You can be wearing the least expensive outfit in the room and still be the best dressed. Style trumps fashion every. damn. time!

Look, we all have dreams of eventually moving on from F21 and other fast fashion stores (main reason: how they treat their factory workers is really terrible.. that’s another story important to talk about!). But until us ladies are ballin’ out of control, sometimes we’re going to shop at F21. And it’s not like we should be ashamed of that- hell… Cynthia and I wear it all the time. We’re financing Violet Fog ourselves, so we’re not spending extra money on big ticket items. But we still love to shop… and as a wardrobe stylist, I know a thing or two about buying pieces from Forever 21 that don’t LOOK like they’re from Forever 21. That’s the key. 

But look ladies, at the end of the day- wear whatever you feel and look best in! Rules are meant to be broken and this is just a simple style guide.

 Here’s part 1 of tips and tricks for shopping at Forever 21.

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Tip 1- (T-shirts): When shopping for T-shirts, avoid ones that have obnoxiously obvious stitching.

When the stitching is wide and zig-zagged (above), it not only cheapens the look of the shirt but it’s more likely to unravel. Also look at the fabric. F21 tees that are slub knit OR have more of a rougher, starchier feel (also above… clearly this is a shitty shirt lol)…  they just look like they are from Forever 21.

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Instead: look for tees that are on the softer side with a more “lived in” feel to them. These look more expensive, feel better on the skin, and are usually around the same price as the crap tees! Also, look for stitching that is smaller and not zig- zagged (you want stitches that are horizontal and close together). Also pay attention to the yarn- the more it “blends” with the fabric, the better.

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Again- the stitching is more inconspicuous and horizontal. Doesn’t it look way better? Stitching applies to all their pieces, not just shirts!

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Side by side comparison. Clearly the maroon one looks more expensive. And it’s comfier. And they are the same price. No brainer!

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Tip 2 (Buttons): Be mindful of buttons. A lot of them are sowed on so crappy that they pop off really easily.

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Tip 3 (Frays): Be mindful of frays in general. If it’s already fraying before it even leaves the store, the piece is not going to last long.

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Tip 4 (Bohemian styles): Their “peasant” pieces (bohemian blouses, bell sleeved dresses, etc) are usually pretty good quality and look more expensive than they are. Tends to be a safe bet!

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Tip 5 (Lace): Not all lace at F21 is created equal. Typically, when they weave lace into a cotton tee (above) it looks cheap. Another example of a cheap lace top is this one. Notice how it also looks kind of juvenile.

Instead: If you are going for a lace piece, I would recommend something with a more intricate pattern like this top, that stands alone. Another option is one that perhaps is over a cotton piece, but it FULLY blends with the lace. This white top is a great option!

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Tip 6 (Long Sleeves): Maybe this is just a personal preference or observation, but button tabs (the flap up material that is secured with a button on sleeves to shorten it) looks outdated. You don’t typically see them on higher end shirts. So don’t forget to pay attention to detail! Pick a classic long sleeve that you can roll up instead.

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Tip 7 (boob stretch test): A lot of their stretchy body con pieces (tops and dresses)  are usually made with a “white” under base that looks shiny when it stretches. I call it the “white boob stretch.” It’s so annoying, like come on F21 just make the under part of the fabric the same color, damn! Why you gotta make it hard for us girls. lol. Some pieces don’t have this problem though- so test out your stretch before- make sure it retains its color and doesn’t go white!

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PS: This top would be a pass anyway because the black already looks faded and “boob scrunch” that has under the middle of the collar looks juvenile.

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Tip 8 (Cliche prints): Stay away from cliche sayings (like above.. even though we all love B!) or ones that -sorry- are kinda stupid. And if it looks like a quote you saw on Instagram… it’s going to look like a shirt from Forever 21.

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Instead: Opt for ones that are, you know, a little more thoughtful and somewhat more creative and mature. This one ain’t bad!

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Tip 9 (Backpacks): The backpacks with HUGE metal rings, like the one above, is not only a bitch to open and close (my friend had one  that we switched off back and forth at a concert. I wanted to stomp on the damn thing!) but they also just look cheap.

Instead: Opt for a solid color, soft, faux leather backpack.<— That one doesn’t look like F21 at alllllll. Their patterned “classic style” ones can be pretty cute too!

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Tip 10 (Cheetah print): A lot of their cheetah print looks embarrassingly cheesy because the pattern is too repetitive and lacks variation in depth of colors. Above looks like it’s F21. Good cheetah print has more variation in placement and size of spots.

