dresses, all of which are solidly outside the realm of what a “regular”* mom is supposed to wear.
*(Note: My mom is not actually a “cool” mom!)*
Similarly, she, like us, is not a fan of general fashion rules that dictate what you “should” or “shouldn’t” wear according to your age, height, size, build, skin/hair color, etc.
Therefore, she advises that you should wear what suits your mental state and what you feel comfortable in. Ignore the rules, as fashion is about showing off your individuality. If you do this, she says, you’ll always look good!
What do you think?
Do you have a mom/grandmother/sister/aunt/older friend/mentor whose style you look up to? What is the best fashion advice they’ve given you? Do you have any more tips when it comes to building a classic wardrobe for college and beyond?
Let me know in the comments!