For most students, university is a series of firsts; the first time you move away from home, the first time your bedsheets go without being washed for a month, that sort of thing. But mainly, university is the first time that you can - if you want to - totally overhaul your personality and image.

The freedom of university does funny things to people. On arrival, students look terrified and relatively demure, but are obviously too old and too cool to be clinging to mother's apron strings. However, after just a week, trustafarians have Rastafarian haircuts and the offspring of staunch conservatives are dressing like liberal Brighton crusties. What the hell happens?

Fashion, basically! It has had a lot to answer for over the years - capes, pashminas and designer Julien MacDonald - but it is still the best way of visually expressing thoughts and opinions. It is also the perfect outlet for the initial student rebellion against the previous constrictions of school uniform and parental screams of "Where do you think you're going dressed like that?" Whether the defiance is a new haircut or an entire wardrobe revamp, student fashion can be very influential. Or at least it certainly used to be.

In the early Seventies, college kids had a "free-love" attitude and a bold, colourful style. The mood was picked up by young designers - including Ossie Clark - which meant loose dresses and high platform shoes dictated fashion for another decade, and has continued to dip in and out of favour. In the Nineties, the "grunge" trend was thought to have been inspired by the Seattle music scene (particularly Nirvana) and the stereotypical filth of the student lifestyle. Thankfully, for most, that ugliness died away years ago.

Of course, fashion students have always led the way in terms of dictating trends (after all, it is going to be their job one day). In the late Eighties, designer John Galliano never went to classes at London's Central St Martins on a Friday, because he spent the day creating a new look for clubbing that weekend. The creativity of Britain's colourful club scene was led by the cash-poor, talent-rich students, who made outfits from anything they could find. It changed the face of the British music scene and continues to influence designers every season.

The good news is that as a student today you can still make your mark in the fashion world. Granted, you're not going to have very much money to throw around, but it's still possible to establish your own look on the cheap. Charity shops, are always good for bargain accessories, and you can even pick up a dusty Gladiators video while you're in there. There are plenty of other places to buy clothes that won't eat up your student loan in one big gulp; in fact, turn the page for some handy listings to that effect.

The high street is also an inexpensive option these days in many cases, although the downside is that it has created a student army of clones! The current look for boys is narrow jeans, simple T-shirts, heavy neck scarf and a hat, making them all look like one, great big, manufactured boy band, soon to be spotted on the arm of Peaches Geldof. Girls follow suit with skinny jeans (still), layered vests (yawn) and battered boots or pumps. The high street has made everything too easy; the sense of fashion adventure has been drained from student life and been sucked down the big retail plughole.

Come on guys, you didn't go through school days as clones, just to become trend sheep at university. This is your chance to wear absolutely anything you like, before you graduate and get a sensible job with a haircut to match!

BEST BUYS

TK Maxx

TK Maxx have hidden bargains worth sourcing. Set aside enough time to rake through every rail and dip into every bargain bin. Treasures include designer jeans at supermarket prices and luxury leather bags going for a song. It ain't pretty, but it is worth it.

www.tkmaxx.com

Bicester Village

A whole village of discounted fashion. Nothing feels cheap about this quaint shopping town; the rows of shops aren't laid out like bargain basements. However, everywhere offers luxury and premiere fashion brands at up to 60 per cent off.

www.bicestervillage.com. Or, for more of the same nearer to your university, visit www.shoppingvillages.com

TopShop

They don't always get it right (that whole Kate Moss thing was just embarrassing) but do you want an extra discount off already cheap as chips prices? Check out the website for news updates on trends and London Fashion Week.

www.topshop.com

WEB AID

Fashion Confidential

Receive weekly e-mails revealing where the designer sample sales are

www.fashionconfidential.co.uk

Yoox

The best selection of end-of-season clothing and accessories is sold at affordable prices

www.yooz.co.uk

Go Fug Yourself

It isn't big or clever to be bitchy, but it is funny. Read this brilliant blog slating stars' fashion faux pas

www.gofugyourself.typepad.com

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