Shoes for College: The 5 Pairs Every College Woman Needs

Shoes for College: The 5 Pairs Every College Woman Needs

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Today I’m compiling the ultimate guide to shoes for college –– and you’ll be surprised at how few shoes you actually need.

I have to say, I love shoes. Even coming up with JUST five pairs for this list seemed insane! But after thinking hard about what I – and you – truly need, I finally narrowed it down. 

Think of this as a capsule shoe wardrobe for college. These five styles should cover just about every college situation, from class to parties to job interviews.

College packing list

It’s tempting to blow money on all sorts of shoes, but if you have these few pairs, you shouldn’t need more. So without further ado, here are the five pairs of shoes every college girl needs in her closet:

Class/Everyday Shoes

Choosing casual shoes to wear to class every day is hard, so here are three requirements to keep in mind when shopping for your everyday shoes for college:

  1. Comfort: When you’re walking to and from class, your main concern should be your ability to do so in comfort and without incurring an injury (or blisters!).
  2. Versatility: Choose a shoe that goes with most of your clothes. Black, white, and neutral hues will give you the most versatility and have more staying power than trendy colors or prints.
  3. Weather: Your shoes should be adaptable to the primary weather concern of where you go to school. Obviously, if your area has polar opposite weather, this may mean adapting this rule to fit.

Casual sneakers are my #1 shoe pick –– they are the comfiest option, work in all weather and seasons, and go with just about any outfit! You simply can’t go wrong with a pair of sneakers to walk across campus in and they are the ultimate go-to shoe when you don’t know what other shoes to wear.

Some great casual sneaker styles include classic Nike Air Force 1 sneakers, Converse Chuck Taylor high-tops and low-tops (the pair above features a chunky platform sole for a cool touch), New Balance lifestyle sneakers, Superga Cotu sneakers, and Veja sneakers, which are sustainable.

(For tips on how to keep your sneakers looking fresh all year, see: The Ultimate Guide on How to Clean Your White Shoes.)

Flat sandals, slides, and mules are ideal when you’re running late for class. If you’ve snoozed your alarm one too many times and don’t even have time to tie up your laces, slip-on shoes will be your saving grace. A pair of TOMS neutral-colored flat mules are ultra-versatile and have a polished look, while Birkenstock Arizona footbed sandals are classic, comfortable, and durable.

This year, Birkenstock’s Boston clogs are a major fashion trend (no doubt you’ve been seeing them all over Instagram and on the feet of Emma Chamberlain and Kendall Jenner) and are perfect for everyday wear. They go with everything from jeans to sweatpants, and are so easy and quick to slide on. Plus, you can wear them almost all year round by wearing them with socks when it gets colder out, making them a solid investment.

Loafers are another big trend right now, especially chunky pairs with treaded or lug soles (which BTW, happen to make them sturdier and better-suited for walks across campus). They look ultra stylish with all types of outfits and can be worn on their own, with socks, or with tights. I’d recommend opting for a classic black pair with sleek metal detailing for a trendy-yet-classic vibe.

Finally, combat boots are another great everyday shoe option since they work in both sunny and rainy weather and are super durable. They have a bit of an edgy feel that will spice up your outfits but are still a classic choice that never goes out of style.

Day Out Shoes

Whether you’re going to brunch or happy hour, shopping for your next formal, or just hanging out with friends, you’ll need a nice pair of shoes that you can wear for daytime events outside of class.

Think lightweight materials, neutral colors, and heels that you can actually walk in comfortably. While I am all for fun trends and bright colors (Barbiecore pink and Bottega green are at the top of the list right now), neutral hues are going to serve you best, especially if you’re editing down the number of shoes you’re bringing to college.

This is why I’d suggest opting for black, white, beige, gray, and brown footwear since these colors will match the majority of your clothing. However, you can still go for trend-forward accents like woven details, metal studs, and strappy silhouettes to give your shoes personality and style appeal.

