A Guide to Dressing Like A (Southern) Liberal Arts Student

I just read how to dress like a liberal arts student. I’m a liberal arts student, though, and I’ve never seen anyone wear bird feathers or five inch heels to class. This may be because I go to a Southern liberal arts school. It sounds like an oxymoron, I know. Southern and liberal? Is that a thing? It is, though. At Southern liberal arts colleges, we try to look anything but weird and kooky. We like conformity. We value embroidered logos, pastel hues, and rugby stripes. We use our conservative clothes to veil, not accentuate, our prescription pill habits and our burgeoning alcoholism. The look we aspire to won’t be found anywhere in Vogue or Harper’s BAZAAR—so here, I’ll try to provide a comprehensive guide to dressing like a Southern liberal arts student.

For men, the goal is to look like you’re a 45-year-old corporate executive on the weekend. Wear collared shirts at all times, either polo or button up (sleeves rolled up, of course, and never unbutton more than the first button). Wear khakis—rarely jeans, never cargo pants. When it comes to shorts, the smaller the inseam, the better. For casual events, crewneck sweatshirts, lacrosse pinnies, or frat tanks may be worn. Some names you should know: Vineyard Vines, Southern Tide, Patagonia. Make sure the name and/or logo of the brand is visible at all times, whether it’s a pink whale, a tiny fish, or a scenic mountain range.

Accessories are, of course, equally important. Sunglasses are the number one staple of a Southern liberal arts student’s wardrobe. Get a pair of Costa del Mars, BluBlockers, or the timelessly classic Ray-Bans. Keep track of your sunglasses with Croakies—a device that allows them to hang around your neck when not being worn—that have preferably been acquired for free at a promotional event. Always wear a belt—monogrammed, if you can swing it. Acceptable footwear includes boat shoes—it doesn’t matter if you’ve never sailed in your life—Rainbow sandals, or the hideously unattractive Wallabys. Helpful accessories: a color-coordinated koozie in which to hold your beer, a backwards baseball cap, a bowtie, and an expensive watch.

Women should aim to look like the wife of the aforementioned corporate executive. When weather permits (as it often does in the South), sundresses are the best option—in florals, stripes, polka dots, or solids, and never too short, tight, or revealing. You wouldn’t want to look like a state school girl, would you? Anything from Lilly Pulitzer is always acceptable; Gap, Banana Republic, and J. Crew can be cheaper options. In the colder months, leggings, Ugg boots, and North Face jackets are wardrobe necessities, with peacoats at the ready for more formal occasions. Jeans are okay when paired with a polo or an oxford, and remember your logo rules. A good Southern liberal arts student goes to the gym every day—for workouts, wear Nike athletic shorts (also known as norts) and a t-shirt from a social event that shows your popularity.

Accessories are easy—every girl needs a pair of big, dark sunglasses (they really help for walks of shame and stumbling your way to Sunday brunch—Ray-Bans are preferred) and a purse—a Kate Spade, a Vera Bradley, or an L.L. Bean tote are good options. For summer, a giant, floppy hat is an essential, especially for WASP-y events like Carolina Cup, a must-attend for Southern liberal arts students. Blonde hair helps. Rainbow flip-flops, boat shoes, and even TOMs (for our more environmentally friendly peers) are acceptable footwear.

The most important thing to remember, though, when dressing like a Southern liberal arts student, is that attitude is everything. Act like you’re better/cooler/smarter than everyone else. Don’t care too much about anything. Make lots of references to your beach house at Bald Head Island, your ski chalet in Aspen, and your spring break trip to Cabo. Everyone outside your friend group might think you’re a douche, but that’s kind of the point. TC mark

image – Sewanee


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  • Emke

    Moratorium on trite “How Tos” please.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

      this is cute

  • vandycandy

    do you go to Vanderbilt? haha

    • Abby

      Nope, I go to Davidson!

      • Elle

        In NC?
        I go to NC State and this describes every frat boy and sorostitute I've ever seen.

  • guest

    OMG this is so Southwestern

  • Jordan

    I'm very much against How Tos, and even more so against Response How Tos.

    BUT, being from – I prefer the phrase 'living in' – the South, you got this dead on!  I like the look though, particularly on girls.  I don't personally come from the type of family that breeds it and half of me even resents/envies the look, in males in particular.  Ok this is getting cathartic.

  • Go Cocks!

    So basically dressing like you go to a southern liberal arts students is like dressing as if you're part of the Greek system at a state school (much like the University of South Carolina)? Because that's what you're describing. :|

  • Liv

    That sounds beyond pathetic

    note to self: never go to the south

    • Pathetic Southerner

      Plese don't Liv. We don't need you here.

