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10 College Wardrobe Essentials to Put on Your Packing List for 2023

Stressed about packing for college? Here are the top essential clothing items you need for your move to school.

Charlotte Maracina Associate Writer
Charlotte Maracina is an associate writer for CNET based in Long Island, New York. When not writing about top products on the market, she's traveling, binging Love Island or following Harry Styles on tour.
Expertise Charlotte has two years of experience tracking different travel, fashion and lifestyle trends among 18-24 year olds. She studied Communications and Sociology at Belmont University.
Charlotte Maracina
5 min read

Freshman year of college is hard. Starting over after your senior year of high school, making new friends, or for some, moving away from home, are all challenges new college students face. But forget all that. Knowing what clothes to bring was my biggest stressor going into freshman year. 

Being the oldest sibling, I had no one to look up to and ask about what clothes I should pack for college. This lack of guidance led me to packing every single piece of clothing I owned. I mean, what if I needed to wear that one jacket I hadn't worn since middle school? 

Now, being one year out of college and watching my younger sisters pack for school, I can confidently say that your whole entire wardrobe doesn't need to make the trip to your tiny dorm room. Besides, once you get past the first few weeks of school, you mainly just start wearing practically the same outfit every day anyway (especially if your laundry room is in another building). 

To help take the stress out of all that goes into packing for college, I've compiled a list of essential items you need for your wardrobe. 


This one may be a given, but a pair of simple Low Top Converse or Vejas can go a long way. I prefer Converse or Nike because of their universality and simplicity. I also recommend packing a pair of shoes that you don't mind getting dirty. Going to frat parties, bars and tailgates can get messy, and there's nothing worse than having a brand-new pair of shoes get destroyed within an hour. 

Brown Jacket

If you're going to school in the blistering heat or where frat parties don't reign supreme, then this won't be a necessity for your list. However, plenty of Northern school attendees will definitely appreciate bringing a "fracket," aka a frat jacket. A frat jacket is any type of cheap winter coat that you wear in between the Uber and the frat house. It's a jacket that you like, but if you lost it it wouldn't be the end of the world. 

I recommend going to your local thrift store, using your mom's Kohl's cash or buying from any clearance section when getting your fracket. In fact, Abercrombie has the Ultra Mini Puffer on sale for $35, which would make the perfect fracket.

Woman wearing business pants

College may be fun and games most of the time, but you don't want to be caught off-guard when it's time to get down to business. Owning a pair of dress pants and a nice blouse to match comes in handy when presenting or going to networking events and meetings. There's no need to spend a fortune at Nordstrom on brand-name clothing; dress pants from Kohl's or Target will do just fine.

Urban Outfitters

This is a must. Feeling comfortable and confident in the clothes you wear when hitting the town makes every night 10 times better. There are so many types of going-out tops, but I'm always a fan of a simple black bodysuit or crop top. 

As a side note, many frats tend to have themed parties, so having a neon shirt or a checkered print shirt may be helpful. 

model wearing black leggings and black sports bra
Old Navy

Athleisure wear really took off once the pandemic kicked into full swing, and the trend doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. No longer do students need to feel the pressure to throw on skinny jeans and an uncomfortable top just to look cute going to class. All you need is leggings or biker shorts with any sort of top or sports bra, and you're good to go.

Athleisure wear sets can cost anywhere from $25 at Amazon to $300 at Lululemon. If you're searching for some casual tops or gym shorts I recommend going to Old Navy if you're looking for quality athletic clothes at a reasonable price. However, I've also recently been loving the Lululemon Align dress which is more expensive but can serve as a perfect outfit both in the gym and the classroom. 

White tank top

Although I love a statement piece, having a couple of basic tank tops that can easily be layered with jackets and other accessories are convenient for putting together any outfit. Basic tank tops are budget-friendly and will save you space in limited dorm room storage. I recommend the $13 Zara Seamless Tops.

black boots
Dr. Martens

OK, this may just be a style choice, but a black boot can make any outfit go from casual to nighttime ready. My friends and I all own different variations of black boots. I prefer a Chelsea boot when going to a more casual event, but when going out, I like a black boot with a little heel.

college sweatshirts

Although I didn't go to a big SEC or Big 10 school, all of my friends who did spent the whole year planning their outfits for football season. If you're going to school where sports are all the rage, I recommend checking out LF for cute, albeit expensive, shirts and sweatshirts. 

If that's too expensive, there are hundreds of Etsy stores that customize tailgating clothes at a more reasonable price; I recommend Broken Gravity. As a side note, to spice your outfit up I recommend a college tee with a white tennis skirt.

brown joggers
Forever 21

A pair of comfortable joggers will come in handy when running to the grocery store, going to class or casually hanging out with your friends. Joggers are comfortable and make outfits look a little more put together than sweatpants do. I've owned the same pair of Forever 21 Joggers all through college and definitely recommend them.

White Dress

Owning one dress that can be worn to fancy dinners, dances or nice parties will save you the time and money of having to go shopping at the mall or buying a dress last-minute online. Throughout college you will inevitably be faced with the challenge of having to dress up for some event, and it's best to have a dress you already love in your closet. I suggest having both a cocktail dress and a longer formal dress on hand.