Back to School, Graduate Style

By Ashley Hargrove – August 1, 2013
Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

It's that time again; summer break is almost over and undergraduate days are drawing to a close for many students who will be beginning the transition into the professional world through advanced work in the fields of law, medicine, and a variety of other post-graduate studies. Many of these students may not be aware of how much a sophisticated, more professional wardrobe could benefit their new careers.

For some people, a new semester brings forth a desire for a fresh wardrobe, but for others, new classes still mean comfy PJs and a hoodie. However, networking and making connections are extremely important in this new stage of life, so it's time to starting thinking of dressing like an adult and not looking like you just rolled out of bed. The key is to make slight upgrades that result in a more mature look while making a positive impression on professors and other students.

Budget is a major concern I encounter when shopping for clients who are heading into grad school. Since most are taking some time off work to attend classes, saving is a priority and a dressier wardrobe is not necessarily at the top of the list for extra income.

I have compiled some helpful suggestions for comfortable yet professional looks that will see a student through professional schooling and on to a career without breaking the bank. The idea behind the list is to create a base that can be worn over and over again and doesn’t involve constant dry cleaning or ironing.

Purchase several pairs of dark jeans or nice looking khaki chinos. No light colors, no holes, nothing distressed. Mix in some dresses or skirts, and stick in some neutrals with a pop of color every once in a while. While you don't want to be drab, pick styles that are comfortable and easy to layer up.

Long sleeved and short-sleeved t-shirts are key. Stay away from anything with logos and graphics, and make sure you find shirts that aren't too baggy; fitted is ideal but avoid anything that is too tight.

Blouses or dress shirts in solid or bright colors are always very classic looking for the ladies. Add to these a blazer, sweater, or cardigan for chilly classes. This will cover most of the shirt, which brings me to my next item.

Stick with the basics in a blazer (black, beige, or navy) so you have quite a few choices, depending on the other colors worn. If you are willing to spend a little more for some other options, go for a tweed or herringbone blazer/jacket. Blazers will professionalize your jeans, khakis, shirts, and dresses. You can throw a blazer or jacket over almost everything, including t-shirts.

Invest in a couple of pairs of nice flats, a pair of wedges or heels, sneakers, or a pair of leather boots for all of the walking you will be doing. Good shoes that will last make it very easy to transform your basic looks into something a little more adult.
Now, for the places to shop!

Target – This is my absolute favorite place to shop for quality wardrobe items at an inexpensive price. You can get suits, dresses, cute tops, jeans, sweaters, cardigans, scarves, handbags, AND shoes! They even have a large selection of blazers, slacks, dress shirts, ties, and belts for men. Target is a one-stop shop for someone who does not want to spend a lot yet still desires quality clothing.

Express – This is probably my second choice when shopping for professional clients who need new business attire or mature college attire. Yes, Express is a little more expensive, but this is where you NEED to purchase suits for men and women, better quality dress shirts, blazers, and sport coats. I recommend ladies purchase tops elsewhere (Target, boutiques, Forever 21); there is no need for expensive tops when you will simply cover them with a blazer or cardigan. Put the money into your outerwear for better return.

If you are still having trouble with what to wear and how to pair the clothes you have together to create professional outfits, check out Pinterest. Pinterest is not only for women’s clothing; they have an entire section dedicated to men's fashion. It’s a great resource for ideas for those who need more visual help. In particular, visit my boards at to see more examples of my styling.


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