Love or hate it, fast fashion has caught on for a reason — namely, previously unattainable (read: crazy expensive) runway-ready styles becoming widely available at affordable prices. The allure isn’t hard to comprehend, especially if your new duds budget is looking pretty sad after paying rent, utilities and all those other miscellaneous expenses that go hand-in-hand with adulting. Le sigh. That said, clothing from your favorite high street stores — no matter how trend-right — has its downfalls. The materials aren’t always what you’d call high quality; the workmanship is, more often than not, shoddy; and they don’t stand up well to wear and tear. To put it in a nutshell — you get what you pay for.
But not all is lost! It girls like Olivia Palermo, Karlie Kloss and heck, even the Duchess of Cambridge herself, know that a good mix of high and low is the key to endless on-point #OOTDs that look like a million bucks. And that’s where this guide comes in. If nixing fast fashion from your repertoire is out of the question, you need to be smart about what makes its way into your capsule wardrobe from season to season. And that means hitting the breaks on cheap-looking pieces and learning how to fake it until you make it.
PAY ATTENTION TO FABRICS
While fast-fashion brands are experts at recreating your favorite runway trends, fabric quality just can’t be faked. Natural fabrics — cashmere, silk, leather, suede, cotton and linen — are the holy grail when it comes to clothing, and have a price tag to match. Translation: Don’t expect to find them in your fast-fashion pieces (at least not in their purest form), where polyester, rayon, acrylic and nylon reign supreme. That’s not to say you should avoid synthetic materials like the plague. Rather, you should get to know which materials look cheap at lower price points, and which ones put on a high-quality front no matter what you spend. The best of the bunch? Suede, cotton and linen.
1. ASOS Western Jacket in Suede ($146): Authentic suede, just like real-deal leather, spells out disaster for your credit limit, especially if it’s high end, but less expensive and vegan alternatives can look just as good — seriously. Because it’s difficult to differentiate between the two, your high-street style can easily fly under the radar. Case in point: this boxy blush topper. Styled alongside cropped flares and slides, it’s a bonafide conversation starter. File this one under style hack of the century.
2. Madewell Courier Shirt Dress ($98): While one of the most popular fabrics, cotton is still pretty underrated. But by snagging styles with predominately cotton fibers (we’re talking 90% or higher), you’re looking at versatile pieces that aren’t just comfortable, but low maintenance and durable too. If the wear-anywhere styling of this minimalist chic shirt dress wasn’t already enough to swoon over, the cotton and linen composition will make you fall hard. This is one of those forever pieces.
3. Zara Linen Blazer ($100): Shiny synthetic fabrics practically give themselves away, but natural fibers like linen can easily pass themselves off as expensive, even if you didn’t dish out the big bucks to add them to your wardrobe. The best part? It’ll just get better with age. Add this camel-colored staple to your closet stat for a timeless piece that will always impress — even when you rock it with your Sunday not-so-best.
With so many shopping apps at your disposal that make scooping up the latest It pieces an effortless exercise, the thought of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store might seem like a total drag. But trust us — you’re better off trying on clothes in person than ordering online. Photos don’t always accurately portray the quality or even color of a piece, because the images you see online are carefully planned and edited; brands put a lot of time and effort into making their clothes look more high end than they actually are (marketing, people!). Trying items on in-store allows you to see and feel whether a piece is worthy of your wardrobe before you buy it and are faced with the hassle of returning. Another option? Use Try.com to test-drive an item before making the commitment.
4. Oh My Love Open-Back Maxi Tea Dress ($109): Beyond fabric feel, color and fit, there’s also the sheerness factor to think about. Fabric is expensive, so expect to find less of it when you hit the bargain stores. That doesn’t mean you have to pass up on that swoon-worthy floral frock — exhibit A — you’ve been lusting after. By simply layering a slip or the right undergarments underneath, you can instantly amp up your outfit’s look — and avoid a potential wardrobe malfunction. Team it with classic ankle-strap heels and a statement belt for an extra polished finish. So classy.
DON’T OVERLOOK THE DETAILS
Shoddy workmanship and construction show, and can make clothing at any price point look cheap. Whether you’re buying on a dime or have some serious cash to blow, always check the buttons, seams and zippers, as well as how prints line up, before tossing an item into your shopping bag. Loose threads, zippers that don’t close smoothly and patterns that weren’t properly aligned before assembly are all indications that a garment was poorly made. If you have the time and can fix it, go for it. Otherwise, take a pass.
5. H&M A-Line Denim Skirt ($25): Pass up on a trend-right denim skirt with timeless appeal? Puh-lease. We’re already planning this A-line’s future: crocheted tops and strappy sandals for summer and half-tucked rib knit sweaters and block-heeled ankle boots come fall. That is, after verifying that the bomb zip detail is ready and raring to go. At the first sign of wear and tear, swap it out with a new zipper to keep your look on top of its game.
KEEP ‘EM CLEAN
Dirt and grime are a recipe for disaster, especially when it comes to shoes and bags. Do a weekly once-over to ensure your pieces are looking their best, polishing and cleaning with soap and water or an all-purpose cleaner like Windex (seriously!) as needed. Help malleable pieces maintain their shape by stuffing when not in use. And when it comes to washing clothes, proceed with caution. It might seem counterintuitive, but the more you launder them, the worse they look, since washing wears down the fabric and fades colors.
6. Topshop Coconut Sling Back Shoe ($100): These gilded steppers are what dreams are made of. Instantly taking everyday denim and simple shirt dresses into Insta-worthy territory is what they do best, so best believe you’ll be pulling them out on the regular. To keep them looking fly at all times, treat them with leather protector before stepping out on the street, then touch ’em up when necessary with leather conditioner or unscented body lotion.
