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Being a budget fashionista does not mean wearing cheap clothes. Rather, it means wearing cheap clothes sometimes. That distinction is important, but maybe only to you and me.
We like to think we're savvy about where we choose to save and where we choose to spend. I don't have an issue, for example, dropping a few hundred bucks on a high-quality coat that I'll wear for many seasons. But I might pair that coat with an $8 sweater from Old Navy's clearance rack or a $12 faux fur vest from a resale shop. In my mind, that type of versatility is a defining trait of a budget fashionista, vs. someone who doesn't like to spend money on clothes.
The budget fashionista uses less expensive clothes to refresh her wardrobe and stay current on trends without overspending. And staying current is no easy task. One season we may only want to wear cold-shoulder tops, for example. And the very next season, we have a closet full of cold-shoulder tops that we wouldn't dare wear in public.
If I want to play in a trend that looks be a one-season-wonder, I stick with two strategies to keep my spending under control. I'll either add it to my wardrobe as an accessory or I'll buy a cute, low-cost garment from a cheap fashion store.
Good or bad, we have lots of cheap fashion stores out there peddling trendy clothes. Here are 12 to check out.
Back when mall shopping was a thing, I would drop into H&M at least once a season to peruse the sale racks. I'm a sucker for the big sign that reads, "Everything $5." I'd often pick up basics like camis and t-shirts for a few bucks, but would routinely get distracted by the trendier pieces.
Now I like to take a periodic peek at H&M's sale page, trend edit, and under $25 collections online. I do have to parse through a lot of garments I'd never wear, but eventually I might find something wonderful, like this crinkle puff-sleeve blouse or this puff-sleeve dress for $9. I don't think the statement sleeve trend will stick around forever, so those price points are just right.
Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy in 2019, but then sold off its assets to an investor group to keep the doors open. For many shoppers, though, it's business as usual. The chain did close about 200 stores over the last few years, but there are hundreds still open and operating around the world. And the website, of course, remains open too.
Top from Forever 21.
Even the new arrivals on Forever21.com are ultra-cheap, with the selection ranging from $0.99 socks to $50 trench coats. See my list of trendiest pieces from Forever 21 here.
Old Navy seems to be constantly running sales online. As I'm writing this, the banner on the site's homepage is promoting up to 50% off sitewide -- which I can't even comprehend, given how low the chain's prices are normally.
This season Old Navy has doubled down on the tie-dye trend. The store's "new arrivals" collection is loaded with tie-dyed casual wear in the $10 to $30 range. Also compelling is the selection of floral dresses for $20. While floral is fashionable this spring, it's never really out of style -- so you could potentially get a lot of use out of a $20 floral dress from Old Navy.
The next generation
TOBI is an online-only retailer that caters to a younger audience. In truth, the styles are trendy enough to be potentially awkward in six months. We're talking sequins and embellishments and cutouts. So stay close to the sale page.
Trendy pieces I like for spring include this crop top for $9 that you could wear as a bralette and this flouncy crop top shown below for $12. Personally, I'd skip the bare midriff and team this crop a high-waisted skirt or pant.
I do have a few pieces from TOBI and, in my experience, the quality is quite good given the price points.
Here's what you need to know about shopping fashion on Amazon. There are Amazon-owned brands and then there are resellers. If you want a consistent level of quality, shop only Amazon-owned brands. My favorites are Lark & Ro, Goodthreads, and Cable Stitch.
Of the three, Lark & Ro is the most affordable and also the trendiest. Sort the collection by price from low to high and you'll find cute tops and dresses for $15 or less -- like this tie-front top for $10.
One word of caution, Amazon notoriously shows you the lowest price for a given product, which may not reflect the price for your size or the color you want. That can make for a frustrating search. Be prepared to do some deep breathing if that kind of thing gets you riled up.
Proceed at your own risk with these retailers
The rest of the options below are known for dirt-cheap pricing, but the quality can be suspect. Most, with the exception of some Amazon sellers, make and warehouse their products overseas. That means you can expect an extended shipping window. It's also challenging if you want to return or exchange something.
To maintain your own sanity, don't buy anything unless you're prepared for it be not quite what you expect. That probably sounds crazy, but sometimes it's a calculated risk for an incredible top in just the right color with a $5 price tag.
Most of the low-priced garments you'll find on Amazon are sold by third-party sellers that may not be entirely trustworthy. Search for "trendy tops" and sort the results by price from low to high and you'll see what I mean.
This yellow summer top is sold by Yihaojia fashion store, for example. The price is $0.01 plus $9.99 shipping. That's kind of sketchy on its own, but things get even weirder when you read the product description. The first bullet point reads, "PLEASE LOOK FOR "unique56" when you add a shopping cart to buy, OTHER STORE are Liar."
Romwe has a huge selection of trendy pieces, many priced under $15. I own a few Romwe pieces, including a tunic (shown above) that I wore on repeat until it fell apart. Unfortunately, Romwe has also sent me clothes that had serious quality issues.
As I explain in my Romwe review here, one top I ordered had cuffs so tiny that my hands wouldn't fit through. I took a seam ripper to the cuffs as a fit experiment. Once I got my hands through, the rest of the top fit fine.
If I were to buy something from Romwe today, it'd be this striped button-down for $10.
Shein is another overseas retailer with single-season clothes and prices that seem too good to be true. Right now, Shien's collection includes lots of blouses with statement shoulders and ruffles, priced at $15 to $25. There's also this oversized plaid button-down for $26 -- cute, but also likely to be a one-season play.
And all the rest
Fashion Nova, Dresshead, Showpo, and Rosegal are all pretty similar to Romwe and Shein -- they sell boldly styled garments at very low prices. The collections are massive, so be prepared to sort and filter to find something you like.
One thing these stores are quite good at is keeping up with the trends. If nothing else, you might browse their line-ups for a quick download on the styles that dominated the runways for the season.
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