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Whether it’s crafting the perfect outfit for your first day of a new term or scrolling TikTok for the latest style inspo, we know how important fashion is in the life of a student.

But which of the UK’s student cities are the most fashion-obsessed, and what looks can we expect to see on campuses across the nation this term? PRETTYLITTLETHING looked into a range of internal and external data, including the number of student code orders placed per student city, year-to-date clothing spend plus survey data, to reveal the UK’s most fashion-forward student cities.

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According to our index, Birmingham students came top in our ranking as the UK’s most fashion-forward city, scoring highly in several areas including average student monthly clothing spend in 2022, student code orders placed per 1,000 people and clothing items purchased per 100 people.

Using the same methodology, Newcastle followed closely in second place with one of the highest average monthly clothing spends of 2022. In at third are Liverpudlians, who purchase the highest number of clothing items and spend the most on clothing per person out of all locations in the study. This city’s students were also the highest shoppers of dresses and tops, purchasing 847 and 883 per 10,000 people respectively, year-to-date.

With Manchester having one of the biggest student populations in the UK, the city also has its own fair share of student fashionistas. As well as using the highest number of student codes outside of London (20,637 year-to-date), it also ranks in the top five for average monthly clothing spend in 2022 and is the second highest shopper of shapewear, swimwear, jumpsuits/playsuits and denim.

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It seems the UK’s student population love a comfy outfit during the transitional months. When asked which clothing items would be in their top Autumn must-haves, hoodies (53%) and jumpers and sweaters (43%) were found to be the three most popular.

Brighton students, in particular, enjoy comfier styles, with 7 in 10 from the seaside city picking a hoodie as their Autumn must-have item.

It’s no surprise that jeans (36%), a wardrobe staple, were the favourite item to pair with hoodies and jumpers, particularly for over half of students in Edinburgh (57%). Cargo pants (27%) were found to be a prominent choice and rounded out students’ top five pieces for Autumnal dressing. Top with a classic puffer jacket and you’re good to go, as 27% of students would agree. It seems you’ll have a tough time separating Belfast students from their puffers though, with 44% styling one this season.

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Grab your leggings, unitards and blazers - the Clean Girl Aesthetic came out as the top viral fashion trend students are loving at the moment. The look has swept socials by storm, racking up 33.3 million views on TikTok, and was ranked as the favourite by 40% of our respondents.

Y2K (35%), Old Money Aesthetic (29%), Grunge Aesthetic (23%) and Barbiecore (16%) followed as the fashion trends we can most expect to see on campus this term.

When looking at which universities were loving these trends the most, we found that:

  • The Clean Girl Aesthetic - most loved by students of Bristol (53%)
  • Y2K and the Old Money Aesthetic - most loved by Liverpool students (49%)
  • Grunge Aesthetic - most loved by Newcastle students (35%)
  • Barbiecore - most loved by Belfast students (38%)

Heard of the Dark Academia trend? This style was seen emerging amongst our respondents and combines moody, gothic vibes with a put-together preppy style, racking up 5.8 billion views on TikTok.

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Looking to flaunt one of these iconic trends at the start of the next term? We’ve put together our top tips and must-have items for achieving the look.

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While the Clean Girl Aesthetic is perhaps more of a beauty trend than fashion (think dewy skin, tidy hair and ‘no-makeup’ makeup), there are a few key items that can help complete the look.

Think simple pieces with minimal patterns and bright colours - usually something sporty like a workout set or unitard, paired with something preppy like an oversized button-down shirt or cardigan. Keep colours muted and relaxed, and complete with some chunky gold jewellery for an effortlessly polished look.

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The Y2K trend champions everything we loved about the early noughties style. With neons and contrasting colours, combined with a love of metallic accessories, it’s the perfect eye-catching and playful trend with which to kickstart your uni year.

Students can complete their Y2K look by leaning into tracksuits, low-rise jeans and athleisure wear, for a relaxed and casual look. Think oversized sweatshirts or hoodies paired with crop-tops or baby tees and boots or trainers. Metallics and shiny fabrics in the form of belts and jewellery can also be great accessories, and don’t be afraid to layer up!

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The Old Money Aesthetic is primarily about looking wealthy - but not in the way you might think.

With 461.1 million views on TikTok, this trend is about investing in items that are high quality and a ‘less is more’ approach. This means choosing quality materials like cotton and linen, sticking to neutral colours and layering different textures carefully. This can be a lace dress or skirt with a chunky knit cardigan; a simple slip dress with a loose fit sweater, or a classic leather jacket with denim jeans. Add some heels, loafers or pumps, and a simple shoulder bag for an effortlessly chic look.

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The grunge aesthetic of the 90s continues to be a firm favourite, no doubt due to its casual, comfy, and laid back vibes.

Often prioritising comfort and practicality, the grunge aesthetic is all about oversized shirts or sweaters, jeans or cargo pants, sometimes paired with some chunky combat boots, trainers or loafers. Colours are usually dark, with patterns like plaid and checks featuring heavily along with graphic tees and chunky accessories like studded belts or chain jewellery.

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We love that Barbiecore is still playing a part in many students’ wardrobes. This pink-focused trend clearly brings a lot of joy and playfulness so there’s no reason we need to shun it even now the movie hype has died down.

Unsurprisingly, this trend is all about pink, but that can range from hot fuschia to more muted candyfloss shades. Opting for a cute co-ord set or floral dress by day, while making the most of a soft pink slip or bodycon dress when headed out for drinks, is an easy way to add a pop of Barbiecore to your university outfits.

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If you love the idea of knowledge and academia being romanticised, but with a gothic, moodier twist, then look no further than the Dark Academia trend.

With both dark and muted earthy colours, this trend is ideal for those who love just a hint of grunge but still prefer to dress smart and preppy. Think white button-up shirts with a simple turtleneck or sweater, paired with tweed trousers or a plaid skirt with tights. A smart blazer, cosy cardigan or trench coat for layering is a must, and you can top off the look with some chunky loafers or boots, and a stylish messenger bag or backpack.

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Data to form our index was taken from multiple sources, including internal PLT data, ONS, Natwest, HESA and more to see which cities are best for student fashion, and which product types are the most popular in each UK city. Internal student code usage, Natwest reports on student spending and more provide insight into the spend students make on clothes each month.

In addition, we surveyed 1,000 UK students on their Autumn must-have products and favourite viral fashion trends currently and in the recent past. Questions were multiple choice with the option to add qualitative answers where needed. Results were then split by gender, age, region/city and university.

Fashion trend hashtag views were obtained from TikTok on 22/08/23.