Fitting In: The Dorm Room Wardrobe Dilemma

How do you fit a roomful of clothing, shoes and accessories into a tiny 4 x 3 foot cube? No, it isn’t a riddle or a math problem, it’s the dilemma faced by every fashion-loving college-bound student. Unless you’ve been blessed with living accommodations that provide you with the luxury of a walk-in closet, you face the task of devising a plan to keep your clothes from overflowing into your tiny dorm room or apartment. You need to stock it with the essentials that keep you looking fashionable and fresh, and that are practical for your climate and busy life as a college student.

 Following a couple easy tips and evaluating your style will simplify the transition into a room that may be the size of your former closet, and help you to keep your wardrobe in top shape.

1. Recognize that you can’t take it all

I know, its tough, but unless you’ve already pared your wardrobe down to favorites and essentials, there’s no way you’re going to fit every pair of jeans, every purse, or every shoe into your new closet. Some things are going to have to stay behind. But fear not, the next couple steps will help you to make wise decisions about what to bring, and what to leave behind.

2. List your favorites

Make a short list of the items in your closet you turn to again and again, that you love to wear, and that you wear frequently. My list includes such things as a plain white peasant top from American Eagle, my black Puma yoga pants, a chunky cream colored cardigan, and my dark skinny jeans, and a pair chocolate ballet flats, to name a few.

Keep your list short, but honest; try to include the things you truly wear often, and make sure you include those things in your list that you can work together in different combinations to make a wide array of outfits. Finally, classify each favorite by the season in which you would wear it, and make sure you’ve included at least a few season-less items.

3. List your necessities

These are the things you wear more because you have to than because you want to. For me, this list would include plain black, white, tan, and brown camis, boots (I’ll be attending a campus in the Midwest and will have to keep my feet warm on my 20 minute walks to class), a winter coat, workout clothes, sweats for lazy days, and the obvious socks, underwear, and bras.

4. Evaluate your style

Look at your list of favorites and think about the things you wear every day. Women in their late teens and early twenties often do not have a single developed style and instead toy with various trends and looks, but identifying patterns in the way you dress will make it easier to chose other items to compliment those favorites and necessities you’ve listed, both from the store, and from your closet.

Try writing a short explanation of your style or making a collage of pictures from magazines and the Internet. This will not only provide some guidance as you expand your list and shop for new items, but may also spark new ideas on how to wear old items as the school year goes on.

Need some inspiration? Check out, one of my favorite fashion sites, where hundreds of women log their daily outfits and discuss their personal styles.

5. Go Shopping!

Now that you know what necessities and favorites you’ll be bringing along, and have an idea of the sort of style you are aiming for, its time to go shopping. This may seem counterintuitive as most college living arrangements provide little space for clothing, but shopping smart will actually allow you to bring less, buy less later, and look better, more often.

Look for gaps in your lists that you’ve already created, and fill them with versatile items that fit into the style you’re going for. Personally, I’m lacking in the dressy-top department, especially when it comes to fall and winter colored pieces, and could use a few new pairs of comfortable walking shoes, so I will definitely make a goal to stock up on these things, and will look for items that fit into the new earthy, richly detailed style I seem to be gravitating toward lately.

I'll also look for items that will compliment those things I’m already sure to bring and wear—things like neutral colored cardigans and shrugs, simple silver jewelry, and leather belts that will keep the same outfits looking new and fresh, even if I have to repeat them twice in one week. If you’re on a budget, or just want to save some money (we are college students after all) check out stores like TJ Maxx, Filenes’s Basement or Saks off Fifth, where great deals and unique pieces can always be found.

6. Plan for the seasons

If you’re attending a school in a climate where you’ll see all the four seasons, you’ll need to plan accordingly. However, if you will be making it home during or before Thanksgiving break, this may not be a horrible problem. Pack those things that you would wear in summer, and early fall, and a few warmer items, along with a winter coat in case temperatures drop early, but plan to switch your warmer weather clothes out with your winter ones when you return home.

If you’re far away from mom and dad’s house, consider setting aside your cool-weather clothes and arrange to have your parents ship them to you at a certain date, at which time you’ll ship back some of the lighter things you’ll no longer be needing. If neither of these things seems to be an option, Space Bags ( can be a good alternative for storing bulky things like coats and sweaters until they are needed.

7. Get the gear

Utilizing your closet space is the final importation step in planning your college-friendly wardrobe, Before you head off to school, consider picking up a second rod for your closet, which hangs from the built-in rod, and doubles your hanging space, a belt hanger, which can double as a purse hanger if you’re handbag addicted like me, quality plastic tube hangers, and a hanging shoe rack, all available at stores like Bed Bath & Beyond and Linens-N-Things. Also, make sure you check with your school as to what sort of drawer space you’ll be provided with. Plastic drawer towers can be a great addition or alternative to a traditional dresser.

With a little planning and creativity you’ll be able to create a college wardrobe that meets your lifestyle needs and keeps you looking stylish, even when space is limited.

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