INVEST IN A STEAMER
Admit it – your mother was right. Nothing kills an otherwise chic outfit faster than wrinkles. Ironing is a bummer, but the five extra minutes it takes to press your pieces is so worth it. Even better, invest in a steamer. It’s gentle enough to use on almost everything in your wardrobe, and doesn’t take up a lot of space or time — essential for lazy girls and less-than-lofty digs.
7. Topshop Jersey Pleat Midi Skirt ($60): Pleats are always #onfleek, whether you style ’em up for the office or dress ’em down with a basic tee and sneaks. Wrinkles can make the polished detail look totally whack, but a quick blast with a steamer will take care of all of that.
8. Sienna Surecare Garment Steamer ($120): Resist the urge to turn your bathroom into a steam room to get out deep-set wrinkles — it’s a waste of water and time. This compact steamer will make even the frumpiest separates look ready to hit the runway in seconds, with almost zero effort. Consider it your new closet MVP.
REPLACE THE BUTTONS
Who would have thought that something so small could make such a big impact? Say sayonara to cheap plastic buttons and swap ‘em out for something with a little more panache. Besides being a great way to add polish to inexpensive pieces, choosing your own buttons gives high-street styles a more personal feel. Head to your nearest fabric store or hit up Etsy for endless one-of-kind options. If sewing isn’t exactly you’re thing, most dry cleaners will do it for you for only a few bucks.
9. Vero Moda Button Through Pinafore Dress ($55): A denim dress with year-round appeal (and a RN apron neckline to boot)? Don’t mind if we do! For a more sophisticated feel, ditch the standard buttons for a pearlescent or tortoise style that would look killer with mock neck blouses and platform Oxfords, or gilded statement baubles and block heels.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
When it comes to ultra trendy items that likely won’t last more than a couple seasons, the high street is the place to go. That said, if intricate detailing, like glitzy embellishments, pleating or a unique dyeing process, is what you’re after, you might be better off shelling out a few extra bucks — they’re hard to get right on the cheap. Shop around to find the best possible version within your budget, or stick to simpler, pared-down pieces.
10. Keepsake Faithful Long Sleeve Top ($140): Eye-catching style isn’t all about sequins, studs and show-stopping prints. The clean lines and ruffled sleeves on this streamlined top make a stylish statement without going over the top.
GET IT TAILORED
Before taking your new clothes out for a spin, take them straight to the tailor. Having that $10 dress or pair of trousers nipped and tucked to perfection will ensure a better fit (meaning you’re more likely to wear it more often) and elevate its appearance well beyond its fast-fashion price tag. Keep in mind that the simpler the garment, the easier it is to fix.
11. Mango Straight Linen-Blend Trousers ($100): When you find the perfect pair of trousers that will take you from AM to PM no problem, it’s hard to say no. And this high-waisted pair will have you swooning hard. For an athleisure-approved getup you can rock on duty, team these smart white trousers with a vintage-inspired ribbed knit top (bonus points for stripes and a shade of sunny yellow) and slides. Pro Tip: If you’re unsure about the fit, take the next size up to make the tailoring process easier. It’s a lot easier to take something in than to let it out.
DO THE HIGH-LOW THING
Every fashion darling knows that striking the perfect balance of runway and high street pieces is a recipe for vestiary success. Outerwear and accessories are a great way to allot extra funds — they don’t just age well and maintain their value, but accessories are what give an outfit personality and flair.
12. Mansur Gavriel Mini Calf Leather Bucket Bag ($610): Don’t underestimate the power of a killer bag. This red-hot number is a major investment, but it’ll stand the test of time — and make even the most basic of basics look like luxe goods.
13. Lookast Blue Linen Soft Trench Coat ($228): Ask any editor or It girl — a gorgeous jacket is your wardrobe’s secret weapon. Even if you’re rockin’ distressed jeans and a tattered band tee, you’ll look like a bonafide style icon when you slip a forever coat or jacket over your shoulders. This denim trench is a refreshing step away from traditional khaki styles and would look downright DDG tossed over culottes, peep-toe booties and a sleeveless mock-neck top.
If you haven’t hopped on the monochromatic bandwagon just yet, now is definitely the time. The look is a bold one, no matter what the color, but it also feels intentional and incredibly put together, even if the price tag of your head-to-toe look is under $50. For extra style cred, don’t be afraid to play with texture to create an extra layer of visual intrigue.
14. Zara Off-the-Shoulder Top ($50): Stand out on GNO by ditching the classic bodycon for an off-the-shoulder top and cropped trouser combo in bright shades of white for a look that screams ahead of the curve. Team with vibrant accessories — like glitzy drop earrings or a quirky pop art clutch — to break up the look and add to the fashion-forward appeal.
PLAY WITH PROPORTION
Attention-grabbing prints and shimmery embellishments aren’t the only way to create visual intrigue. While the former can veer on the side of bargain basement if not done right, playing with proportion can easily yield stunning results. Tuck an oversized sweater into a flirty A-line skirt or pair wide-leg trousers with a streamlined bodysuit for a well-balanced look that won’t disappoint.
15. Forever21 Side-Slit Turtleneck Top ($25): There’s just something about a sleeveless turtleneck that gets us every time. Distressed denim, tailored trousers and twirl-worthy skirts that will do HR proud — this wear-anywhere number does it all. Tucked in, it has a sleek aesthetic that offers the ultimate counterbalance to billowy bottoms, and when hanging loose it gives skinny jeans and pencil skirts a laid-back feel.
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