As part of this look at American colleges and universities, WWD surveyed nearly 1,300 college students around the country to gauge their current consumer preferences and brand awareness. The survey also looked at the publications they turn to for information and entertainment and the celebrities they consider influential. The group was not a random sample. Instead, respondents hailed from focus groups, sororities, marketing classes and one-on-one interviews. All were interested enough in matters of style to spend about 30 minutes on the survey, some offering detailed responses to open-ended questions.

Key unprompted questions asked students, both women and men, to name their favorite labels to shop for in each of 12 categories, up to three per category: jeans, T-shirts, tops/sweaters, sweatshirts, footwear/sneakers, bags/backpacks, makeup/beauty, formalwear/dresses, outerwear, swimwear, underwear and socks/hosiery. Students were also asked to list their top three "if money were no object" labels.

In an upcoming issue, WWD will publish more from this survey, including listings of the top three vote-getters in each category. Here, the top 10 brands listed across all categories according to number of mentions. For example, many students cited Gap in multiple categories, and each mention counted as a vote.


Big names—with ad budgets and massive nationwide distribution to match—came top-of-mind in WWD’s student survey. But one smaller player broke into the Top 10--Seven Jeans, the My Big Fat Greek Wedding of the denim world. Word-of-mouth branding (and a butt-flattering fit) apparently knows no obstacles. Even the guys wore Sevens at label-conscious Boston University.

The survey indicatedthat students know who made their backpack (Jansport) and party dresses (Laundry by Shelli Segal, BCBG.) They care deeply who made their jeans and their sneakers. But many couldn’t care less about the birthplace of their socks, just as long as they could find a clean pair. "Please, it’s socks," wrote Jessie Scott, a junior at the University of Wisconsin. "If you care about sock brands, you have problems."

1 Gap With 3,114 stores in the U.S., Gap is within striking distance and the budget of most college students. Even in Hanover, N.H., where Dartmouth students have a strip of mangy tourist traps and misses boutiques to choose from, there is a Gap. "Thank God, there is at least a place to buy some jeans," says one student.2 Victoria’s SecretNo secret that the provocative catalog is the college student’s source for anything stretchy and small: thongs, swimsuits, teeny little cocktail dresses. It’s one of the few times, students say, when they will trust a mail-order fit. Catalogs blanket campuses just before March spring breaks, when many students buy a bikini or two.

3 J. CrewNew ceo Millard "Mickey" Drexler may have pronounced in a recent conference call that J. Crew’s customer is 25 to 45, but the college crowd definitely relates to the catalog. Forget books — Jessica Rosen, a Boston College sophomore counted seven iterations of the J.Crew catalog in her dorm room.

4 ExpressStudents cite Leslie Wexner’s long-running fast-fashion chain for its trendy little blouses to top off the $100 jeans they favor. Express’ own blues— bolstered in recent seasons by a major ad campaign—also ring up points with girls and guys alike. "It sounds weird because it’s a girl’s brand, but Express jeans fit me really well," says Mike Meyers, a Boston College student.

5 Banana Republic Its black pants and neat sweaters clearly win favor for dressier occasions in student life: nights out,parents’ weekend dinners, trips to the city or those first-job interviews.

6 Diesel "We don't advertise. We do communication," Diesel vice president Maurizio Marchiori is fond of saying. Message heard loud and clear by students, who loft the Italian denim line above others. It seems the too-cool-for-school flavor—plus the convenient distribution in many department stores—is fueling Diesel nicely.

7 Nike Campus groups may protest its labor policies, but that hasn’t prevented the sneaker giant from swooshing into student closets. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the company suits up major college sports franchises and creates exclusive lines for their fans. Swoosh’d crimson merch is sold at the Coop, Harvard’s legendary bookstore emporium.

8 Abercrombie & FitchThe retailer known for peddling prep-school lifestyle scored points with both genders, though there’s some concern it aims young. "It’s seen as kind of middle-school," says Joseph Siesholtz, a Harvard sophomore. "But whether people admit to it or not, you can get some good basics there."9 MAC The lipgloss, the glittery shades and the minimalist packaging that doesn’t look like it came from grandma’s pocketbook.

10 Seven "Sevens. I wear nothing else," announces Universiy of Georgia senior Meredith Friedline, expressing the herd-ish devotion the jeans have inspired. Any self-respecting sorority girl has a pair (or five) in her closet, although the brand’s broad exposure seems to have sent some students striking out for something else. To wit: Miss Sixty, AG, Joe’s Jeans and Blue Cult.

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