I may not feel like it, but I have been a student for nearly 10 years. From undergraduate right through to postgraduate. I arguably am an expert on what a student’s capsule wardrobe could look like; I am a living example! Even though I am a mature student the essential nature of the capsule wardrobe is immensely appealing. So in this post I will guide you through a practical, versatile, yet cool student’s capsule wardrobe. This guide is written from a man’s perspective, but I think any reader will get something out of this, as men’s essentials tend to be labelled as “unisex” anyway. So whether you are making a new start in life or want some advice, grab a brew and get reading this one-stop guide to student’s capsule wardrobe building 101.
Note: I am considering making a video version of this guide.
Let’s start off with some rules and general guidelines.
A capsule wardrobe is a fancy term from fashion communities online; all it really means is that you have a versatile collection of clothes that is deliberately chosen so that things don’t get out of hand. If in doubt, follow the life advice of Marie Kondo (a.k.a. KonMari): if you don’t like using or wearing an item, don’t keep it.
If you are scared of, or simply do not enjoy, experimenting with colour, just wear neutrals like black, grey and navy. You can’t go wrong. The bulk of your wardrobe, even if you love colours, should probably be neutrals anyway. Because then, if you do want to wear a loud item like a crimson red hoodie, everything looks cohesive and deliberate. You don’t want to look like a traffic light. Honestly you can’t go wrong with Magnus Ronning’s debut collection, who started his fashion blog as a student, as a guide to what I am talking about:
You want everything to be easy, first and foremost. Easy doesn’t have to mean unstylish, though! Make sure these things are easy to wear, versatile, practical, and importantly easy to care for – i.e. machine washable items. This is where some minimalism really comes in handy! People don’t usually consider the cost and upkeep of something before they buy it. A dry-clean only item may be something that really speaks to you, but how often will you really make the effort, or how often will you have to make the effort? If it’s a wool coat, once a year will probably be more than enough, making it eligible for this capsule. Buy on the basis that you want to have something that lasts and may stay with you. Quality or longevity often has nothing to do with how cheap or expensive something is. If something is well made or of a material that is resistant then it’s worth it, whatever the price. You’re hardly going to go for something delicate when you are generally getting dressed to go to a lecture, seminar or lab, now, are you? Even going out clothes should be versatile and easy.
You also want everything to be affordable, and by that I mean worth the money. There are a lot of overpriced clothes and brands that are marketed specifically at the age demographic that students tend to fall into. Beware of the trap that “sales” represent. Sometimes you can genuinely get some “steals”, but often you are buying the least wanted items. Also watch out for brands, particularly online, putting prices up before they have a “20% off everything” sale. Remember that as a young person that is new to having their independence you can be targeted by companies exploiting your inexperience. I can pretty much guarantee that every item and brand I have recommended here is going to be a worthwhile purchase for the price, because I myself have used them for years and personally rate the product designs.
NONE of this article is sponsored content. Collages made using Fotor Photo Editor on Mac OS X and using product images from brands’ respective websites and approved retailers. Prices correct as of April 2018.
Student’s capsule wardrobe. 1. Tops: Hoodies, sweatshirts, t-shirts, shirts.
These are probably items you already have plenty of, but it is worthwhile getting some fresh t-shirts and shirts to make your life easier at uni. T-shirts are perfect for everyday wear, whether at a lecture or at home. Shirts can be worn any time or if you choose a versatile option like a denim or flannel shirt they can be worn on nights out as well.
The truth of the matter is that student accommodation tends to veer towards the chillier side. Hoodies and sweatshirts are perfect because they are youthful, sporty, and if you style them right can be slotted into any casual outfit. And with the rest of your capsule wardrobe being the way it is, you will be able to wear these items on any occasion.
A good hoodie can act like a jacket, which can be easily washed and worn around the house.
Other great options include viscose shirts for summer (see All Saints and their big sales/outlets), Oxford Cloth Button Downs (I recommend Uniqlo’s £19.90 option), and of course flannel shirts (I also recommend Uniqlo).
Student’s capsule wardrobe. 2. Jackets and coats
It is perfectly possible to own a handful of jackets and get by. I know that from my experience travelling. A new piece of outerwear, such as a cool overcoat, is an easy way to upgrade your style. Don’t get sucked in, though, and keep your collection pared down and logical.
A denim or bomber jacket will see you through pretty much any situation. The UK, like many countries, is incredibly rainy so a waterproof jacket is a must. If you want to get some cool points for having a woke brand like Patagonia, go for it; helpfully, the quality of Patagonia is based on word of mouth and longevity, while other companies like The North Face have seen some declines in quality over recent years. If you want to learn more, look into “tech wear”, particularly ThisIsAntwon’s YouTube channel.
I feel like these are purchases that you can really sell to parents or people helping you out with your budget – who wants their son or daughter to get soaked, or not to look on point? As I say in the infographic above, follow the rule of tried-and-tested quality over quantity. If you were really pushed I bet you could layer the waterproof over the denim jacket, anyway. Packable jackets do exist and could be worth looking into for this reason.
