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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Navigating The Cheap Chic Landscape

As a veteran shopper of fast fashion chains such as Forever 21 and H&M, I've learned over the years how to pick pieces that look more chic than cheap. My aversion to polyester certainly doesn't hurt, either. (I have sensitive skin and tend to favor natural, breathable fabrics such as cotton.) I thought I'd share some of my suggestions on how to make your inexpensive purchases look more like the high-end versions.


Feel the fabric. In my experience, cotton, chiffon, lace, and silk blends can look more expensive than they are at cheap chic stores. My general rule is to avoid many synthetics and also any garment with more than 3% spandex, as it will appear stretchy and cheap. More specifically, pieces made from rayon, nylon, and viscose can appear flimsy and tacky, especially when done in skimpy silhouettes.

Consider the cut. I'm no expert fashion designer, but I'm no stranger to a sewing machine or pattern, either. No matter how much you like a piece, inspect it for cut, fit, and proportion. If it puckers in the bust area, gaps out at the waist, pinches your thighs, or just plain old fits horribly then avoid it unless you plan to tailor it or have it tailored. Unfortunately, sometimes you get what you pay for at cheap chic retailers.

Know when to go. Stores like H&M receive new shipments every day, so it's wise to shop often for optimal selection. Additionally, I like to shop when stores are least crowded - on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning or evening. Friday nights between 6pm and 9pm and weekend afternoons before 3pm seem to be the most crowded, as shoppers are often looking for the perfect outfit to wear out that night or that weekend.

Know before you go. If the store you're visiting has an e-commerce website, then conduct some research and check out the merchandise online before you go. (Or just buy online if you prefer to avoid the potentially noisy and disheveled atmosphere of the store.) Sometimes I see something I like online, but want to inspect it in person for fit and quality. On the other hand, you can sometimes use the website to get a sneak peek at the merchandise before it hits the stores. Case in point - I'm always stalking Target's pressroom for new GO International images.

Study the store's strengths. If your buying patterns exhibit a pattern such as always buying handbags from Target, dresses from H&M, footwear from Zara, and earrings from Forever 21, then for you, those may be each store's strengths, according to your tastes. Learn what each store excels in in terms of design, selection, price, and quality, then you'll know where to look for certain pieces that you desire. For me, it's usually Cheap Monday denim at Urban Outfitters, ankle boots at Wet Seal, and tights at Target.

Look at longevity. Now more than ever, I'm asking myself how long I'll be wearing each item before I buy it. These days, quality classics can be found at fast fashion stores. Pieces like wool blend peacoats, cotton cardigans, boot cut jeans, and classic button down shirts can be found at great prices, and will outlast trendier items such as that one-shoulder dress or paint-splatter top that may be lurking in your closet.

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