      • Pathetic Southerner


        Also, this is not EVERYONE in the South. Just the “liberal arts students” apparently.

  • Anonymous

    How I dress normally, and I'm a southern liberal arts school dropout. We're proud people.

  • Megan

    What's the point of even going to a Liberal Arts school if these are the people who go there?

  • inflammatorywrit

    You definitely go to Vanderbilt, and you just described every single white, upper class girl in my North Carolina high school to such a perfection that it was scary.

    But I didn't know about Lilly Pulitzer dresses until this moment, and I am beyond horrified. I Googled them to see if they are as atrocious as the bags, and I think I might be blind. Why in God's name would you want to wear a dress that looks as though the Easter Bunny threw up on it?!

    • inflammatorywrit

      I just read your profile and see that you go to Davidson. I find this shocking, probably because the only association I have with that school (besides knowing that it is kind of near Charlotte) is this Davidson student who is obsessed with Rage Against the Machine, snakes, and smoking blunts.

      • Abby

        That's funny, I wonder if I know your friend…I have a lot of friends who enjoy smoking blunts. But regardless, this piece by no means describes all Davidson students. Although, confession: I own a Vera Bradley bag. Maybe two.

      • inflammatorywrit

        I just checked his Facebook, and you aren't friends. His initials are DM, and if you do know him at all, you will know he loves snakes and reptiles of any kind. That and his initials will be your biggest clue to his identity. Whoa, I sound like such a creep right now.

        Honest question: do you actually like Vera Bradley bags, or is it just a trend you've fallen victim. I'm not judging you or trying to sound bitchy (I am wearing the ugliest, cheapest pair of oxfords as I type this-everyone succumbs to some trends, you know), I am just curious.

      • Abby

        Hahah I guess I don't…a lot of times I assume I know everyone at Davidson because it's so small. And I'm not sure whether I actually like Vera Bradley or not…to some extent, I feel like people like most things because of trends. Maybe not most, but a lot. Veras kind of look like grandma bags, though. I don't use mine very often.

    • http://twitter.com/suntwee MarieSa

      I really don't understand why rich people spend so much money on Lilly Pulitzer and Vera Bradley shit. What they need to do is use that money to get a better optometrist. Or maybe a neurologist?

      • inflammatorywrit

        Oh, just realized Lilly Pulitzer and Vera Bradley are different. Why are there two identical purveyors of overpriced, heinous clothes and bags?! 

        I hope I never become rich enough that I can afford anything from either of their collections. Seriously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CaseyJonesATX Casey Jones

    TC should liveblog this lunar eclipse:

  • http://twitter.com/crapface Hannah Foster.

    This sounds like the wardrobe of every public school tosser I've ever met – just swap those brands for the entire Jack Wills catalogue and you're ready to go!

  • UTampaStudent

    uhhhh I'm not sure where you go but in FL this is so not what is happening. Prada and heels are pretty standard. You are describing gross “I'm unsure how to dress but I think I saw this in the mall once” style. Nike shorts? Vom. Obviously there are those who have no idea what to put on themselves at every college, but everyone know they are hungover and should be avoided.

    • lillylilacs

      My first thought was that they must not be including Florida. I go to school in the Northeast but I have friends/family that went to Rollins and this does not fit at all.

      • Abby

        No, I actually never really think of Florida when I talk about the South…which is silly, I suppose, since it's the southernmost state. I was more referring to North and South Carolina, since those are the only southern states I have significant experience with.

      • JMS

        Florida is not the south. Sorry…..

      • Sarah

        Private schools in Florida def. dress like this.

      • http://exitclov.tumblr.com exitclov

        You know this is not true if you actually live here. Sorry to say we're just as bible-thumping as everyone else in the Belt.

      • Amygirl1345

        You've obviously never been to Stetson University.

    • panhandle-er

      you obviously have never been to the panhandle where FLA stands for Fucking Lower Alabama and this is how high schoolers dress.. just saying that the panhandle isn’t anything like the rest of Florida it can actually be considered the south. 

  • Coco

    I would write a response, but a flawless rebuttal already exists: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04

  • AT

    I have some questions for the author of this post-

    First question: What SEC school did you attend/are you referring to in this post?
    Second question: What sorority are you in at said SEC school?
    Third question: If you do not attend a SEC school, how else did you describe the way everyone I went to college with looks so accruately?

