College-licensed apparel has found its way onto runways and into tastemakers’ closets, just in time for back-to-school season


Over the last few years, nostalgia has fueled much of the dominant forces in fashion and retail. Along with all things wistful, college-licensed apparel — the crux of which is rooted in sentimentality — has found its way both onto runways and into contemporary tastemakers’ closets.

But the “nostalgia trend” is certainly nothing new. Fashion media has spent the last few seasons attempting to discern to what the long-lasting craze is attributable, as well as why designers are so keen on disseminating it. (Fashionista, for one, first explored nostalgia-fueled consumerism in September 2016, accrediting the onslaught of 90s-era looks to a psychological need for comfort from a romanticized past.)

As is often the case, celebrities have their way of bringing fashion trends to the masses.

Hailey Baldwin and Kendall Jenner have swapped out their concert merch for college gear, despite neither of them attending university. Drake, a known college basketball fan, recently wore a $260 “Tennessee” crewneck (which isn’t officially licensed apparel from the University of Tennessee, and sells at nearly five times a premium for a comparable Tennessee crewneck) artfully distressed to spell out “finesse.”

In April, Beyoncé launched her own collegiate partnership with Balmain — inspired by the gear of Historically Black Colleges and Universities — after a historic Coachella performance, and later donated $100,000 to four HBCUs.

Drake in his $260 distressed "Tennessee" crewneck. Photo: @champagnepapi/Instagram

Omnipresent logomania has extended to include collegiate logos on runways, too.

For Resort 2019, Raf Simons (who has spent much of his time since coming to New York as Calvin Klein‘s chief creative officer reexamining American classics and youth culture) offered University of California, Berkeley-stamped bags and Yale University T-shirts alongside classic collegiate insignias.

At Comme des Garçons Shirt, logos belonging to North Carolina’s Appalachian State University and the Cincinnati Bearcats repeatedly covered colorful button-downs.

And just this week, insider-favorite menswear brand Noah released its Fall 2018 lookbook to much fanfare on Instagram, featuring preppy, collegiate-inspired items with university-style lettering and branding.

Even before this season, Opening Ceremony’s classic Varsity Jacket reemerged for Spring 2018. (Virgil Abloh also offered up varsity jackets for Off-White.)

Meanwhile, for Fall 2017, Rihanna’s Fenty Puma label showed college-inspired varsity letters stamped on skateboards and stitched into baseball T-shirts.

The perfect confluence of the nostalgia craze and a renewed penchant for dressing up has made fashion’s obsession with the mundane — DHL T-shirts and repurposed Ikea bags — outdated, Sidney Morgan-Petro, senior retail editor for WGSN.

It’s here where a shift toward Ivy League logos and subverted school uniforms has emerged.

Fenty Puma's Fall 2017 runway show at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France during Paris Fashion Week. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

But what is it about the university experience, specifically, that makes people so wistful?

Perhaps it’s a preoccupation with youth culture, wherein we value the shiny, idyllic whimsy of our younger selves. (Look no further than the countless movies and television shows about the college experience for evidence.)

Or perhaps it’s a certain desperation to relive a four-year period where life was yet unencumbered by the responsibilities that come beyond graduation. (See also: fashion escapism.)

Given its appeal to professional trend-spotters, like Morgan-Petro, and non-fashion followers alike, college-inspired wears and licensed apparel also make good business sense.