If you’ve ever missed the carefree, nostalgic energy of summer camp but not so much the nature aspect, you’re in luck because the summer camp aesthetic is taking over the season. This bright, refreshing approach to getting dressed is the sartorial equivalent of running through cold sprinklers on a lawn of freshly cut emerald grass. Taking from the hyper-present resurgence of ’90s and Y2K trends plus iconic outfits from classics like Wet Hot American Summer and The Parent Trap, it’s the perfect way to infuse your everyday life with the unmatched joys of glowing campfires, tried-and-true traditions, loyal friendship, extended vacation, and working and playing hard. Ahead, see eight essentials to help you nail the summer camp aesthetic, complete with standout products.
Meet the Expert
- Djuna Bel is a stylist and creative director based in Los Angeles. Her work has been featured across a range of major magazines, brands, and photography collaborations.
A friendship bracelet is a colorful status symbol that represents an unbreakable bond. It’s a marker of play and memories, it’s an instant mood-booster, and it’s all over the place again thanks to Swifties galore trading their DIY creations at the Eras Tour.
While we’re proponents of quality over quantity when it comes to just about everything (including our close friends), bracelets are an exception. Layer on as many as you want, and don’t stress over whether the colors “go together.” Stack them with your mainstay gold pieces, tennis bracelet, and watch: The arm party is alive and well, and a mishmash of beaded, braided, and knotted friendship bracelets will give any outfit an extra touch of fun. Summer camp-inspired jewelry can also extend to other pieces, like kitschy earrings or a pearl-and-bead choker or anklet.
No summer camp packing list is complete without an accessory that protects your head from the sun, be it a bucket hat, a sporty baseball cap, or a faded bandana (folded into a triangle, just like teenage Mary Kate and Ashley). When it comes to sleepaway camp fashion, a hat is the key piece, according to LA-based stylist Djuna Bel. “I love a camp-inspired baseball cap paired with a summer dress, sunglasses, and sneakers for a real ‘90s moment,” she says. “It’s timeless, a bit tomboy, chic, and most importantly, it’s a skin-saver. I always pack a few for travel, as well.” Place a few mini braids throughout your hair for even more summer camp pizzazz.
Shorts walk the walk. They’re practical, conducive to having fun, and give way to the inimitable feeling of hot summer sun on legs. There’s a whole universe of shorts styles including khaki, printed (gingham or striped), tailored, linen, terrycloth, denim, and cargo, and they can be any length, from micro-mini to knee-grazing.
Pair any style of shorts with an oversized white button-down, some uber-trendy mesh ballet flats, and a leather handbag for a sophisticated daytime look. For a more utilitarian feel, wear a longer, looser pair of army green cargo shorts with a ribbed black tank top and minimalist leather sandals.
Spaghetti Strap Tanks
The spaghetti strap tank is a quintessential ‘90s and Y2K piece. In the ‘90s, it was worn with slip skirts, trousers, or jeans in sleek, minimalist outfits. During the aughts, styles got more playful and colorful, composed of thick, bold cotton, and often graphic (remember the angel tank tops?).
The summer-camp inspired spaghetti strap top of today is a nod to ‘90s kid, tween, and teen style: It isn’t meant to be clingy, sexy, or barely there. It’s not a layering piece, but a main event—think looser-fitting, bright colors and prints, and cut from thick cotton. For running errands or meeting a friend for a casual lunch, pair a tank with trousers and minimalist flip flops or a pair of sneakers. Going to the beach? Layer it over your swimsuit, and finish the look with white linen pants and sandals.
As with shorts, summer footwear should be conducive to doing whatever you feel like—and to being game for anything. Sneakers are the coolest shoe of them all, and they’ll bring literal bounce to your step. The quintessential summer camp sneaker is vintage-inspired: Think high tops, sporty platforms, and bright white tennis shoes.
The shorter set of instructions for this ever-versatile shoe would be how not to wear it. Sneakers go with everything, from jeans to miniskirts to formal gowns. They’re ideal for making dressier outfits cooler, so try pairing them with a silk slip dress and gold jewelry.
Loose knits and colorful, crocheted patterns are evocative of arts and crafts time at summer camp. They’re great for wearing in the heart of summer, when almost every fabric feels stifling. Crocheted pieces have giant, breezy holes—so they’re innately refreshing. Crochet tends to pack a lot of punch color and texture-wise, so wear it with simple, natural fabrics like cotton and linen in neutral tones. Crocheted mini shorts pair perfectly with an all-white rugby shirt and sandals, and a crochet market bag makes a neutral-toned summer dress pop.
We love few things more than a basic, unadorned T-shirt—but when it comes to summer camp-inspired looks, a bit of graphic design—or the colorful cotton trim on a soft ringer tee—goes a long way. If you were a kid in the ‘90s, you probably had an impressive collection of retro-inspired graphic tees that advertised fictional places ranging from tropical coconut resorts to Cupid-themed drive ins. Channel exactly this when you hunt for your new summer camp aesthetic staple: Style a graphic or ringer tee with a minimalist mini skirt in a neutral tone, and wear it with loafers or barely there flip flops. For an especially nostalgic look, pair your shirt of choice with cargo pants and sandals.
A Trusty Flannel
Plaid is a stalwart ‘90s print, and the perfect summer camp-inspired flannel is one that’s been handed down to you—or at least looks it. Tie a flannel around your waist or shoulders, throw it in your tote or car, or wear it unbuttoned over a tank top or tee. You can even use it as a flag or sports penny. If you’re not sure where to start, stick to the most classic ensemble: straight leg jeans, sandals, and a ribbed white tank top. A flannel is also a perfect evening layer to throw on over a mini dress.