At the risk of shaming my parents with this Dickensian tale, the spoils of my family’s annual back to school shopping were...paltry at best. Every August, my mom carted my brother, sister, and I off to Kohl’s (Kohl’s! The Target of the midwest before Target was a glimmer in our nation’s eye) and let us loose in the store to pick out one (1) shirt and one (1) pair of pants OR shorts for our “first day of school” outfit.
And who knows? Maybe that’s normal! I’m sure it’s more than some kids got, and obviously less than others. I was always too embarrassed to ask my friends about their own school shopping hauls, but it seemed to me that Katie R., Katie L., Lauren S., AND Lauren W. each had new outfits for the whole g-d first week of school, not just the first day.
The summer before I left for college, I was working at Abercrombie (are you intimidated by this HiGh FaShiOn BaCkGroUnD of mine?!) and dressing in A&F head to toe. So when I stepped onto campus my freshman year, I felt (rightly or wrongly) 100% confident in my back to school wardrobe for the first time.
Maybe that’s why I get so excited about the whole process of back to school shopping even now. Maybe you can’t control when you get your braces off, or if that nickname you’re trying to give yourself will stick. But your first week fashion impression? That can be handled.
Below the Style Girlfriend-approved picks for guys headed back to school on a budget.
This doesn’t just apply to college guys - do not sleep on American Eagle Outfitters’s denim selection. They’re nearly always on sale to one degree or another, and the styles are surprisingly resilient in the wash.
As I mentioned, I’m an A&F alum, so take this hot take with a grain of cold salt: Abercrombie is totally back, babyyyyyyyy. Sure, they still sell some stuff that’s moose-emblazoned, but for the most part what you’ll find in the Fierce-scented store is dependable basics in classic cuts. This sherpa-lined jacket is perfect for fall, and already on sale.
Old Navy hoodie, $30
It’s college. You need a hoodie. Old Navy finally makes theirs without the huge branding of my youth splashed across the chest. I like the green with the lion, but the millennial pink is very cool and hip, too.
Designer Mark McNairy’s career trajectory has been crooked at best, but I’m all in on this latest footwear venture of his. The leather sneakers rival the look of much more expensive, similar styles and ring up under a hundred bucks.
Uniqlo calls this color yellow, while I’d argue it’s more of a dark mustard? Point is, it looks ju-u-u-u-st different enough from whatever your classmates will be wearing while still feeling as comfortable as if you’d just rolled out of bed in it (which, who knows, you might have).
I’m not a monster. At least not about this. You can and should and will wear sweatpants in college. The only difference today is that in fashion they’re called “joggers” and they’re “cool” not “lazy” or indicative of the fact that you “didn’t come home last night.”
Don’t worry, you can style these without the weird fanny pack/canteen the ASOS model is wearing around his neck.
Like I said, I’m not a monster. I don’t expect a college guy (or, y’know, an adult guy) to have that strenuous of a skincare routine. This combination shampoo and body wash smells surprisingly sophisticated, and rings up under ten dollars. Shower caddy and flip flops to fend off communal bathroom grodiness not included.
Okay, okay. I know I’m trying to keep everything on this list cheap, but for those days you can’t wear jeans (or, again, sweats), you want a pair of pants that look put together and won’t fall apart in the wash. J.Crew’s classic 484 style fits the bill. They’re perfect for internships and presentation days in class.
You want to skip the school book store when it comes to fan gear. Todd Snyder’s affordable collegiate sports offspring Tailgate is the answer. The entire collection is super affordable and the tees especially fit in that snug and stylish way you want them to when you’re spending your free time hitting the free weights at the on-campus gym.