Online shopping for clothing can be super intimidating. How do you know what sizes to pick, what store will have the best options for your body type, and who has quality selections? It’s essential to know the answers to these questions when shopping, but it takes a lot of trial and error to get there.
So I’ve taken it upon myself, as part of my series to unearth the absolute best online retail experiences, to scour the internet for both the best and most popular online clothing retailers by researching the opinions of past purchasers and testing out the stores that have the best reviews. It came down to these three: Forever21, Grana, and Free People. Each is very distinct in price range, style, and quality.
Fast fashion retailers, like Forever21, aren’t known for selling staples that’ll last for years. You won’t usually find the perfect silk top or cashmere sweater to add as a lifetime investment to your wardrobe, but what you will find is trendy items and cheap basics that’ll have you looking sharp for the season. I’m not hugely into fast fashion, so I had to take the word of the hundreds of other shopping bloggers who love the store and find incredible pieces there. Forever21 doesn’t have many reviews on their website, but they do disclose a LOT of information about their products, so I felt that I was able to make a very informed decision. Shipping was less than $10, and I received all my items within 7 days.
When shopping here, I decided to gravitate more toward cheap staples so I could take full advantage of the low prices Forever21 boasts of. I also wanted to truly test the sizing and quality themselves, rather than focusing on frills and trends.Having purchased two bottoms and two tops, I think I was able to get a great handle on the overall sizing of Forever21. My total was under $20, so if you’re in desperate need of some new basics but don’t have a ton of money to spend, definitely visit their website.
I found that the clothing ran about a size smaller than stores that utilize vanity sizing, like J.Crew and Loft, but that they’re actually very true to standard sizing. At 5’5” and 150 pounds, the medium crop tops fit me perfectly, and because I’m definitely more pear-shaped I ordered a size large in both bottom pieces and was very satisfied with how they fit. None of the pieces are as tailored as something more expensive, but they’re still complimentary enough to the human frame.
As far as quality is concerned, I’d say Forever21 is definitely on the low end of the spectrum, but I wasn’t disappointed by that. I expected it. The leggings are slightly transparent and shouldn’t be worn with anything that doesn’t cover the butt and crotch, but I wouldn’t really expect anything different for less than $5.
And concerning style, Forever21 has historically catered to a younger demographic, but that isn’t to say they don’t offer occasional great options for any age group or style range. You’ll find more and better pieces for a professional atmosphere at J.Crew or Loft, but you might find a beautiful, sharp blazer or skirt here as well.
Grana is a company that’s riding the wave of disintermediate sales: a recent trend that involves selling luxury items at a mid-range price by cutting out the middle man. At Grana, you’ll find high-quality silks, fabrics, and denim that claim to compare to high-end retailers. I’m not a luxury buyer, and I don’t know the difference between fine silk and cheap silk, but I am a frequent shopper and can give an honest opinion on my experience.
The actual shopping experience was fine, but I could tell that one of the ways they cut costs is by not investing as much as I feel they should in their website’s interface. For the sake of this shopping series, I wanted to know some details that weren’t disclosed in the descriptions, and the online customer service chat box was very glitchy. Also, the site froze and timed out twice before I was able to confirm my order, making me worried about whether my card had been charged once or thrice (in the end, my card was only charged once and all was well). But when I received my order from China in less than 5 days, I completely forgot my qualms concerning their interface. So impressed.
At Grana, I limited myself to two pieces that I think I could get a lot of wear out of. My total for the both was about $130, but I know I could have spent closer to $300 or $400 for comparable items at a more main-stream or luxury store.
The sizing is very standard, as a medium top and dress both fit excellently. The beauty of the pieces I chose is that they’re “trapeze” style pieces that will accommodate my seasonal weight changes and can be worn all year long.
I received my Forever21 package first, so I was immediately very impressed with the quality of Grana’s clothing by comparison. I can tell the stitching is very solid and shouldn’t develop holes, and the silk is quite thick.
Grana only sells basics, so they really can be worn by anyone. My style leans more bohemian and casual, but a friend of mine who always dresses to the nines had some serious closet envy once she saw my new pieces. They offer an even mix of professional and relaxed options, and everything is very clean-cut.
This store is my absolute favorite, but I promise I allowed no bias to influence my opinions. Almost none of Free People’s pieces are designed for a corporate office environment, but that’s kind of the beauty of it for me. They aren’t particularly known for their quality, though many of their pieces are top-notch in that arena, but they’re famous for their statement-making items that turn heads, all while being extremely comfortable (most of the time – items with heavy beading excluded).
It’s hard to reign myself in when it comes to this website, but their prices are usually quite steep (because they’re decent quality and because there are a lot of details in most pieces) so I tend to gravitate toward sales and clearance sections of the site. I desperately needed a new handbag, so I was able to find a beautiful vegan leather one on crazy discount (from $98 to $23!). I also ordered some basic light-black jeans and a very basic, but also incredibly flattering, crop top. My total was just under $100, which is about what I expect from the quality and style I was purchasing.
To be honest, Free People’s sizing is all over the place. They sell items from many different brands, so there is no standard with them. However, they do make up for that by allowing reviewers to post pictures and details about sizing, and they do get a TON of reviews. When shopping online – especially when sizing is a concern – I highly value detailed reviews and photos of the items on average-sized people, and Free People doesn’t disappoint here. I was able to analyze other shoppers’ experiences with sizing and fit, and I ordered the perfect sizes which fit beautifully.
Free People’s quality is as all over the place as their sizing, but that’s sort of the appeal to those such as myself. It’s possible to find beautiful staples with unexpected details for less than $30, but they also offer luxury items for many hundreds of dollars. Concerning my order, I believe that I got what I paid for. The denim I purchased is a true, classic denim that I know for a fact will last for years, even if holes wear into the kneees. The vegan leather purse feels like quality, soft leather. And the crop top has decent-enough stitching for a $20 top.
If you’re someone who loves to stand out (either subtly or obviously), you’ll love their style. Whether you’re edgy, sleek, or bohemian, you’ll find many items there you love. However, if you don’t value detail and unique pieces, you’ll probably find it difficult to shell out as much money as they typically cost.
I wasn’t disappointed with any of my purchases, and I think that each store brought something very different, yet so needed, to my wardrobe. And even better, I’ve now got three retailers in my back-pocket that I can turn to with educated purchases. Have you had similar experiences at these retailers? If not, what did you discover in your shopping excursion?