Social media has become more than just a space to connect and share life’s moments — it’s now a visual chronicle that captures societal trends and aesthetics.
Instagram, with its image-centric concept, stands at the forefront of this phenomenon. As students navigate through the rigors of academic life with the weight of deadlines and living on a budget, their choices in attire often reflect not only their personal style but also their coping mechanisms. For some students, fashion becomes an armor, a confidence-boosting statement, while for others, the comfort of sweatpants provides a sanctuary amidst academic chaos.
StyleSeat analyzed photos of over 6,000 geo-tagged locations of America’s most popular colleges and universities to understand the style narratives playing out on campuses across the nation.
Which institutions are fashion-forward and trendy and which are embracing the laid-back, sweatpants? Read on to discover the most and least fashionable college campuses in America.
- The most fashionable campuses are San Diego State University, Temple University, and Louisiana State University.
- The least fashionable campuses are University of Wisconsin (Madison), Virginia Tech, and University of Minnesota (Twin Cities).
- Boasting sweats and loungewear, the University of Minnesota is the coziest campus.
- The top campus for fashionable footwear is Duke University.
San Diego State Tops NYU and Princeton in Fashion
In our exploration of collegiate fashion, we wanted to figure out which campuses boast the most fashionable students. With our methodological analysis, we not only spotted the chic, trendy ensembles that screamed effort but also counted the casual, low-effort college gear.
Our metric? A unique “fashion score” derived by dividing the number of fashionable outfits by their unfashionable counterparts.
Topping our list is San Diego State, earning a score of 7.10. Here, the balmy coastal climate seems to have inspired a mosaic of sophisticated fashion. Students might find inspiration in their surroundings, blending comfort with a touch of flair. Hot on their heels is Temple University, with a score of 7.09. The urban backdrop coupled with its vibrant arts program could be the muse for its students’ style choices.
Not far behind, Louisiana State University scores a 6.58. Known for their southern charm, campuses like LSU often turn everyday events into fashion showcases. Baton Rouge’s rich culture of Cajun, Creole, and southern cultures undeniably sprinkles some zesty fashion influence.
Meanwhile, the pulsating music and entertainment scene of Atlanta might be the catalyst for Georgia State University’s score of 6.42. Being in the hub of such a city, students could be easily swayed by the fashion choices of resident celebrities and artists.
Rounding off the top five, California State University, Fullerton secures a score of 5.29. Nestled close to the bustling city of LA, students here might draw inspiration from the latest west coast trends and vibes, proving once again that location often crafts the fashion narrative.
University of Wisconsin, Madison Is the Least Fashionable Campus in the U.S.
When stepping into the world of college fashion, it’s essential to differentiate between genuine style effort and the ubiquitous, easy-to-grab college gear. Why label college gear as low effort? It’s straightforward: snagging a school hoodie from the wardrobe is a no-brainer compared to meticulously piecing together a trendy ensemble.
Leading the league of campuses that boast low effort looks is University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a low score of 0.94. One might speculate that the chillier climate nudges students to opt for comfort over cutting-edge fashion.
Similarly, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities has a score of 1.24, and its cold weather could be a compelling reason for students bundling up in low effort, no-fuss gear.
But climate isn’t the sole influencer. At Virginia Tech, with a score of 1.17, the tilt might be towards the rigorous STEM fields, where day-to-day fashion might take a back seat. Perhaps in such environments, practicality trumps trendiness.
Duke University, renowned for its athletic scene, earns a score of 1.32. Here, the athletic culture might be the dominant fashion statement, sidelining the more conventional trends.
Lastly, the warm embrace of the University of South Florida might also be dictating its 1.33 score. In such sultry conditions, it’s not hard to imagine students favoring comfortable outfits over labor-intensive style. After all, sometimes, the weather has the final say in our wardrobe choices.
Five Ivies Rank Among the Most High Fashion Campuses
When one thinks of high fashion on college campuses, the image that might pop into the mind is that of Blair Waldorf: impeccably dressed, with not a thread out of place. That was our benchmark for this part of our analysis, seeking those who effortlessly emanated such sophistication and elegance.
Princeton leads the pack, closely followed by the fashion-forward students of New York University. Stanford University isn’t far behind, showcasing that even amongst STEM geniuses, fashion isn’t compromised.
Louisiana State University and Northwestern University complete our top five, showcasing a blend of southern charm and midwestern finesse, respectively.
An intriguing pattern emerges among the Ivy Leagues: While Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and Dartmouth rank among our high fashion campuses, Brown, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania surprisingly missed the mark.
On the flip side, there are campuses where fashion seems to be a more relaxed affair. The University of Wisconsin, Madison leads this cohort, perhaps with students swaying more towards comfort than couture.