    Comment to everyone who commented: If you didn't go to college in the Amercian South, you will not understand this post.

    • Abby

      AT,  I'm a junior at Davidson College, in North Carolina. Davidson doesn't have Greek sororities, but I'm in an eating house, which is for all intents and purposes the same thing. Disclaimer: I'm frequently guilty of dressing like this. And I love Davidson.

      • AT

        You are spot on for the typical SEC college student. I didn't realize the Davidson student was so similar in attire to the SEC student, although I assume this description probably encompasses all major colleges and universities in the South. For the record, I went to Ole Miss and I too am guilty of SOME of these fashion trends but definitely not all. I wear Patagonia shorts (or “short shorts”) all the time but with Vans instead of boat shoes (but I do own boat shoes). I would likely be chastised for that at my school! Or at least looked at funny!

        Excellent post.

    • df

      clearly not referring to an SEC school, which might explain: “You wouldn’t want to look like a state school girl would you?” and the title of the article being “A Guide to Dressing Like A (Southern) Liberal Arts Student.” Good job. 

  • M909

    Thank you. This is more realistic than bird feathers. As much as I like Ryan's writing, I don't think he's been to a liberal arts school. Your description could be based on Northern Ivys and private schools, too.

    • JMS

      I go to school in the south (texas to be exact) and we LOVE the bird feathers! and i'm also pretty sure this stuff only applies to private schools and the wealthier frat/sorority criteria… not really liberal arts ones :/ still a good article though!

    • Coco

      Are you shitting me? I go to a Northern Ivy (a real one, I.E. not Cornell or Dartmouth, woops!) and no one dresses like this. They would be laughed out of town if they did.

  • lillylilacs

    I find it most interesting that Lilly Pulitzer is popular in other parts of the country. I always thought it was limited to New England and vacationing on the cape.

  • Emme

    This is almost a frighteningly accurate description of the student body at Vanderbilt.  A few minor things you forgot — Tory Burch flats, Jack Rogers sandals, and monogrammed Vineyard Vines sorority tote bags. Other than that, dead on.

    • Abby

      Blerg! I can't believe I forgot those, especially Jack Rogers. Literally everyone at my school has a pair. Thanks!

    • guest

      The boys are dead on. The girls are a bit different, especially for more intense southern liberal arts schools–everything emme said was right, especially Tory Burch & Jack rogers. You also missed studded pearl earrings!! Also where I go, girls would never be caught dead in north faces-vineyard vines quarter zip shep shirts are pretty much the standard, padagonia if you are looking for a warmer sweatshirt. 

  • Lauren.

    This is also a spot-on guide to dressing like you grew up in suburban DC (especially the Maryland side.)

    • http://twitter.com/multislack Sandhya

      You got it.

    • fridac2

      Haha, I'll be on the lookout when I visit my dad there this summer.

  • justeunefille

    I live less than a mile away from Davidson College but I go to a liberal arts school in Boston. Thank god. 

    • Abby

      Sad! You didn't like Davidson? I think it's the greatest town ever. I guess maybe not if you grew up here, though.

      • justeunefille

        didn't grow up here.

      • Elle

        I live about ten minutes away. It's pretty small. But I guess you do have the lake area?

  • Helen

    I have to say, Southern liberal arts colleges sound a lot like the preppy New England liberal arts college I attended. I think maybe that's what happens when you get a bunch of rich WASPs in one place, regardless of location.

    • Giao

      I completely agree. I go to a NESCAC and this list applies to me more so than the O’Connell article.

  • Guest

    This just sounds like an oversimplified cliche of TFM or TSM. While I can read this and understand how it's about schools within the SEC and other various huge universities, this has nothing to do with liberal arts schools in my opinion. I enjoyed reading this though! :)

    • BLH

      Agreed. I recently graduated from a liberal arts university in Texas and as far as I'm concerned, this article describes all sorority sisters and frat daddies of the South. Additionally, if this article has been written once, it's been written a million times.

  • Amy

    This is great. Now we need one for the west coast liberal arts students.

  • http://twitter.com/claudiazr Clau Díaz

    Really enjoyed your article! Every private university in Spain is exactly as you described, ironically enough, the preppiest universities are in northern Spain. 
    Anyway, there is one accessory missing though, the classic pearl earrings, for private school spanish girls no other type of earrings exist.

  • Myemail

    Sounds like hell on earth.

  • http://twitter.com/multislack Sandhya

    Neither this nor the other article are really getting at Midwestern liberal arts schools.
    The southern liberal arts school sounds like state school greek life.

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