Top 20 Best Stores for Fashion on a Budget

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The 20 best affordable clothing websites and cheap clothing stores you need to know about

At some point in your life as a stylish college woman, you’ll face an important choice: buying clothes, or buying books? And since books are non-negotiable in college, if you want to maximize your (few) leftover dollars, you need to know where to shop.

There are tons of affordable clothing stores out there, but which ones are worth shopping at, and which aren’t? Some cheap shopping sites are fabulous, but many are just, well… cheap. We’re here to help you discern between the two so that you know where to go when you’re looking for a new outfit, on a budget.

If you have champagne taste on a beer budget, dollar store clothing is not gonna cut it. You need to shop at the right places.

{RELATED POST: Top 10 Best Online Boutiques for Unique & Affordable Finds}

Without further ado, here’s the official College Fashion love list of the top 20 best stores for fashion on a college budget. Visit these affordable clothing stores, shop right, and no one will know that your #ootd didn’t cost a fortune!

Top 20 Best Budget Fashion Stores

20. Lulus

Screenshot of Lulus website

California brand Lulus actually began as a vintage store called LuLu*s Fashion Lounge.

Known for their affordable, girly clothing, Lulus is a great place to shop if you are looking to add trendy yet relaxed pieces to your wardrobe without breaking the bank. (BTW, they also topped our list of the best clothing stores for teens.)

In addition to their collection of everyday clothes – which encompasses everything from basic bodysuits to swimwear – the brand also has an expansive event-wear line of dresses and gowns. If you’re looking for a dress to wear to a formal, date party, or wedding this should be one of the first stores you check!

Lulus also sells adorable jewelry, bags, shoes, scarves, and beauty products.

Note: Lulus is great for swimwear, but it’s not our favorite swimwear store! See our list of the best stores for cheap bathing suits for our faves.

19. J.Crew Factory

Screenshot of image from J.Crew Factory Canada website

If you long for the fun, preppy-with-a-twist look of J.Crew, but can’t justify paying their prices, head over to J.Crew Factory, J.Crew’s equally-chic, yet more affordable, line.

While J.Crew Factory’s prices don’t always fall under the category of cheap, per se, they are definitely amazing for what you’re getting, especially when it comes to workwear staples like blazers and trousers.

The best part of J.Crew Factory is that they sometimes release items that look identical to the ones sold at J.Crew, only at a much lower price! They tend to wait until a later season to do so, and only do this with certain pieces, so you’ll have to be patient.

Like J.Crew, J.Crew Factory sells shoes, bags, accessories, pajamas, and jewelry in addition to clothing. They sell swimsuits as well, although their selection is much smaller than J.Crew’s.

Finally, the brand offers “special sizes,” which encompass petite, tall, sizes 18-20 clothing, and sizes 5 and 11 shoes. However, these collections are different and/or much smaller than their “mainstream” collection, so if you fall into any of those categories, it’s probably a good idea to look elsewhere.

Want more places to buy workwear? Check out our list of the best places to buy work clothes.

18. Cotton On

Best stores for fashion on a budget: Cheap shopping sites. Cotton On

With plenty of basics and beachy items like tees and swimwear at affordable prices, Australian-born brand Cotton On is all about bringing the Aussie lifestyle to the world with its laid-back fashions for girls and guys.

Here you’ll be able to scoop up graphic print t-shirts, jeans, and cute dresses with styles that range from basic to trendy – and most items are under $50. Score!

There’s also Cotton On Body, which is the brand’s line of activewear, pajamas, loungewear, bras, and panties, so you’ll be covered on all fronts at this store. They even have a homewares section on their website (along with gifts and stationery) called Typo, so you can decorate your dorm or room all while shopping for a new outfit.

17. eBay and Etsy

I chose to group eBay and Etsy together because they are similar in that both are places where individuals, rather than brands, sell items directly to the consumer.

The main difference between the two is that Etsy tends to focus more on selling unique handmade or vintage items, whereas eBay’s focus is geared more towards the re-selling of used (or new) items.

