Not too long ago, acquiring a new college wardrobe meant putting a new patch on your Levis and buying a pre-faded blue workshirt in a secondhand store.

In the '50s, the end of August meant mad dashes to the stores clutching college issues of fashion magazines and grabbing armloads of Shetland sweaters, Pappagallo flats, and plaid kilts. Sound familiar? It's deja vu time in the fashion department.

The industry has never made it easier for campus-bound students to find the ingredients of what has been so cleverly classified as the "preppie," "collegiate" or "all-American" look, in all price ranges, from department to specialty to discount.

Depending on where you shop and whether or not you're impressed by designer labels, you can find tweed jackets from $59-$250, oxford shirts from $13-$60, pleated wool skirts for $29-$125, and handknit sweaters from $33-$400.

Judging by the departments full of oxford skirts, loafers, tweed jackets and cardigan sweaters, the whole world would look -- if the stores had their way -- ready for freshman orientation at Smith College.

Although there may be some balking from women who don't want to be preppies at age 55, the college crowd, from all reports, is buying the look.

"When everyone was into jeans in the late '60s and early '70s, no one would think of purchasing a back-to-college wardrobe," says Nancy Chistolini, Woodward & Lothrop vice-president and corporate fashion director. "But college students are doing it again this fall, and we're selling classic Shetlands, cardigans and Weejuns again."

According to Linda Branting, an associate editor of Mademoiselle magazine, the typical wardrobe this fall has all the traditional elements with a few trendier dashes.

"I advise college students to start with a good core wardrobe," she says. "Like a pleated, plaid skirt; a bright Shetland sweater, or a chunky sweater with a picture on it, like a ski sweater; tasseled loafers with a lowish heel; a great jacket to go over anything; some good tailored wool pants and maybe a ruffled blouse for a dressier occasion."

Branting says her No. 1 question from college students is "How do I make myself look taller or thinner?" Her answer: Keep a good vertical line in clothes. Watch hemlines -- they're all lengths this fall -- and wear the one most flattering to your height and build.

"Clothing being as expensive as it is," says Branting, "necessitates some big judgments. None of us can go out and buy total wardrobes. We have to buy things we love, and fortunately this season there are a lot of choices for back to college or back to work."

For Sondra Dickey, a recent graduate of Calvin Coolidge High School, starting University of D.C. next month will mean more dresses, more skirts (with pleats) and more heels.

"Clothing was given a lot of attention at Coolidge," says Dickey. "It was like a fashion show there, with people trying to outdress each other. I'm not sure what college will be like, but I want to be ready and I plan to buy what I like."

She's shopping around for big pullover sweaters to wear over jeans, nice cardigans and maybe a shearling jacket to add to what she already has.

Back in July, Denise McDonald sat down with her mother and made a list of the clothes she had and what she felt she would need for the colder winter as a freshman at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"We went over the list and my mother decided she would pay for the stuff I needed," says McDonald. "And what I really didn't need, I would buy with the money I earned this summer."

She's already bought a pair of blue suede Indian moccasins, several handknit sweaters and for a dressy outfit, a long black angora cardigan and black velvet pants. She's looking for a plaid pleated skirt and is knitting herself an off-white wool sweater.

"When I visited Northwestern, I saw that it was not the kind of place where you think 'Oh, I have to dress up for class,'" says McDonald, who wore uniforms at National Cathedral School. "People just looked comfortable there. I met one girl who said there wasn't any interest in clothes, and another one who wore Fiorucci overalls and had a lot of style."

She plans to shop in the Chicago area for boots because she feels the area's more severe weather will mean a better selection. A number of college fashion consultants advise considering a school's location and picking up items after getting there. Thus, the Miami-bound might wait to buy a bathing suit there, or if it's Maine, moccasins.

And just in case the University of Peoria is into punk and not preppie, don't arrive with a trunk full of matching cardigans and knee socks. Budget some funds for things you didn't think of, things your roommate has that you can't live without.