How Not to Look Like a High Schooler – A Collegiette’s Guide to Dressing Her Age


You’ve grown out of your boy band obsession, but you can’t stand listening to the oldies. You aren’t scribbling “Mrs. Justin Bieber” across your notebooks, but you’re not swooning over Richard Gere, either. Fashion works the same way: you’re likely a few years older than the average Abercrombie customer, but you’re not quite ready to start shopping for sweater sets at Ann Taylor. What’s a well-dressed collegiette to do?

Dressed Too Young?

When you packed up your closet right before your freshman year of college, you likely left a few high school relics at home. Obviously, your prom dress and your junior varsity volleyball uniform don’t have much of a place in your college wardrobe. But what else in your wardrobe conveys the message that you’re still in high school? I spoke with Denise Teti, stylist and business consultant for Boston designer Daniela Corte, to learn more. Teti styled Miss Massachusetts and Miss Connecticut when they were college students.

Tips to Avoid Dressing Too Young:

Dress to impress: Teti explains, “Girls should keep in mind that your college professors will often be the bridge that connects you to your future career and your classmates will become your professional network. You don’t need to dress like you are going to the office, but you should display an ability to properly present yourself with appropriate maturity and confidence, and look put together.” Logo mania: Do a quick check of what you’re wearing right now. Is there an Abercrombie moose on your tank top? What about a Juicy Couture “J” hanging off the zipper on your sweater? Sporting the logos of brands that cater to a younger clientele physically identifies you as part of that age group, so be conscientious of the targeted age group of the stores you shop at. It’s tempting to load up on logos, especially well-known logos that signify high-end brands. But consider this: college is a time of self-discovery, a chance to develop your own personal style. Instead of broadcasting logos head to toe, “walking billboard”-style, why not express who you really are?

Hair matters: It goes without saying that pigtails are more appropriate for four-year-olds than college students; your hairstyle can instantly make you appear younger than you really are. Twin braids (French or otherwise), scrunchies, and a basic ponytail can also have a similar effect. If you normally wear your hair up, try leaving it down for a change. You might like it!

Wear real pants! The combination of leggings and baggy shirts is all too commonplace on college campuses. Teti points out that leggings, yoga pants, and sweatpants are entirely unacceptable in public unless you are exercising. Furthermore, HC’s “Real Live College Guy” Chase and HC’s “Gay Best Friend” Scott agree. “If your entire butt is visible, then your top is too short for leggings. The threat of camel toe is too great,” warns Scott. Although leggings worn as pants are a common trend among high school and college girls, they are not an appropriate choice for daywear. As a young woman, your style choices should begin to reflect your maturity level. For starters, ditch leggings and wear real pants!

Keep the cute factor to a minimum: Glee fans, have you noticed Rachel’s penchant for sweaters with animals on them? Everyone’s favorite fashionista, Kurt, criticized her by saying, “She manages to dress like a grandmother and a toddler at the same time. [Her outfit] is hideous.” Please, take a page out of Kurt’s book and stay away from anything with smiling animals, cartoon characters, or Hello Kitty. Sure, kittens might be cute, but they’re not doing you any favors in the style department. Dressing too “cutesy” can take years off your look, and not necessarily in a good way!

Between the leggings, ubiquitous Uggs, and logo overload – Juicy Couture, (fake!) Louis Vuitton – I’m dressed like your typical high school student. All it took to elevate my basic high school look to a stylish college-appropriate ensemble were a few simple changes: I traded my leggings for pair of real jeans, eliminated the flashy logos, and swapped my Uggs for a chic pair of flats. While the two outfits are equally comfortable, the second outfit appears much more polished than the first.

Dressed Too Old?

But just because you probably shouldn’t wear your Jonas Brothers concert tee outside your dorm room doesn’t mean you need to dress like a thirty-something anytime soon.

Tips to Avoid Dressing Too Old:

Embrace your youth: Teti points out, “Our culture is so youth-obsessed that everyone from ages sixteen to fifty is competing to wear the same clothes. One of the most amazing things about being a mature teen and a young adult is possession of a freshness and vitality that, no matter how hard someone tries, does diminish over time. I hope that college-aged women learn to embrace this and take advantage of the amazing opportunity to simply dress their actual age, express individualism and look fantastic.” Remember Samantha’s humiliating fashion faux pas in Sex and the City 2? After being warned that her shimmery mini-dress was too young for her, fifty-something Samantha shows up on the red carpet wearing the same dress as 17-year-old Miley Cyrus! We can all learn a valuable lesson from Samantha’s sartorial snafu: simply enjoy dressing youthfully while it’s still age-appropriate!

Dress code: Post-grad, you may find yourself working in an environment with a strict dress code. As a college student, you have much more freedom to have fun with your look. Take advantage of this opportunity while it’s still available to you! It’s okay if your hemlines don’t hit your knees, you don’t cover your favorite tank top with a conservative sweater, and you choose to strut your stuff in four-inch heels sans stockings. (Of course, I’m not condoning unnecessarily skimpy clothing simply because you’re a student. However, if the mere thought of khaki trousers makes you nauseous, your college years are the perfect time to get away with clothing that wouldn’t follow a dress code!)

Don’t shop in your mother’s stores: While Abercrombie is targeted at your little sister, there are a host of brands targeted at your mother: Ann Taylor, J. Jill, Talbot’s, and Chico’s, just to name a few. These brands tend to shy away from hot trends in favor of more timeless styles in looser cuts, which can appear too matronly for college students. While I wouldn’t rule out any of these brands entirely, make sure that you can put a fresh twist on the pieces you purchase from typically older brands. Update mature pieces with colorful shoes and accessories, modern trends, and more youthful cuts. Looking for a more interesting way to style a plain cardigan? Throw it over a bright sun dress. Got a pair of matronly trousers? Slip into a pair of bright shoes for an unexpected pop of color. Balance is the key!

Soccer mom alert: Pairing a sweatshirt with jeans, sneakers, and a ponytail is the quickest way to look like a soccer mom! Before you head out the door in the morning, consider your overall look. Do you really feel your best in a sweats and sneaker combo? If your outfit makes you feel like loading up a mini-van with your little brother’s team rather than like a fabulous, fashion-savvy collegiette, then change! Take ten years off your look by swapping sneakers for a pretty pair of ballet flats and trading your sweatshirt for a cozy cardigan. You’ll instantly feel more confident and polished!

Unless you’re going to a job interview, ditch my awkward first outfit! Use my second outfit as a guide to giving your conservative pieces a fresh spin. For starters, I rolled up my sleeves and unbuttoned my blazer to give it a lighter feel. Next, I traded my skirt for a pair of crisp black shorts. To finish the look, I piled on bright accessories, including a multicolored silk scarf worn as a belt, red wedges, and green chandelier earrings. This look would be perfect for a fun daytime event!

As a final word of advice, Teti suggests, “The most important thing to consider when dressing, especially at a time when you are shaping your adult life, is not dressing younger or older, but considering the occasion and how you might better position yourself. In every situation (in class, on a date, at a job interview) your clothes and style are powerful tools you can use to ‘brand’ and express yourself.” Live by her words and you’ll look spectacular at any age.

Denise Teti, stylist
Scott Rosenfeld, Her Campus Contributing Writer
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