Figured I'd bump this up since my son's starting in the Fall (from SoCal) and we'd like to get a jump on the essentials. Any additional info beyond what's already here? Noted that Jay asked about boots but no responses. Ideas there would be appreciated also. Thanks!
DadTimes2-We had the same question when my son started at NU a couple of years ago. We have a store "back East" called EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports) where I got waterproof snow boots. They aren't really high, maybe mid-calf length, and are rated for really cold weather. As a practical matter, I'm not sure he wore them this past mild winter more than a couple of times. He just wore sneakers unless there was substantial snow on the ground.
My son (will be senior at NU this fall) loves his North Face Tri Climate. Also loves 180 earmuffs which warm his ears and are very comfortable. I got him LL Bean snow boots but he says he's never worn them -- says NU keeps the sidewalks clear of snow. Does like having a big strong umbrella (that can withstand winds off the lake), but not rain boots.
Most of the year he wears NU hoodies. He would love a Vinyard Vines quarter-zip fleece jacket, but we can barely afford their shirts on sale (give VV your email to get news of their occasional three-day sales, a 25% off sale just ended yesterday). He loves anything with the VV whale on it...and yes, he is in a frat and likes to dress "fratty." He said he felt out of place at fall rush events in his T shirts his freshman year (but still got a bid). Now wears button downs or Polos (VV, Brooks, Ralph Lauren Polo, LaCoste -- we love to hit outlets/sales for these) and rarely wears jeans...he's more open to different brands on pants/shorts since shirts cover their logos, as long they are not cargos.
Be sure to bring dress clothes (suit, tie, etc.) -- lots of the dorms, fraternities and sororities have formal dance parties in downtown Chicago.
Actually, Bean Boots are really warm and about as waterproof as they come. Get the lined ones, of course. Thinsulate is wonderful.
I have an unlined pair that I wear with wool socks (mmmm, smartwool). They're a godsend, and still useful year-round as rain boots.
Definitely get a winter coat with a zip-in liner. It's nice to have that kind of flexibility so you aren't sweating under your winter coat because it's almost that cold, but not quite, but sort of... etc.
Long underwear really is great. I like the stuff the cross-country skiers use. About as warm as it comes.
Also, definitely have a scarf. If it's crazy cold, that'll be the extra bit that keeps you warm and happy.
Be careful about using a wool coat as your only winter jacket. Some of them eventually soak through, so if you're outside for a while, or get snowed on and forget to shake it off, you'll end up with a soggy coat. It'll still be warm... just not quite as comfortable. The nice ones are bulletproof... but expensive.
Agree with MidwestMom and PieceofToast-my S got a North Face Triclimate and wears the inner jacket until it gets really cold and then adds the outer layer for wind and inclement weather. He didn't get the standard black one.