A Guide to Shopping at Forever 21

Forever 21 has been my saving grace for about ten years. When my mom refused to pay Urban Outfitters prices, we went back to school shopping here, land of the cheap and trendy. In college, I would spend any extra cash I had on a heap of Forever 21 clothing, making a quick trip to the mall if I needed a new party dress or pair of chunky heels.

I’ve been slowly weaning myself off because I found myself easily spending a hundred bucks on stuff that rips, shrinks or is straight up not practical. Forever 21 is tricky. Here are my Forever 21 “cardinal rules”:

1. No shoes (hello, mangled feet).
2. No jewelry (so cute, but so easily destructible).
3. Most sweaters are a no-go (they’re hole-y and not useful in actual cold weather).
4. Faux leather anything is usually a bad idea (it will just look like trash bag material).
5. Save money for basics that you’re going to wear all the time (PJs, black jeans, etc).

But I do still shop at Forever 21 because seriously, who can afford Urban Outfitters? A girl’s gotta be on a reasonable budget. Another general rule I follow is if it looks like I bought the clothing item at Forever 21, I don’t buy it. As we all know, their clothes do fall apart easily and holes seem to form within a couple wears. But with that said, there are ways to pick and choose.

On Saturday I decided to go to the mall and see if I was able to find some stuff that I thought followed my basic shopping principles as well as looked good for being worth an average of sixty cents. Here were my winners:

The classic flower print dress, $27.80


Watch out for thin material when you’re buying a dress from Forever. I’ve fallen into the trap of “oh, it’s so cute” and ended up with a rip in my armpit a couple hours later. This one seemed okay, and it fit pretty well. I really loved the flowery design and the lacy collar; it felt vintage and casual, but you can dress it up with heels if you want. Since this dress is kind of on the shorter side, you can wear some black tight underneath.

Flowing coral top, $13.80


It’s kind of wrinkly here, but this top is super cute for spring or summer. I love shirts that aren’t tight fitting because they’re uncomfortable, so I sway towards flow-y, loose-fitting tops. This one in particular is surprisingly not see-through (it passed the black bra test) and was soft. Winner!

Black blazer, $15.80


Feel like dressing up said flowing tank top? Easy. Get a blazer. I’m absolutely in love with this one because not only is it super cheap, but it actually looks professional and work-worthy. Plus, polka-dots are my weakness.

Coral button-up blouse, $19.80


For some reason, coral is *the* color at Forever 21 right now. I guess because spring is on its way and the sweatshops got a good deal on pink fabric? Who knows. But this is another shirt that can work as professional or casual attire. It’s loose-fitting, the material is shiny-soft, and you can dress it up with some jewelry.

“Every Woman is a Rebel” Oscar Wilde t-shirt, $13.80


I think black and gold is freaking fabulous, and top it off with a bad ass Oscar Wilde quote, and I’m all set for a t-shirt. The material is soft like American Apparel t-shirts, although I would be careful washing and drying it so the gold doesn’t peel off.

Striped maxi skirt, $8.80


To be honest, maxi skirts and dresses make me nervous. They always hug my hips the wrong way, and I’m never sure what shoes to wear. But I noticed this striped number on display and decided to give it a go. And you know what? It didn’t look half bad. For nine bucks, it’s not even see-through, which is impressive. When I can pull off a longer skirt like this, I usually either pair it with a tank top, or go with the business-casual look by putting on a blazer. Well played, Forever 21.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10135202 Laura Elizabeth Donovan

    I love Forever 21, thanks so much for posting this! I must say I love the jewelry even though it breaks easily :)

    • Gina Vaynshteyn

      Haha, thanks Laura! I think I still have a couple of Forever 21 necklaces hanging around…for some reason I was REALLY into the vintage locket look in college. Also..OWLS.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10135202 Laura Elizabeth Donovan

        Wearing forever 21 owl earrings right now!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1794331208 Victoria Ivana Reyna

    This is awesome! I walked into a Forever 21 with one of my guy friends once. He looked around and said “No wonder girls have anxiety.” Seriously! There’s so much I usually just give up and leave. Thanks for posting this :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002601902067 Maxx Dizon

    See this would be great if I ever found anything at f21 that actually fit. #NotSkinny #NotTall

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746013759 Sasha Sirozh

    Ohoho! Skills easily transferable to Primark. More things to acceptably buy there: socks if the number of pairs in the pack is greater than price; tights as they will rip regardless of origin; and basics that you intend to sweat in at the gym.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002241186718 Amy Hoffman

    Great article! However, Forever 21 does not work for people with hips and/or bigger boobs. It’s great if juniors’ sizing fits you, but it quit working for me in 9th grade. I’ve worn women’s 8 pretty much since then, so I didn’t even get to shop there in High School! A tip for other women built like me…H & M does have women’s sizing and I have had better luck there, when wanting inexpensive but fashionable clothes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002241186718 Amy Hoffman

      I meant Misses’ sizes, not Women’s. :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=56802395 Crystal Sullivan

      THIS. H&M is affordable and is made better. Forever 21 isn’t as cheap as it was a few years ago, yet their clothes seem worse?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=511936300 Aubrey Vigil

    Related to your post but not to Forever 21, where did you get those flats? I am OBSESSED with gold flats haha

    • Gina Vaynshteyn

      Thanks, girl! I got them at Modcloth for 30 bucks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=81502150 Cora De Jesus

