Chicago Manual of Style—09/19/10

To pack or not to pack, that is the question

By Jessen O'Brien

When I first began packing for UChicago, everyone started giving me advice on what clothes I would need to bring. I found myself wading through an overwhelming amount of well-intentioned but often contradictory suggestions—how could I take only what’s essential yet still pack all the sweaters I own?

Now that I’ve had two years’ experience packing for (and living in) Chicago, I feel confident that I can make the following recommendation: Just relax. Developing a functional, fashionable college wardrobe can be tricky, but you can always throw something out, ship it home, or buy something new. With that in mind, here are a few tips for evaluating your wardrobe so you know what to keep, get rid of, and get.

The main word to keep in mind is versatility. Your most valuable items will be those you can wear whether it’s 30 degrees or 80. So stick to middle-of-the-road fabrics. You probably won’t need a cotton sundress for the couple weeks of warm weather at the beginning of the year, but you can pair it with tights and boots when it starts to get cooler. That way it won’t be pushed to the ends of your closet to gather dust and wrinkles until the last month of spring quarter.

Along with versatility, think of items you can layer, and get creative. A halter top might have no use in November, but you could put a tank top over a T-shirt, or slip a turtleneck under a summer romper, or pair shorts with tights (and, as it gets even colder, add a pair of thigh-high socks on top of those). Yes, eventually you will need a gigantic puffy coat if you plan on stepping outside, but that doesn’t mean you need only own the thickest sweaters around. After all, when it gets that cold you’ll have to consider both the wind outside and heaters at full blast inside. It’s better to have a lot of items you can layer rather than rely on sweaters so fuzzy they make you sweat.

Men’s wardrobes don’t change as much with the seasons as women’s—mainly because they have fewer options overall—but the same rules apply. Don’t bring a lot of shorts, but T-shirts you can layer with a sweater, blazer, or (eventually) both. Again, stick with medium-weight fabrics and layering pieces. Button-downs are great because you can wear them with a shirt underneath when it’s cold and without when it’s warm. Plus, pair them with jeans and you’re instantly well-dressed but casual.

As for how much clothing you should have, dorm room closets don’t tend to be all that big, but with the proper equipment, you can store a lot of stuff. Target sells hangers which hold multiple pairs of pants and scarves, as well as hangers with shelves attached. However, be sure to save some space for new clothing, especially if you want to avoid perpetually having a pile of clothes taking up one of your chairs.

For many people, college is a time of reinvention. People experiment with new nicknames, personalities, and styles. Although it’s great to have a vision in your head of what you want to look like, my last piece of advice is don’t forget to bring that cardigan you’ve had since sophomore year of high school that always makes you feel good. Sure, it’s older and fits in more with the past than future you, but you’re going to have days in which you’ll appreciate the comfort and ease of an older outfit. If something makes you feel good every time you wear it, keep it until it falls off and you can’t mend it anymore; you won’t regret it.