And while I always prioritize comfort, there is nothing wrong with some height –– just not too much heel height, considering daytime events tend to be more casual (and also involve more walking) in college. Heels around two to three inches are perfect for daytime wear, giving you just the right height boost without being difficult to walk in.

I prefer block heels and wedges in particular, because who really enjoys trying to keep their balance in stilettos? These heels are more comfortable, and work with everything from skirts to dresses to jeans. Flatforms are another comfy option, like these espadrilles with a low, braided flat platform heel and simple straps.

When the fall and winter seasons come around, ankle booties with a low to medium block or wedge heel are your best bet.

The suede pair above (that comes in several different neutral colors) has a chunky lug wedge sole just under three inches that can be dressed up or down. Wear them with jeans and a sweater for a casual look, or dress them up with a skirt and tights. The best part about these booties? They are waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about ruining them in the rain when you’re walking to brunch!

Professional/Work Shoes

There’s a good chance that the career path you choose will require you to interview at some point, whether for an internship or a potential new job. And while the pandemic brought about remote work and interviews conducted over Skype and Zoom (when you could get away with a professional-looking shirt on the top and sweatpants and fuzzy socks on the bottom), in-person meetings and work are starting to resume again, which means you’ll need a pair of professional shoes.

Of course, you’ll need to determine what is appropriate given the job or internship you are applying for and what the workplace culture is like. But even if it is a casual workplace environment, you’ll want to make a good first impression with a polished appearance, including some classy shoes.

For a dressier look that could likely be found in a conservative industry with a strict dress code, some closed-toe pumps are a traditional choice. Be sure to opt for a pair you can confidently walk in, as you wouldn’t want to trip or wobble as you make your way to the office! Because of this, I would suggest keeping the heel height around two to three inches, but you can determine what works best for you.

If heels aren’t your thing, go for flats or loafers, which as I mentioned before, happen to be a major fashion trend this season. Consider loafers with a sole that is not too chunky or exaggerated though, just to play it safe. You really can’t go wrong with a classic-looking loafer, which fits in just about any workplace, versus a trendier pair with a bold silhouette.

Flats are another sensible option. They look sleek and are generally a lot more comfortable than heels. Try a pair with a pointed toe, which adds a polished, professional vibe. If you’re willing to invest in a timeless pair that you’ll get years of wear out of, try flats like Rothy’s, which are ultra-lightweight and 100% machine-washable (so that you can keep them looking fresh for longer!).

{Related post: The 10 Best Designer Shoes Worth the Investment}

Whatever you choose to wear, it’s important to keep in mind that in a professional setting less is more, unless, of course, you work somewhere with a fashion focus.

Fancy Occasion Shoes

Okay, I’d like to think you’re gonna have an endless array of occasions to wear fancy heels, but in reality, you’ll maybe wear them a handful of times in a semester. But either way, you do need some, especially if you join a sorority –– did someone say formal season?

Anything goes in this category: whatever is your style and makes you feel fierce when you go out at night! You can opt for low heels or high heels, or no heels. As I previously mentioned, block heels and wedges, along with flared heels and platforms tend to be my favorite kinds of heels since they are easier to walk (and dance) in compared to stilettos.

This is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the platform heels trend this season, which look amazing in bright colors and bold textures, like velvet, patent leather, or faux snakeskin. For example, these pink velvet platform heels would make such a stylish statement, and add a fun pop of color to your outfit. Of course, if you can only get one pair, I’d go with either black or beige, being the most versatile hues.

I’m also a fan of ankle-strap heels and lace-up heels since these styles help to hold your feet in, whereas with mules your feet can accidentally slide out. (I would know because this has happened to me on the dance floor, and it’s not ideal.)

If it gets cold where you go to college, you’ll likely want some heeled boots instead of heeled sandals for the wintertime. Faux leather ankle booties with a block heel and a pointy toe feel dressy, as do over-the-knee boots. Closed-toe pumps are also an option.