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Tip 11 (Jeans): It’s no secret that their stretchy denim skinny jeans are not the best. But the worst of the worst is usually the thin, starchy ones. The ones that don’t feel soft to touch at alllllll. The stitching is always frays and the material is just… meh. It conceals no lumps and bumps either!

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Instead: Opt for their softer stretchy denim. It conceals more lumps and bumps, lasts a little longer, and definitely looks more expensive. Some of their non stretchy jeans -like these cigarette boyfriends– do a good job with a more expensive looking wash as well too. Not skinny jeans, but you get the point!

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Tip 12 (Avoid obnoxious zippers): This is the quickest way to cheapen a piece. It makes me so mad! Why don’t they just conceal the zippers on all of their pieces?

Instead- Look for zippers in a smaller or in a dustier shade (bronze, dark silver) rather than a bright ass silver one.

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Tip 13 (Dainty jewelry): They have a lot of really great dainty pieces! Just avoid too bright of gold or silver. Dainty pieces often look more expensive.

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Tip 14 (Faux diamonds): Their COLORED faux diamonds always look cheap. Very rarely have I seen one of their colored diamonds (blue, pink, whatever) look decent. Also the chain on the above doesn’t look sturdy at all.

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Tip 15 (Avoid stretchy diamond bracelets): Their stretchy diamond pieces will pinch the shit out of your skin! And also notice how these diamonds are “brighter” but in a wow that is so fake kind of way? Stay awaaay!

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Tip 16 (Earrings): See how these diamonds are smaller, in more interesting shapes and clusters, and also seem to have a dark grey under tone (as opposed to bright, like the picture above)? That’s what you want! You want the metal to be “dustier” not “bright” underneath the diamonds. It always looks more expensive. Small clusters or big diamonds any day! The bigger the F21 diamond.. the more F21 it looks haha.

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Tip 17: A lot of their diamond bracelets aren’t as up to par as their other diamond pieces. The better options are often their earrings or when they are used sparingly in necklaces.

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Tip 18 (Faux stones): Their faux “rare stones” are not their strongest jewelry designs. Above looks way too fake.

Tip: If you’re looking for pieces with faux stone- darker colors are usually a better bet.

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This faux stone is darker and looks way more expensive than it is ($4.90) and not to mention, BRONZE chain rather than gold! The variation in the stone’s design looks way more natural.

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Tip 19 (Arm bling): Matte metal ALWAYS looks more expensive than super shiny ones!

See that first double silver cuff? It’s too shiny and screams “F21.”

The “dustier” more distressed silver (next to it) looks like it’s way better quality- it’s heavier too! Always a plus. You don’t want flimsy.

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Tip 20 (Buttons): Back to the buttons. Buttons that have a more marble swirl design (often mimicking a horn button used on more expensive pieces) are a good bet at Forever 21. They don’t look like typical F21 buttons!

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Tip 21 (snap buttons): Usually the best snap buttons are the ones that don’t look like snap buttons. Above is a good example of snap buttons that don’t look like… snap buttons. How many times can I say snap buttons?

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Tip 22 (Shoes): The best “browns” they do with shoes are the dark brown and caramel/tan color. Both above! Light brown (or ANY brown in suede) doesn’t look as quality.

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Tip 23 (Knit sweaters): Their sweaters with interesting knits and patterns are always a good bet. It’s easy to make a sweater look more expensive!

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Tip 24 (Chunky sweaters): Their mohair/fuzzy sweaters are super comfy and look just like the more expensive ones you’ll find in department stores. The reason is because of depth in texture! Pro tip: Buy a size or two bigger for a “cozy” style that you can rock off the shoulders too.

Tip 25: If you’re ordering online, always zoom in and look at the stitching and buttons. That’s where you see the real quality!

Forever 21 will always be fast fashion, so we’re not going to get superb quality no matter how we spin it. But if you know what to avoid and certain things to check for- then you can get WAY more bang for your buck rather than just going about it blindly.

Any other tips to add for our part 2 later? Share em! 🙂

All photos taken by: Melissa De Mata

Katey Yurko
Katey || INFP || Founder/Director of Violet Fog ||

About The Author

Katey Yurko

Katey || INFP || Founder/Director of Violet Fog ||

2 Responses

  1. We’re Choosing to Spend A Litttttle More $$ On Basics. Here’s Why | Violet Fog

    […] We kept all this in mind while on the hunt for a few new basics. We were like, “okay.. one tee, one pair of jeans! That’s it!” Bootstrapping your own business means rarely having money left over to spend on yourself. Won’t lie, it SUCKS. We shop more consciously though. So for these pieces, we decided to go somewhere that is QUALITY and had that happy medium of not paying luxe prices- but also not Forever 21. […]

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