Setting freshman fashion faux pas straight

Of all the changes and transitions freshmen must make as they begin their college careers, perhaps fashion is not among the top-ranking. As I enter into my second year as a Resident Assistant for freshmen, I know well that for many, fashion ranks pretty darn low.

Nevertheless, there are some subtle but key ways anyone can easily upgrade a wardrobe for an urban college environment. Here, let’s explore the best ways to combine fashion and functionality in your college career, while avoiding the most common and obvious “I’m a freshman!” mistakes.

Backpacks, backpacks, backpacks – enough already. Unless you’re going camping or have a herniated disk, or some unforseen, ridiculously hot backpack suddenly hits the market, please invest in a large handbag.

There are so many choices and I love them all: from Vera Bradley-esque styles to rustic leather to the scarf you bought at a thrift shop on South Street and tied into a purse. If it doesn’t say Jansport and hang on your back, it works for me. Your bag is your daily staple – really let it express you and your personal style.

Guys, you need not be slave to the backpack, either.  A simple messenger bag says I’m a hip young man. Truly bold gentlemen, google “European man-purses.” If you can pull one of these off, you have earned my respect.

Another major don’t is blatantly high school style. Embrace that you are a young adult, city livin’.  For example, if you were a “preppy” dresser in high school, can you still wear a polo?  Of course.  Should you pop the collar, accesorize in pearls, a tennis sweater tied over your shoulders, khaki bermudas and loafers?  No, it’s just not kosher in Philadelphia. Save it for Thanksgiving break in suburbia. Take advantage of the city vibe and allow your style to branch out from whatever it was: keep your roots, but be eclectic, be spontaneous and be fun.
My final warning is to not be a slave to the trends of the moment.  If Men’s Vogue says spandex-like jeans are in, but you feel a little too in touch with your feminine side when you try on a pair, forget it.  Staying true to your personal taste and knowing what works on your body is fashion power.

There are some simple ‘don’ts,’ and here is my best advice for what you do want to aim for:  My number one rule is that trends must be mixed with classics. What would fashion be without the styles of the moment, the hot list, the ‘ins,’ the ‘five-minutes-agos,’ and the ‘outs?’  Sure, it can be tempting to layer on everything Philadelphia Style says is of-the-moment, but I promise, it never works.

The goal is to look put-together, and too many trendy items look inevitably desperate.   To win the respect of your peers, professors and colleagues, you can’t go wrong with some good basics that flatter your figure paired with a few fashion-forward pieces or accessories.

On August 27 hit Liacouras Walk and Berks Mall with confidence, like they are your own personal runways. And be sure to watch for weekly columns highlighting anything and everything to do with fashion, and even a few profiles on Temple’s best dressed – let me see you working it on campus and you could be among them.

Mary C. Schell can be reached at

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