Crowd of students walking on campus during the late 70s
Photo: The Fulcrum Panorama 1979-1980.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Following the evolution of U of O campus fashion

In an era of microtrends and fast fashion, it’s hard to keep up with all the fashion fads, new colours, and trendy patterns. But, staying fashionable on campus is not as hard or novel as you think. 

We looked into some of the Fulcrum’s archives and saw striking similarities to what our fashion-savvy students wore on campus year after year. Some of the common garments were weather-related, as Ottawa never fails to drop to freezing temperatures each winter. Others included staple preppy pieces like flannels and button-up shirts.

Layering, layering, layering 

One of the common themes across generations in campus fashion is the magic of layering. In almost every campus style column at the Fulcrum, you’ll read about layering. Some classic pieces for layering that have persisted throughout generations of U of O students include turtlenecks, sweater vests, button-up shirts, and long sleeve sweaters. They’re all key campus fall pieces, and layering these becomes even more important during the winter semester.  

Another recurring staple is good ol’ flannels! A classic plaid always goes well with a nice pair of jeans. It’s casual and comfortable, but also preppy enough for school. This is a great back-to-school campus design that has been seen in the archives from the 1970s up until the present day!

  • A group of students sitting at a table smiling and laughing.
  • Student posing on campus wearing a green flannel and dark blue jeans
  • Student posing on campus wearing a beige flannel and light blue jeans

Gearing up for the winter 

Ottawa winters involve temperatures that drop all the way down to -40 C with heavy snowfall. It’s an unfortunate and unavoidable fact about our city. So regardless of how un-fashionable it may be to wear those heavy-duty boots, they’re a necessary item in all U of O students’ closets. But just because your boots aren’t the chicest doesn’t mean the rest of your winter gear can’t be! We’ve always managed to make winter outfits cute and cozy by pairing our big jackets with winter accessories. Fuzzy matching scarves and hats or patterned headgear contrasting our puffy jackets seems to be a classic winter look. It’s a Canadian thing.  

The 2000s: an eccentric period

The 2000s were quite the anomaly in campus fashion. The early 2000s were heavily marked by Green Day punk rock looks (peek at the mohawk below) and low-waisted jean-wearing, inspired by the likes of Paris Hilton and Destiny’s Child.

Photo of a magazine archive from the Fulcrum of students wearing punk-inspired fashion during the early 2000s.
FROSH students rocking low-waisted jeans and punk fashion. An edgy moment in student fashion for sure. Photo: Holly Loranger, 2003.

By the 2010s, vibrant patterns and eccentric colour combinations (probably inspired by Nickelodeon fashion) took over. Zig-zag designs, ripped shorts, and skinny jeans rose in popularity, all at once.

Pant style — going from slim to wide

From all the fashion we’ve seen so far across generations of U of O students, one thing that seems to change is pant style. In the ’70s, mom jeans were prevalent across campus for students of all genders. Enter the early 2010s, and skinny jeans and leggings are in! Nowadays, with Gen Z taking over the U of O campus, baggy and light-wash jeans from the late ’90s seem to have found a revival.

Gen Z, baby!

A lot of Gen Z fashion can be seen as inspired by previous generations, as some of us rock the Y2K look and others bask in the ’90s era of mom jeans and flannels. But one Gen Z outfit staple that has proven to be ubiquitous across campus is the tote bag. We’re all about versatility and, I mean, who doesn’t want a cute and useful bag that matches virtually any outfit? 

After digging through the Fulcrum archives, it’s clear that fashion trends are constantly recycled and they change less often than we think. So perhaps hold on to your parents’ old clothes that are sitting in the back of the closet, and don’t be afraid to hit up the local 613 flea to find other unique pieces in the city.


  • Grace is a second-year political science student joining the Fulcrum for the 2022-23 publishing year. She has experience in public service, and has volunteered in advocacy campaigns and grassroots initiatives uplifting youth and women. She is passionate about the arts, community organizing, and politics. When she’s not studying or working, you can find her reading or rewatching Seinfeld episodes.