Student’s capsule wardrobe. 3. jeans, trousers and shorts
Jeans, trackies and shorts are classic student clothes. In recent years dressier trouser cuts have come into fashion, though, and can be bought in some amazingly comfortable fabrics. I can vouch for these Uniqlo trousers being insanely comfortable, and difficult to distinguish from impractical fabrics like wool. Black and navy are solid options, but if you want to tip your hat to the dad-dressing “trend” then beige can work well, and that colour will work particularly well in summer and spring.
Student’s capsule wardrobe. 4. Shoes
The only addition for the footwear here to this student’s capsule wardrobe would probably be a pair of wellies / wellington boots, but that all depends on your location. They can be had for perfectly decent quality for around £10. They can also be trashed and covered in mud, washed off and go again.
These footwear options are incredibly versatile:
The Reebok trainers are a classic white shoe that will go with any item. You can walk all day in shoes like these. They are also relatively cheap and can be replaced when needed with ease, because the models never really go out of production.
- Winter shoes are tricky, but you could be canny and go for a DWR (water-repellent) treated shoe like Vans’ “made for the makers” line. Sizes are limited on Vans’ site, but go to reputable retailers online and you can find plenty of stock at the moment. They have a grippier tread sole, and all 3 models (the Authentic, the Old Skool and Slip-On) are in all-black. I went with the authentics because I assumed that Old Skools could be in most students’ wardrobes anyway given how popular they have been over the last few years, with skaters and non-skaters alike. You can wear these all-year round, so much so that it may be worth picking up a couple of styles if you love them enough.
- Chelsea boots are winning items. They slip on, they slip off. They are smart and casual enough to go anywhere. If you ever find yourself on a date night you will have the perfect option. Go for a pair which are made of decent, but not incredibly expensive, suede like these from M&S. The sole must be practical and rubber-based. Leather soles are an impractical nightmare!
Student’s capsule wardrobe. 5. Essential accessories
Items like jewellery aside, you will need a few things as a student, or indeed as an independent adult, to get by. If you don’t have these items, get them ASAP.
Firstly are bags. You can pretty easily get by with a roomy, practical backpack. You can get pretty geeky when researching everyday carry, but going by people’s experiences online I would recommend something like The North Face’s Borealis backpack, which has been sold for decades to students and practically minded people. Feel free to go bold with this one in terms of colour; technical, hiking stuff actually looks really cool in bolder colours, particularly from heritage brands with cachet like Patagonia and TNF who have a history of making stuff in brighter shades and patterns (click for guide to ‘Hikercore’!). This one is on sale for half price at £43. Supplement this bag with packable carrier bags made out of lightweight recycled plastics or cotton/canvas. You can get some good ones in the UK from The Co-Operative for only a few £s each.
Secondly is a practical wallet. Don’t get one that is overly bulky as this will be a nightmare day to day. Try and keep your wallet free of unnecessary cards and receipts. I cannot complain about my Comme des Garcons wallet, but I got mine at a silly low price almost five years ago, so do your research (CDG Wallet full price in 2018, identical model is £105). Something compact, slimline and practical is what you want though so I will include a similar one to mine as an example. Also included is this £20 Base Camp Wallet by TNF.
Third, you need some kind of timekeeping device. Most people will just use their phone, but I am old fashioned in that I think a glance at the wrist is much easier than flashing a look at your phone. Don’t break the bank on this, and go with a simple quartz movement watch like a Timex, Casio or Swatch. An added bonus is that a watch can make a good present for someone (such as an older family member or significant other) to give you. A Timex weekender can be had for between £30 and £40 at Amazon.
Fourth, you want a general purpose note pad for taking down information in lectures, seminars and everyday life. It’s an old fashioned analogue way of doing it but you can always type up any notes later. From plenty of experience with stationery, I am a big fan of Leuchtturm1917‘s notebook, which can be had in every colour you like at around £12.99 each.
Student’s capsule wardrobe. 6. The Gym
Whether you are new to keeping fit or not, stick to one rule when it comes to exercise-oriented clothing: whatever you get, make it black. For this reason and the affordability, look at Uniqlo’s AIRISM range. If you buy correctly these items can work really well when it’s super hot, as well, and because you have stuck with the all-black rule you can have a uniform like a ninja.
For a small, complete wardrobe that is a pretty reasonable amount. The average price per item is around £46, and barring any disasters your spending on clothes would be minimal for the remainder of your course if you got all this investment done in one go.
And that’s assuming you are beginning, literally, from the ground up. Only do a capsule like this, to my instructions, if you can afford to do so. Feel free to subtract items where possible, but at all times question whether you are losing something you would really need.
Nice extra options, that have not been mentioned in the above student’s capsule wardrobe, could include:
- A very warm wool jumper or cardigan for winter.
- A zip-up item like a hoodie or fleece.
- Some lighter wash denim, but dark is much easier overall.
- A winter hat and scarf.
- A well-made warm coat like a down-filled or wool coat.
- Accessories like a baseball cap and sunglasses.
- A smart jacket or blazer (I would recommend Topman or Reiss in the UK).
Further reading on minimaldrobe…