Fresher’s fashion: what to wear and where?


Not sure what clothes to bring and which to leave at home? Juliette Barlow has you covered

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By Juliette Barlow

One of the most exciting things about starting university is the prospect of having a fresh start, and the possibility for self-reinvention. For many, this inevitably involves the back-to-uni shopping phase, where you buy every trendy item in an attempt to present yourself as a newer, more interesting person.

I have definitely been susceptible to this, tempted by sale signs and the possibility of who I could be. I can’t deny the excitement of buying a few nice new bits and bobs (despite many a Pinterest board on minimalism and decluttering, I just love ‘stuff’) but I would warn against a frenzied shopping spree.

In fact, the whole idea of a ‘new freshers wardrobe’ is a clever marketing tactic, which encourages an unhealthy level of consumerism, feeding into a cycle of Fast fashion, micro-trends, and unsustainable consumption. You definitely don’t need to buy a whole new wardrobe - as long as you are wearing what you feel happy and confident in, you shouldn't worry about what everyone else is wearing or if it fits into the ever-hastening trend cycle.

My biggest tip would be not to overpack (I still feel sorry for the poor STYCs who had to lug my endless boxes of stuff into my first year flat) and to do some decluttering before you start throwing things into a suitcase. As someone who gets very attached to material possessions, this is definitely hard; but try to think about what you actually do wear on a regular basis, what you feel comfortable in, and more importantly, what you feel like yourself in. If it ticks these boxes - by all means, add it into the case. The bulk of your wardrobe should revolve around everyday events such as going to lectures and seminars, being a tourist around York or grabbing a coffee.

Obviously, high-waisted jeans are a must (I personally do not and will never support the low-waisted jeans movement) and they can be worn casually with any t-shirts you like, or long-sleeved tops to layer in the winter. As a good alternative to jeans, I also absolutely love any corduroy or cargo trousers - as they feel as comfy as trackies but a bit more dressed up. Skirts are also a great option - long ones look super cute for the summer months, whilst a mini skirt and tights is always a reliable combination for the autumn or winter.

Most of what you are packing should be versatile enough to be worn in both a seminar and a night out depending on what you wear it with. Most clubs in York aren’t super dressy, so you can easily wear the same trousers from your seminar into Kuda, just by switching out into a different top and adding some jewellery. For the girlies (or anyone who wants to!) you should definitely pack lots of ‘nice tops’ (usually strappy tops) that can go with a lot of bottoms for clubs or dates - you will get a lot of use out of them and they don’t take up much packing space. For the guys, a t-shirt with a nice open button-down shirt is a club fail-safe for a reason, whilst the shirt can then be buttoned up to go out for a nice meal or a date. You might also want to bring a lightweight coat or hoodie to wear out, which can then be tied around your waist at the club. Freezing in a teeny tiny top and no coat because you don’t want to pay the two quid for coat-check is never a good idea.

The winter months in Yorkshire can be brutal, so you’ll definitely need a big coat to wear on a daily basis. A puffer is always a good option (ideally with a hood), but long wool or trench coats are always classy. If you are going for one of these, make sure you also have a waterproof coat or an umbrella for when it inevitably starts to rain. Lots of knitwear is also essential for the colder season. I love chunky, colourful jumpers, which make any outfit look more exciting, whilst a hat, some gloves and a scarf will come in handy for stopping you from freezing on your walk around campus when it gets particularly cold.

In terms of shoes, trainers are obviously a must for both the day and night-time (don’t make the same mistake I did and go to V-Bar in sliders, resulting in a twisted ankle and a freshers' A&E trip.) It might be worth having a cheaper pair of designated pub and club trainers, meaning they can get a bit battered and sticky from spilt VKs. For the winter months, a good pair of boots are also a necessity. Personally, I live in my Docs, but anything that has a sturdy enough sole for the rain and ice should be perfect. Sliders or flip-flops are also a must, particularly when dealing with communal showers and a dirty kitchen floor.

For me, the most important items to bring are trackies and sweatshirts, or something equally as cosy and warm. As cliché as it sounds, comfort is key, and these will be essentials for going to a 9am lecture when the inevitable freshers’ flu or hangover hits, or just for relaxing in your flat. It might also be worth bringing some nice pyjamas (you don’t want to be caught out in a fire alarm in a baggy t-shirt and pants) as well as some sports kit, in case you want to join your college or uni sports team. Fancy dress is also a necessary part of the uni wardrobe - if you have any hula garlands or cowboy hats knocking about, they will definitely come in handy on Wednesday nights (sports night) or any other costume parties that societies regularly put on.

Most colleges and some societies also usually organise a winter and summer ball, so it’s worth packing one or two slightly smarter dresses, suits or jumpsuits to avoid having to spend unnecessary money to attend. The style of these should be completely your personal preference, although a long slip dress or a little black dress are always classy options. Heels are optional but not necessary; a nice pair of sandals or slightly smarter shoes should be absolutely fine. For the guys, a nice suit and tie, paired with some black or brown lace-up shoes, will be all you need. It’s unnecessary to pack multiple elegant dresses or suits, unless you are planning on attending every single formal on the calendar.

Regarding saving money, the biggest tip I would have is to make sure you bring a few staple pieces that you wear over and over, and not buy things just because they are cute or ‘trendy.’ Following these cyclical trends is not just draining to your wallet and damaging to the environment but will also mean that you are constantly caught up in a cycle of consumerism and buying things that you don’t actually need or wear.

Instead, it is better to invest in things that you really like and will wear again and again. It might be worth going through what you already have in your wardrobe and looking at how you can style these items in different ways, or what else you can pair them with, instead of feeling the need to simply buy more clothes. When you’re tempted to buy something just because it’s pretty or on sale, ask yourself if you see yourself wearing it more than 30 times. If the answer’s no - it’s probably a waste of space and money. Think of the clothes you buy today as building blocks for what you will still be wearing in five years' time.

For when you do want to get some new clothes, remember that fast-fashion shops themselves are not inherently the enemy; it’s completely fine to buy a few bits from H&M or Primark as long as you will actually get decent wear out of them. Similarly, buying a massive haul of stuff from ‘slow-fashion’ brands isn’t fundamentally sustainable - the key to sustainability and saving money is simply to buy less.

However, charity shops, as well as apps such as Depop and Vinted are not only budget-friendly but are also a great option for opting out of the unsustainable cycle of consumption, as they give old clothes the opportunity to have a new life, as well as encouraging people to invest more in timeless pieces. There are also lots of vintage shops in and around York, as well as regular pop-up vintage clothing sales on campus and at SPARK York - just keep your eyes peeled on Facebook for upcoming events.

Clothes-swapping is also a free or cheap way to get rid of old clothes you don’t need, as well as pick up a few items of clothing that are new to you. You can arrange a clothes swap with your home-friends before you all leave for uni, with your new flat-mates, or check out the University of York’s Swap Don’t Shop Society (@uoyswapdontshop on Instagram) to see their upcoming clothes-swapping events.

Overall, for the sake of your wallet and the environment, don’t go crazy buying new clothes or packing everything that’s in your entire wardrobe. Instead, focus on bringing clothes that you’ll actually wear, as well as thinking about what you’ll be most comfortable in. You’ll thank me when you’re settling into your new flat, wearing your comfiest trackies.