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Back-to-school outfits evoke visions of preppy separates in sweet and wholesome colors, like a fitted blazer, a shirt-and-vest combo or a pleated mini. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the classic uniform of teen rebels: black-dominated get-ups radiating grunge and outsider cool. When assembling that perfect cute outfit for the start of the semester, how do you strike a balance between staying true to yourself and winning the popularity stakes?
If you’re debating what to wear on campus, look to movies for wardrobe ideas. Think about a genre that appeals to you most and the hero you’ve always secretly wanted to be. Is it the tragic star of a tearjerker film with the fabulous shoe collection, or the kickass heroine who outmaneuvers multiple villains while wearing kitten heels? If you’ve got an answer in your head, it’s high time to explore more with the inspo below! The five looks I assembled will bring a lil’ sparkle to your academic life and your wardrobe.
Sweet and sassy rather than all-out sexy, romcom heroines are known for their likability. Sure, they may sometimes appear dark, spiky and troubled, but scratch the surface and you’ll find a girl next door. Romcom heroines usually gravitate toward a sleek, cosmopolitan aesthetic that radiates femininity – think pussy-bow blouses, puff sleeve tops and ballet flats. Edgy elements, however, do crop up, signaling inner feistiness. Amidst the rhinestones, spangles and pink plaid, there are often bursts of eye-popping colors, edgy accessories and even the odd feather boa or two. For that happy ending, assemble the ultimate cute girl outfit by going unabashedly femme with a rose-colored spaghetti strap dress. Add a little funkiness in the form of resin earrings, a chunky choker and a hipster tote bag.
If you want to trade your preppy basics and queen bee pastels for something more hard-edged, look towards the kickass heroines of action-adventure blockbusters. From Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft to Mad Max: Fury Road’s Furiosa, you’re spoilt for choice in terms of inspo. To lead an adventurous life, assembling a minimalist outfit with utilitarian edge is key. You don’t want your skirt to be caught in a revolving door while you’re on a mission, or your balloon sleeves to accidentally knock over some precious relic while you’re tracking down your nemesis! Of course, who doesn’t want to look sexy amidst such pursuits? To cut a dashing figure, opt for a quirky spin on a tried-and-true basic, like a skintight tank top with midriff cut outs. Pair it with a riveted belt, combat pants and lace-up boots for maximum impact, or swap the boots for chunky sneakers if you’re aiming for a more low-key finish.
From the vintage-inspired excess of Heathers to the Y2K sass of Mean Girls to the relaxed cool of Booksmart, high school comedies are often full of fashion inspo. The key to copping seminal looks from this genre is to do so with a pinch of self-awareness, so that you’re paying homage while giving the look a modern update. Consider punking up preppy staples with chunky jewelry and studded Oxfords for a touch of grunge, or taking inspo from menswear for a melding of collegiate vibes and street-style energy. This slouchy green polo shirt, for instance, is best paired with yellow corduroy trousers, chunky sneakers and a white backpack for a mood-boosting effect. For a feminine touch, tie your hair up in a pink scrunchie − a girl power must-have – or swap the trousers for a pleated mini in a candy color.
A high-stakes neo-noir narrative deserves a high-glam wardrobe – just look at Catherine Tramell from the 90s classic Basic Instinct. In a world where danger could be lurking around the corner, stay one step ahead of the game by dressing to kill. For a PG-friendly take on Catherine’s ice queen costumes, let’s mix in cool girl inspo from Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne. The result: an update on Catherine’s all-white ensemble that embraces looser shapes, androgynous style and a more varied palette. Instead of a high-neck, thigh-skimming white dress that’s, let’s face it, probably inappropriate for the lecture hall, I chose a boyfriend shirt, a tank top and flowy pants. Complete the look with a buckled faux leather bracelet signaling that you’re no damsel in distress.
In a genre that spans everything from Stardust to Spirited Away to martial arts epics, there’s a feast of inspo ranging from cottagecore to period drama luxe. If you want to go light and floaty, opt for a maxi floral dress with fairytale vibes, and seal the deal with dainty jewelry and a strategically placed faux pearl hair clip. For fans of dark fantasy, the corset top is a surefire route to an armored yet figure-flattering look. Otherwise, go for a ruffled blouse with a square neck that oozes medieval princess vibes. Just a reminder: if you don’t want your back-to-school look to tip over into parody, tone down the witchy vibes by incorporating more laid-back clothing or accessories like a breezy jacket, casual skirt and chunky shoes. Here’s a look that blends light and dark − a ruffled, off-shoulder corset top in white is balanced by a black denim skirt, while onyx-inspired earrings and faux patent leather Oxfords complete the deal.