I shop A LOT.
As of late, I have been going into shops like Top Shop, Forever 21, H&M, Joe Fresh and ZARA as of late to sort of see what is trendy and what is there.
The price tags have made me gasp but not in a good way. They are all so incredibly expensive (in my opinion) for such cheap crap.
For instance, at Top Shop 100% polyester (but a very cool fun magenta) pair of pants was retailing at $75!! Can you believe this? $75 for a pair of cheap pants. I was floored.
$75 is what I’d pay for a decent pair of designer pants in a consignment shop, I even picked up a Giorgio Armani pair of white pants for only $100, so to pay $75 for polyester from Top Shop is unreal to me.
Then I tried ZARA and was surprised to see $250 price tags on coats. Are they for real? They weren’t that amazing and for double that price you could get a much nicer coat or buy a better quality version at Aritzia.
Wow, secondhand is the way to go!
I started to realize how much thrifting, secondhand designer shopping and being pickier as I get older has started to make me balk at retail prices without a serious, deep, discount or markdown.
That said, there are stores that offer quality (decently high) for the price paid in my opinion. I shop and own a lot of designer pieces and I can tell you that like mainstream items, the quality is not automatically guaranteed no matter how much it costs and what it sold for.
But I understand, not all of us want to, or are able to shop secondhand, and waiting for the RIGHT pair of pants in the RIGHT size to come up can be a patient waiting game that takes years and countless eBay alerts.
So here are my recent experiences with what brands these days are offering good bang for the buck.
(If you love this, let me know! I can do a periodic review or update every year or so because I do (window)shop like a mofo.)
If you can afford it, MM Lafleur clothes are impeccably made. The finishing, the sewing, this is high quality, designer level. You won’t see open seams here, or anything that isn’t properly done.
Their stuff fits so well, drapes, and feels incredible on.
A few of my reviews are here:
MM Lafleur reviews: Soho Skirt and Fey Top (see above)
MM Lafleur reviews: Catherine Dress (see above)
I will say as an inverted triangle shape, I find their clothes harder to wear because they always add a (professional office attire) cap sleeve or something. I hate that for my shape, and prefer sleeveless, but I have found many items that worked, and I just buy them in duplicates in various colours.
50% hit and miss for me.
Some of their items are great. I have to say that on a consistent basis they have not disappointed me with their dresses, skirts, blazers and their button-up shirts.
Their sweaters have been a hit and miss. I have kept some, mostly the Todd & Duncan cashmere ones, or this fuzzy one, but the rest are very lint-prone and don’t look that great after a few sashes.
I don’t particularly like BR for blazers because the cut doesn’t fit my inverted triangle shoulders, but their blazers and toppers are generally a very good quality for the price paid as long as you score them for 40% off. Do not pay retail.
A button up shirt for instance can retail for $110 but at a basic 40% off discount you should absolutely not be paying more than $66, and closer to $30 if you are patient and are willing to risk not having it in your size and/or colour when it hits the sale rack.
There are of course exceptions. If you can, get their modal, viscose or tencel shirts. Fabric REALLY matters at BR.
The ones as of late are thick, feel silk-like and are very good quality. Not all the time mind you, but a good chunk of the time they aren’t that bad.
Their linen tends to be terrible — thin, see through and scratchy but their linen blends can sometimes be surprisingly amazing as I picked up a linen dress for $60 (deeply discounted) and it is amazing.
Where they have been scoring high for me was in things like their thick silk trench dresses like this gorgeous one I was happy to buy with very little discounts:
And this is an elephant print one:
This is a store that is starting to show up more and more on my quality radar. The pricing is similar to Banana Republic at retail except VERY LITTLE TO NO DISCOUNTS.
The price is the price.
If you see items on sale, they are very unlikely to be what you want, and/or will not be discounted down more than 50% (and some of their prices are $$$$$)!! A coat I was admiring was $400 and within a week my size sold out and that was that.
Like this skirt, I bought it in a Size 6 because I was too late and the 4 sold out already:
(Note: The belt is Burberry, not Massimo Dutti, it looks better with the Burberry belt)
I love their slim fit blazers because they fit well and are well made. I have owned mine for years and they still look good.
If you like a piece and you think it is good quality, buy it.
Again, a bit of a hit and miss but mostly a hit.
Barely any discounts on things you actually want. By the time you want to buy something, you wait and wait and wait, then you realize your size and/or preferred colour is sold out.
I like their coats but do not find them as luxurious as if you put in another $500 to buy a secondhand designer coat instead, because the drape on some of them are fine, but I have come across those coats in thrift or secondhand shops and find they look very wrinkled and no longer as pristine as before.
Well made coats, stay pristine and keep their lovely drape. Like this Dolce & Gabbana one I scored for $150 CAD off eBay as a fluke:
The coat originally retailed for thousands, but secondhand, in brand new condition, $150. Score.
I do however, like the Aritzia sweaters for the most part, their blouses, their shawl blazers and anything that is crepe-like and thick. I find those pieces are very beautiful and wear well, even after multiple washes like this jumpsuit I am lusting after:
As for their sweaters, I have been looking for duster sweaters for a long time but never liked any I saw. They weren’t draping well, they looked fuzzy, cheap, I didn’t like the complicated cuts because I knew it would not fall well and look luxe.
Then I went into Aritzia and immediately snapped up their dusters at FULL PRICE (*omg*) but they have been wonderful pieces:
You can even see that it looks just like that on me, not just in photos:
I only rediscovered this shop because I have been browsing lower-end shops to see what is trending.
Surprisingly, their shirts are very good for only $25.
I’d say they are the same quality as Banana Republic for a good chunk of the time (exceptions apply), but BR sells their shirts at $50 “on sale”, so you’re getting the same shirt for half the price here in many cases.
Their over coats are not too bad either if you aren’t picky about fabric because depending on the shape and weight of the coat, it can look very luxe even though it isn’t very expensive ($100-ish?)
I’d say what falls short for me is everything else.
I find it looks cheap, feels cheap… but their collared shirts and coats were not bad at all.
The Bottom Line
That’s the thing with cheaper brands, is that not everything they sell will feel luxe, be viscose or rayon or feel like high quality, in the same way that an expensive designer brand doesn’t necessarily mean everything they make feels luxe or is worth the price tag.
You really need to go out there, try different brands, and touch everything. Open up the coat, check the seams, check the finishing, look for wrinkles, threads sticking out, properly sewn hems and seams that don’t pucker.
Look at the fabric — is it mostly natural?
Look at the way it drapes, think about how it will feel after it is washed a few times.
Swipe it around other clothes to see if it picks up fibers like crazy or if it pills if you rub it a little. All of these things are markers of cheap clothing no matter the price tag.
(Also, I really hate “tissue weight” or “gossamer” marketed clothing, because it just means they didn’t put in the money to buy a THICKER weight fabric in silk, cashmere, whatever, and it will look, feel and be cheap.)