Party Shoes

College Party Shoes - Black ankle boots, Chelsea boots, ankle booties, lug sole boots, sneaker boots

Products: Black Zipper Ankle Boots – Princess Polly, Shiny Black Rain Booties – DSW, Chuck Taylor All-Star Lugged Shoes – Converse, Black Chelsea Boots – H&M, Black Low-Top Sneakers – Vans, Brown Lug Sole Boots – Princess Polly

This is perhaps the most important category that no one really talks about. Your party shoes have to withstand any and all types of disasters. They are NOT the same as your fancy occasion shoes. These shoes are meant for house parties, tailgates, yard parties, and social events along those lines that are often outside or in a not-so-clean basement (read: sticky floors).

Whether you’re being stepped on or having things spilled on you, parties necessitate the shoe version of the indestructible iPhone case. And since you can expect your shoes to incur some minor disasters in these situations, my advice is not to spend a lot of money on these. You can find plenty of affordable party shoes that you won’t feel too guilty about potentially ruining –– which is why all of the shoes in this section are $80 or less!

Here are my other tips for choosing your party shoes for college:

  1. Opt for black or brown shoes, since they won’t show as much wear and tear (i.e. look as dirty as they actually are) and they go with pretty much everything in your closet.
  2. Choose a material that is durable and most importantly, liquid-proof. Faux leather and rubber are some of the best options since they don’t ruin as easily as real leather or suede, and they can withstand spills along with muddy or grassy conditions. I’d also stay away from light-colored canvas which has a tendency to get dirty quickly –– so leave the white sneakers at home.
  3. Go for closed-toe shoes like boots or ankle booties to save your toes from being stepped on. Trust me –– it can be really painful! (Not to mention, gross).

All of that being said, this is why my go-to party shoes are a pair of basic faux leather ankle booties with a short block heel. They’re cheap, they go with almost all of my outfits, and they don’t show wear and tear, despite having been spilled on and stepped on. And when they do get a little dirty, I can use a soft cloth or wet wipe to easily clean them up.

Bonus: Inclement Weather Shoes

College Inclement Weather shoes: rain boots, winter boots, Ugg boots, duck boots, shearling combat boots, shearling sandals

Products: Ivory Shearling Duck Boots – Journey’s, Two-Tone Rubber Rain Boots – Target, Green Hunter Rain Boots – Nordstrom, Shearling Birkenstock Sandals – Madewell, Mini Uggs – Nordstrom, Brown Winter Boots – Sorel, Shearling-Lined Combat Boots – Zappos

Can we all agree that walking to class in the rain or snow kind of sucks? It can get treacherous out there, which is why I always suggest investing in some shoes for inclement weather, to make those winter cross-campus walks more bearable.

Of course, this is going to depend on the location of your school –– if your college is somewhere that is sunny and warm most of the year, it’s doubtful that you’d need snow boots. In your case (lucky you!), you could consider some cute, comfy shearling-lined sandals for your “winter” shoes or a pair of fuzzy slippers for your dorm room.

If you’re in an area that gets a good bit of rain, I highly suggest getting some sturdy yet stylish rain boots to take on puddles and mud around campus with ease. There are plenty of cute rubber ankle boot options that will compliment your outfits, like classic Hunter boots or chic two-tone block heel booties.

For snowy weather, keep your feet toasty and dry in some waterproof boots with warm interior lining. If you don’t require snow boots, you can still keep your feet warm with some shearling-lined boots like Dr. Martens lace-up combat boots with a faux fur interior or trendy Ugg Ultra Mini boots.

Of course, many shoes can overlap in these categories, like fancy shoes and professional shoes. By all means, if downsizing is going to reduce clothing landfills, increase your bank account balance, and save space in your closet, I’m all for it.

Whether you own them all or overlap a couple of categories, with these five college girl shoe essentials, you should be covered for most occasions in college. Any other shoes are just a bonus!

What other shoes for college girls do you recommend?

What are your favorite pair of shoes for college? How many pairs of shoes do you own? Do you overlap in any of these shoe categories? Let us know!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2016; it was completely updated and revamped in 2022 with the latest styles and information.