Virginia Tech and Indiana University follow suit, suggesting that in certain academic environments, fashion might not be the top priority. University of South Florida and University of Texas at Arlington round off our list, painting a vivid contrast to our high-fashion hotspots.
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Ranks #1 Coziest Campus
Now, let’s dial down the glamor and turn our focus to comfort. What qualifies as “cozy,” you ask? Picture this: biker shorts paired with an oversized tee, or the classic sweatpants-and-hoodie combo. It’s the sort of attire you’d reach for on a laid-back day, prioritizing ease and relaxation.
Leading our list of cozy campuses is the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Given its colder climate, it’s no surprise that students opt for snug, warm loungewear. Following closely is the University of Washington, where perhaps the city’s rainy reputation nudges its scholars toward softer, more comfortable choices.
Then there’s the Georgia Institute of Technology, an unexpected entrant, hinting that tech brains might prefer a cozy environment to foster their innovative ideas.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, too, makes the cut, suggesting that even in a warmer setting, the love for loungewear remains unfettered. And the sunny lanes of San Diego State University serve as a reminder that comfort is universal, irrespective of the temperature outside.
Duke University Has the Most Fashionable Footwear
Footwear can make or break an outfit, and in our look into collegiate fashion, we put our best foot forward — literally. Our focus shifted down to the ground as we counted instances where shoes took the center stage, either being the main image in the photo or noticeably highlighted by the wearer.
From this meticulous observation emerged an eclectic range of trends. Some campuses showcased pride in their university with custom sneakers decked out in school colors. Others flaunted glammed-out western boots, embodying a rustic-chic vibe. And then there were those who strutted in preppy heels, bringing a dash of classic elegance to the academic corridors.
Leading the pack with prime footwear game is Duke University, flaunting a mix of sports-infused styles and sophisticated classics. Texas A&M University doesn’t lag far behind, with students showing off those dazzling western boots.
Yale University showcases its timeless elegance, with a tilt towards preppy and polished footwear. Georgia State University and San Jose State University round off our top five, hinting at a blend of urban chic and innovative styles.
Louisiana State Posts the Most Glamorous Photoshoots
College isn’t always confined to lecture halls and libraries. In a deviation from the norm, our investigation uncovered the more glamorous, off-the-curriculum side of student life. Specifically, we kept an eye out for students channeling their inner supermodels, striking poses in vanity-style photoshoots that would feel right at home in the glossy pages of a fashion magazine.
Leading this brigade are students from Louisiana State University. Perhaps it’s the vibrant mix of Southern charm and bayou elegance that inspires LSU students to step into the limelight. Not to be outdone, the prestigious University of Pennsylvania stood out as well, suggesting that Ivy League sophistication extends beyond academia.
Making waves on the West Coast, University of California, San Diego students showcase their penchant for glamour shoots, effortlessly blending academia with aesthetics. Further east, the historic charm of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill seems to provide a picturesque backdrop for its students’ photo moments.
Completing our top five is San Diego State University, solidifying the city’s standing as a hotspot for collegiate glam. Students at these schools are adding a touch of glamour to their college memories, one Insta-worthy photoshoot at a time.
In navigating the ever-evolving landscape of fashion, one thing remains clear — style is deeply personal and unique to each individual.
From the pristine pathways of Princeton to the laid-back lanes of Virginia Tech, college campuses are a fascinating fashion runway, reflecting a wide spectrum of style sensibilities and speaking to identity, culture, and personal expression.
For those inspired by these trends or seeking to redefine their personal aesthetic, the journey doesn’t end at campus borders. Whether you’re aiming for a bold transformation or subtle refinements, with StyleSeat, it’s never been easier to find a stylist who understands and can bring your vision to life.
Using data from IPEDS, U.S. Department of Education, we created a list of over 60 of America’s largest and most popular colleges and universities.
We then reviewed 100 of the most recent Instagram posts geotagged at each school. This totaled 6,600 photos analyzed total.
We counted instances of:
- Low-effort outfits (school logos/mascots on shirts, hoodies, hats)
- High-effort outfits (unique, high fashion, nicely put together)
- Cozy outfits (sweatpants, loungewear that did not contain school logos/mascots)
- Fashionable footwear (photos where shoes were the main imagery)
- Glamorous photoshoots (posing in a glamorous, non-academic way for a vanity-style professional-looking photoshoot)
We avoided instances of:
- Any photo not containing people (i.e. graphics promoting classes, images of buildings)
- Any photo where the person’s outfit was not clearly visible
- Any posed or “costume” outfits such as sports jerseys, lab coats, military uniforms, full graduation gowns
- Any “neutral” outfits that weren’t quite fashionable but not quite unfashionable
- Any photos where students were clearly not on campus