    I’m getting to the age where all my friends are starting to criticize me for still buying clothes at Forever 21. (Truth is, I can’t afford anything else without extensive pre-planning.) Sadly, the past few times, I’ve noticed I’m having a hard time selecting items.. not sure if it’s because the options are no longer to my taste or I’m just being thrifty. I insist on the latter until I get a raise/win the lottery.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508120606 Jessica N. Quick

      you do not look old enough for your friends to be criticizing you for shopping at f21! either they are boring & pretentious, or they are rich! buy whatever makes you look and feel good and what works for your budget! although splurging on expensive stuff every once in awhile is the best!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508120606 Jessica N. Quick

    i agree with all of this! i don’t mind buying any dress from them that is long enough (i’m tall, so some of their cute short dresses need leggings OR ELSE haha) and that i think is cute…as long as it’s around $20 or less. i love finding REALLY cheap stuff like tank tops and sports bras for under $10. i think it’s great to buy basics and fun cheap items at f21 and then buy some important pieces from more expensive stores to make a well rounded wardrobe. it’s good to find stuff from f21 that look more expensive than they really are. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=626682905 Chrissy ZipLoc Pipetti

    I’ll be 30 this year, I STILL shop at Forever 21, and I don’t care what anybody says about it! I totally agree that some of their stuff is uncomfortable and lasts for only about a week—98% of their shoe selection, amirite? However, I have been buying cute, inexpensive, comfy, and long-lasting dresses there and will probably not stop until a) they go out of business, or b) I am too old to drive myself to the mall. I’m glad you mentioned their dresses in this article, along with red flags to watch for when buying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000002953048 Catherine Bruno

    A majority of my closet is either Forever 21 or H&M, with some Kohls thrown in. I’ve heard people poo poo their jeans, but I have two pairs of jeans from there that I have had forever years and they’re still in great shape! A little faded, but no holes or rips or tears and I swear I’ve had them at least 4 years maybe more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565849695 Taylor Aidibi-Dotson

    Why lie? I’m nearly thirty and I shop there.

    For staples, it’s fantastic. I used to spend an insane amount on basic items and after I started shopping at Forever 21, I never went back. There’s a lot of things I stay away from, especially given my age (no more spandex/bodycon for this girl), but over all they have some fairly decent, stylish stuff at a reasonable price.

    I haven’t had any major issues, other than that the invisible zippers on dresses wear out after a few wears sometimes. Thank god for sewing tools. Even with replacing zippers, it is still much cheaper than buying high end stuff (that often has issues eventually, too, unfortunately.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=516578862 Victoria Lalumandier

    I have to say that there is much truth to your Forever 21 “cardinal rules.” Although, the few pieces of jewelry that I bought are still intact.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1536390894 Dreamily Duff

    I got my Urban Outfitters’ but yes I got a lot more of forever21 lol you are right who can afford Urban Outfitters prices!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=633405098 Na Xeli Gutierrez

    oh my! i have the first dress and its really pretty, and yep im old and busty and somehow i always find something cute, but yeah the shoes are awful

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1283920437 Ashley Walters

    Woo! I ordered the flowing black dress online! Glad it passed the wearability test!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=48911652 Karen Li

    Thanks for writing this! I like your choices! I absolutely agree about the quality. I find it’s been going downhill the last few years. I have camisoles from years ago that are better quality, softer, thicker, and cheaper than the camis now. After seeing what you tried on, in order to save money, I better stay away from F21! LOL I know I wouldn’t leave empty-handed. Hahaha!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=515545747 Chelsea Keesler

    I’ve only been into Forever 21 a few times, and have only bought one or two things there. I still have a cute, flowy, polka dot spaghetti strap tank (that’s actually a sleep shirt,) but that’s all I can think of that’s in my closet. Fortunately, I’m able to find brands like Banana Republic and Ann Taylor, which are cute, but the quality is much better, at our local thrift stores. The clothes are often new or very gently worn, and super affordable!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=525627184 Sil Pizarro

    Well I love Forever 21, and yes I never leave the store without spending $100, which sucks!! , but well their cloth quality is key point, I guess if helps I wash my tees and tops by hand, and yes WHO CAN AFFORD UO??!! so expensive, even on sale, I also go to H&M, and some random stores, like Pacsun, Zumiez, being almost 30 is difficult to start dressing on a different way than my 20’s, is complicated to do the transition at least for me, but well o well, at least the earrings are pretty good I have tons of them, addiction I guess!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=640512641 Kim Miller

    Great article! Forever 21 is great for clothes that you wouldn’t be wearing a lot (ex: I’m a music major, I need a lot of nice black clothes for concerts), but they do tend to fall apart. Word to the wise: their return policy is pretty much non-existent! I bought a dress a few weeks ago, then upon trying to put it on realized the zipper was faulty. They wouldn’t take it back because it had been something like 25 days, and their limit is 21, even when the product is broken!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=627146348 Kim Fisher

    “For some reason, coral is *the* color at Forever 21 right now. I guess because spring is on its way and the sweatshops got a good deal on pink fabric? Who knows.”

    Because the exploitation of people around the globe, and here in the US too, who do invisible, tedious labor for unfair pay without any other options is really funny. Oh wait, it isn’t. Although I usually enjoy hello giggles posts, joking about the cruelties other human beings, just like us, endure on a daily basis because the labor market is exploitative and imperialistic highlights how apathetic you are to the conditions others are faced with. The fact that you can knowingly purchase items made this way is sad and unfortunately, commonplace; but to make fun of the situation is disgusting.

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