Retailers including Target and Pottery Barn are using everything from catalogs to social media to pop-up stores to promote their upscale dorm decor collections this year, emphasizing pricier items as students replace makeshift furnishings with nicer pieces. "Before, the mindset was, 'What's the bare minimum I need to get by?' Now it's, 'Do I want the 300- or 400-thread count cotton sheets? Do I want a nice extra-thick mattress pad?'" said Jeff Gawronski, founder of e-retailer Dormco.com.

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