Shopping Guide: Forever 21

I often get complimented on adorable items that were purchased at Forever 21 stores. I also find that many people in my age group or older are surprised to learn that Forever 21 is the source of the items they like; they generally respond with a bit of surprise, followed by a flurry of conversation about how they can NEVER find anything “in that store” with instances and examples of times they visited as confirmation. At this point, I will usually offer a few pieces of advice on how they can locate items that will work for them and I’ve decided to share these tidbits here as well.

According to estimates at Quantcast.com, Forever 21’s core buying demographic is women between the ages of 18 – 34, with a secondary demographic of 13 – 17 year-olds. So, while women who fall within or outside the higher end of this range will not want to wear ALL of the things that are available, they can absolutely find great pieces that will accent their wardrobes as well. The key, I believe, is in these tips:

Expect to get what you pay for.

Do not expect to get Marc Jacobs quality on a thrift store budget. The Forever 21 brands are built on the premise of affordability. And, in my opinion, their business is also very apparently based on quantity over quality, just judging by the overwhelming amount of merchandise on their sales floors at any given time. I’ve been told several times upon inquiry into whether or not “you have this item in a another size/color in the stock room” that all merchandise is already out on the floor. Despite the overwhelming amount of clothing they churn out, in many cases their pieces are fairly well made for their price point, and I find that if properly cared for, you can get several seasons of wear out of most of your items.

Forego trendy in favor of classic.

Military inspired, Alice in Wonderland inspired, 80s inspired—there is no shortage of themed inspiration at play by the clever fashion geniuses who market the stores. As a golden styling rule, know that not every trend is for every person. Bypass that ultra short, ruffled, mini in favor of a skinny black dress for more functionality and longer wearability.

Pay attention to how the clothing is positioned in themed sections.

The fact that most of the stores are organized into themed sections is a gem of a discovery. There are generally sections organized with some variation of the following:
  • NEW items
  • dressier items that would be work appropriate such as blazers, jackets, cardigans, sweaters and slacks 
  • casual areas that include long sweaters, belted sweaters, jeans, tees, casual button down shirts, etc.
  • racks and/or tables of leggings in varying colors, lengths and materials
  • sections with shorts, tanks and casual tops
  • what I like to call “club” sections where you’ll find all the sequins, micro-minis, backless/cutout/strapless numbers and general “get it in all night long” garb you can handle 
  • dresses, dresses and more dresses 
  • accessories and shoes
The areas described are by no means all encompassing, as many of the newer Forever 21 stores are quite large and many have multiple floors. It is instead, intended to encourage you to let your eyes categorize things in a manner that makes the choices less overwhelming; allowing you to easily gravitate to sections where what you want to wear will be located, while avoiding all the things that, well… give you a headache.

Pay little attention to the styling on the mannequins.

The mannequins and inspiration style sets in Forever 21 stores are created with a flair for drama, and are riddled with attention-seeking trendiness. But they are supposed to be as they are designed specifically to entice and inspire you to buy these items. It is important that you keep an open mind, and use this to draw out your own creativity, while staying true to your personal style and aesthetic. You want to avoid purchase guilt later on; OR worse—finding yourself wearing something ridiculously wrong for you because you don’t want to feel like you’ve wasted your money.

Be advised that most items will run smaller than the printed size.

In general, Forever 21’s clothing runs about 8 sizes too small. Okay, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but rest assured that if you have any little bit of curve or fullness anywhere on your body, you will have to go a size up and sometimes two sizes up from what you would normally slip into. I am already well aware that I cannot squeeze my curvy bottom half into any Forever 21 pant currently or previously in existence--and I am okay with that. (The Faith 21 “plus size” line is one way to get around this, but these sizes run small as well. I have been told by some of my plus size friends that they still cannot find a huge number of items to fit). Be prepared to throw away all your conventions about that little bold number on the inside of your item and if it fits, rock it. Period.

Don’t be afraid to have fun!

The youthful energy  infused into the vibe of the store can help you to indulge your inner style rock star. Don’t be afraid to punch up your staple look with vibrant colors or prints, high high heels, huge accessories or funky hats/headbands. I will sometimes edge out my look with a racy shoe, or by stacking millions (okay--maybe tens) of bracelets on one arm, or draping on a colorful scarf. It’s fun to keep the style that is comfortable to me, while adding a little something extra as well.

The great thing about Forever 21 is that it does indeed have something for everyone…if you only take the time to look around. I’ve included an example of a sweet frock, styled in a way that is appropriate for summer fun in the sun at any age.

Happy shopping!