I’m no style icon, nor do I actively keep up with the latest fashions. I don’t browse Vogue, I don’t salivate over New York fashion week, and I don’t particularly need designer items, just things that look cute. I have, however, always liked pretty clothes and accessories.
But playing with your day-to-day look can feel intimidating. In high school, I was way too scared to try out anything new for fear that I might end up looking like a clown. So I stuck with the things I thought looked okay, while pining over the skills of girls (and guys!) who could put incredible outfits together without batting an eyelash. I wanted that. It didn’t help that I was (and am) fat, so finding clothes in my size presented a challenge. I felt stuck in frumpy, unflattering frocks, caged in by arbitrary rules like “always wear black” and “no horizontal stripes.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned what kinds of clothes work for my body, and what types of colors, cuts, and patterns I’m drawn to. I’ve also learned to say fuck the rules, and now I just wear what I like! Some days, I’m all about floral dresses or glitter ballet flats and other days I like ripped jeans and superhero T-Shirts. Sometimes my outfits work. Sometimes they don’t. But that’s kind of the beauty in playing with clothes — each day presents a new palette.
If you haven’t grown out of that desire to play dress-up (like me!) but feel slightly intimidated when it comes to figuring out where to start with fashion (also, like me!), here are a few stores to ease you in.
Why I love it: Forever 21 is known for its low-cost, trendy pieces. Unfortunately, the friendly price tag sometimes comes with a caveat: cheap quality. This isn’t the case with everything there, though, and Forever 21 is actually pretty perfect when it comes to purchasing fun accessories (hair bows, chunky necklaces, neon sunglasses), day-to-day basics (tank tops worn under other items of clothing, leggings) or ultra trendy pieces (that studded jean half-jacket you’ve been eyeing). With F21, the prices are typically so affordable that it makes it less scary to take a leap of faith. If you only spent $10 on a sequined tank, wearing it once and then donating doesn’t feel so bad.
Helpful hint: Because the plus size is only offered online, you can’t try things on. Be sure to pay close attention to what material things are made of before you buy. (I ordered some leggings I thought were cotton, but they turned out to be polyester. Yuck.) Otherwise, the on-site reviews by customers are super helpful!
Why I love it: As someone who has previously worked at Old Navy, I will be the first to admit: I am an addict. Old Navy offers a mix of items that are perfect for work or play. It has great wardrobe staples, like cardigans, T-Shirts, and undershirts. The store recently added an accessories line (although it can be hit or miss). It’s also worth it to grab various types of their jeans (Rockstar, Diva, Flirt, Boyfriend, Dreamer, Sweetheart) in several different sizes and washes, and try them all on. (Their Rockstar super skinny jeans are to-die-for.) When you find the perfect cut, size, and color, buy several. They will last a while.
Helpful hint: Never buy whole sale. Old Navy does a promotion at least every other week (sometimes sooner) so you can always get at least 15% off. Sign up for their emails to get the notifications.
Why I love it: It seems weird to even consider buying clothes at the same place you’re also purchasing Windex and paper plates. But Target has stepped up their fashion game significantly in the last few years. The store has even partnered up with several high-end designers — Diane Von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta, and Jason Wu among them — all in the name of providing us with affordable fashion choices. I’m obsessed with the variety of dresses they offer.
Helpful hint: When possible, try it on. Target sizing can vary considerably depending on what clothing line it’s part of.
Why I love it: Asos is the kind of store that makes runway fashions attainable for the everyday person. They have two clothing lines — Asos and Asos Curve — that offer high-quality, beautiful garments. The store is located in the UK, so if you’re in the U.S. (like me), you won’t be able to visit them in person. But they’ve got a solution for that: for most items of clothing, they show you how the piece moves by providing a video of one of their models walking down the runway while wearing it. It’s not the perfect solution, but it’ll do.
Helpful hint: UK sizes differ from US, so it’s a good general rule of thumb when shopping online to know your measurements.
Why I love it: Gimme everything, now! I have a hard time going on Modcloth’s website and not putting everything in my cart and buying it all. For me, it’s like crack, in that it combines super girly pieces, like retro dresses, with adorably bizarre patterns, like lollipops. Depending on who the merchant is, the clothing can be a bit pricey, but it’s all so lovely that it’s totally worth it.
Helpful hint: Modcloth sells much more than just clothes. They’ve got accessories, items for your home, shoes, and handbags. It’s basically an excuse to go crazy.
Other shops to try
Any stores you’d add to this list?