Men’s Back-To-School Guide

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by Daniel Jameson, Men’s Style Consultant

Hello once again, men. Welcome back to campus for another year. As you gather the loads of books required for class and finish moving in that awesome beer pong table you jacked from a random street downtown, remember that looking your best is an essential for a successful year. After all, you don’t need to look much further than the title of one of Paul Fussell’s chapters in his controversial book “Class: A Guide to the American Status System”, entitled “Appearance Counts.” So get a leg-up on your male peers by adding the following to your back-to-school shopping list:


Perhaps the most item on this list is the bag: the essential carryall for anything from books to laptops to the beverages you’re bringing to a party Friday night. Regardless of what goes inside, the outside should be clean, sharp, sophisticated and built for all of the elements we love and hate in Madison. There’s an old myth that bags like these don’t exist: you can either find something functional and ugly, or stunning but useless. Designers this season have worked hard to destroy that myth, and have succeeded in creating a number of phenomenal options fit for a broad spectrum of tastes and budgets. These options give the guys looking for one, all-purpose bag a number of choices among styles. However, for those looking to really step up their street style (which I hope you will), these options can translate into a couple selections in your arsenal. If you’re new to this, I’d suggest buying at least two bags–one for the warm and dry weather, and one for the cool and rainy.

If you prefer to stick with the traditional backpack, check out J.Crew’s Abingdon backpack ($138,, a large, all-purpose canvas hiking pack-turned-backpack fit for the modern man. It, like others from various collections, is comprised of a waxed canvas that’s really durable and made to be thrown around. The one down side to this bag, however, is also this fantastic material, as the canvas used in fashion bags isn’t as waterproof as what you’d find on a canoe or a tent. While it can get wet, getting caught in a torrential downpour would most likely lead to the demise of any hydrophobic things you may be carrying inside. For this reason I’d recommend picking this up for drier days.

JanSport Right Pack ($55,

If you want something built for all weather, look no further than your basic JanSport Right Pack ($55,, the one anyone will recognize from the days of running to catch the bus for elementary school. This backpack has been refreshed in a wonderful contemporary minimalism while remaining true to the brand’s image, made of the nylon we all know, love, and depend upon to protect our belongings from nature’s ravages.

For those interested in other styles, quite possibly the next-most popular style of bag for the modern college guy is the messenger bag. Again, J.Crew knocked it out of the park with their Abingdon messenger bag ($98, This style is similar to the backpack of the same name described earlier, constructed in the same, heavy-duty canvas. While I recommend this bag for drier days, if your heart is set on a messenger bag you can pit against Madison’s harsh winters, look no further than Banana Republic’s nylon messenger bag ($98, This bag is a minimalistic carryall fit to brave even the worst of storms while keeping you looking dapper as hell.


By “materials,” I mean all the things we need for a typical class: notebooks, pens, a case to throw our pens, etc. After all, looking good for school exists beyond one’s wardrobe and accessories, and with the right materials for class you will look sophisticated, smart, and stylish with every action you make.

In the realm of writing accoutrements, you can’t go wrong with the Muji Refill Gel-Ink Pen ($1, These Japanese writing utensils exhibit the laid-back swag you’ve always wanted in a pen, and are offered at a price that can’t be beat. Other great pen options include a number of unique options offered by the University Bookstore, found in the back of the second floor of the store in Library Mall. While many of these will be at sporadic price points across the board, they get the job done in enhancing your note-taking style.

Muji Refill Gel-Ink Pen ($1,

Now guys, we need to talk a moment about storage for all of these awesome pens: you must get them out of your pockets and into a case. Pockets overloaded with pens, pencils and the like look tacky, so invest in a pencil case or a pencil box (think 19th century poets and early 20th century artists) to keep them in when not in use. Tracking down sophisticated, masculine options might be difficult, and while I can recommend one great option (RayMay Leatherette pencil case, $16.50,, I’d highly suggest perusing Amazon, eBay, and cool vintage/antique/knick-knack stores for something’s that right for you.

Along the lines of “what to take notes with” comes “what to take notes on,” an issue solved most superbly by the folks over at Field Notes. These rugged books come in packs of 3 for $10, with a couple different styles available on If you don’t have time to wait for something to ship, try Moleskines, which are available at the University Bookstore. These classic notebooks hearken back to the days of Ralph Waldo Emerson with their beautiful, clean covers and slim, sharp design. Though at a higher price point than Field Notes, there are a greater number of options available, allowing for one to find exactly the type he needs.


We all use our phones and other electronic devices to keep track of time these days, but to ensure you aren’t late for class – and to bring your style to the next level – add a snazzy analog watch to your ensemble. Watches are excellent accessories for the college student on the go because they add the kind of sophisticated polish that will go with every outfit, taste, and event. Finding the right watch can be tricky, though, because the plethora of styles out there are offered within a massive spectrum of prices, from under $50 to over $50,000. Depending on your budget, I suggest Target for a great piece that won’t break the bank, and Timex or Fossil for anything in the $100-$200 range (check out for an idea regarding prices for Timex watches). What’s really cool about a lot of companies, Timex and Fossil especially, is that they offer a ton of different watch straps that give flexibility towards mixing and matching options to create a look perfect for the occasion. Beyond these, if you’re looking to shell out a decent amount for an impressive investment piece, check out top designer brands such as D&G, Giorgio Armani, and Swarovski.

One final tip – watches are to be worn traditionally on one’s non-dominant hand, i.e. on the left wrist if one is right-handed. This may be an unbelievably obvious statement, but with the amount of times I see this completely ignored on a daily basis I feel it’s worth mentioning!


To stay healthy and hydrated, many of us bring liquid refreshments to class, usually water, tea, or coffee. This is another aspect of your style where a simple change in your storage container for these beverages can manifest your personal taste even more.

With regards to water bottles, today’s most stylish options are actually the healthiest. The kinds you’ll want to look for are made of either stainless steel or hard plastic, with some of the best options including SIGG and Camelbak, respectively. However, with so many to choose from, all available at reasonable prices, the best advice I can give is to find something that fits your personality with a clean and streamlined appearance.

The same advice goes for containers designed for other drinks, whether hot, cold, or somewhere in between. When carrying coffee/tea/etc., you’ll want to find something made of stainless steel that is basic, yet rugged enough to bring camping. Some of the best options include the original Thermos, redesigned for the styles of the 21st century, and tumblers, available at almost every coffee and specialty shop.


I’d like to end with this accessory by stating that no, I’m not suggesting everyone venture out and buy face-obliteratingly-huge hipster frames or “I’m a nerd!” trend glasses when really you have no idea what Star Wars is and can’t name the chick who killed the Nazgûl King (protip: her name is Eowyn, and she’s badass). I’m talking about the sophisticated, Woody-Allen-esque chunkier frames that are the true style piece of the modern day. These are the kind that you can find in any color or variety to truly match your personality. With thousands of types available, and the perfect option different for each person, my best suggestions lie in what to look for when grabbing your pair. Make sure the frames are the same width as your face, with the tops hitting at your eyebrows and the composite piece to be, in general, sleek and adding a modernized polish to your overall look.

Best of luck to all as this semester takes off, and I’ll see you again soon with the Fall Style Guide.

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