One very important thing to keep in mind – especially when it comes to eBay – is that you need to make sure that the seller from whom you are ordering is reliable and safe.

I’m not going to lie, I did have a negative experience recently in which I thought I was ordering a bracelet from a certain brand but was sent a knock-off instead. I was definitely surprised, as the seller seemed to have very positive reviews. Thankfully, it was a relatively inexpensive purchase, but still – be extremely careful!

As far as Etsy goes, I have only had positive experiences so far. Nonetheless, I recommend being as cautious as possible, particularly when buying vintage items. This is because there’s more room for exaggeration and/or lying than with handmade items.

Lastly, don’t be shy to message sellers with your questions. Based on my own experience, they are always happy to offer help!

These stores sell everything, including costumes! Read our guide to the best places to buy Halloween costumes to learn more.

16. Express

Best affordable fashion and clothing stores: Express (screenshot of Express website)

Express is known for their stylish pieces and workwear staples – particularly their collection of well-fitting dress pants, available in different cuts and colors.

Just about everything is under $100, with most items in the $40-$80 range. So, their items might cost you a bit more than your typical Forever 21 or H&M finds, but the difference in quality is there.

Also, they are known for offering up to 50% off quite often – always wait for the sales with Express!

In addition to clothing, Express sells shoes, accessories, jewelry, swimwear, and activewear, so there’s something for everyone.

Finally, Express carries petite sizes, which, according to the retailer, are meant for women 5’4″ and under.

15. Nordstrom Rack

If you’re looking for a wide selection of fashion-forward and more sophisticated pieces, then Nordstrom Rack is the place for you! The majority of their clothing rings in at $50 or less, and most of their items are well made.

Nordstrom Rack carries plus-size and petite clothing, as well as shoes, bags, jewelry, accessories, intimates, swimwear, items for the home, and gifts.

They also carry some items by department store designers at lower prices; however, it is worth noting that some brands produce items specifically for outlet stores that were never sold in full-price department stores at all. This isn’t necessarily the case at Nordstrom Rack, but it’s worth remembering when shopping at any outlet.

So, if you’re looking for bargains on department store items, it’s a good idea to do your research first to make sure you’re actually getting what you’re looking for.

And in the case that you aren’t happy with your purchase, you can now return your Nordstrom Rack purchases at Nordstrom locations, for added convenience.

14. Zara

Best cheap shopping sites: Zara

I’m going to tell you a secret: Zara is my budget fashion weakness. Every time I go into a Zara store or browse through their online selection, I can’t help but admire the cool, on-trend clothes that look like they belong on the cover of a magazine.

As with any affordable clothing store, some Zara pieces are of poor quality. However, I’ve found most Zara clothes hold up well for years.

One thing to note: Zara carries extremely trendy (and sometimes crazy) styles, so it’s important that you go in with a sense of what you like to get the best value for your money.

I also love Zara’s more discreet, but still awesome, selection of basics: Think sophisticated trench coats, chic blouses, and tailored pants.

13. Online and In-Person Thrift/Second-Hand Stores

If you’re a seasoned bargain hunter, you’ve probably hit up brick-and-mortar thrift/second-hand stores such as Goodwill or Buffalo Exchange at some point in your life. Thrifting is awesome and we love it here at CF!

However, due to the increasing popularity of online shopping, online retailers including Poshmark and ThredUp have brought the thrifting experience to the digital world.

For the most part, these online thrift/second-hand shops make it easier to find what you’re looking for, as they allow you to avoid the trademark thrift store clutter. But if you’re someone who lives for “the hunt,” I’d recommend visiting a local thrift shop in person.

Love thrifting? See our guide to the best online thrift stores.

12. Old Navy

Best cheap shopping sites and clothing websites on a budget: Old Navy has amazing affordable clothing for women and men

Old Navy is one of those classic stores that just never gets old! From their adorable dresses to their flattering jeans, Old Navy is a reliable standby that should be on every college girl’s list. Not to mention that they’re always doing great sales, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a great deal on whatever you end up buying.

Old Navy carries petite, plus, and tall sizes, and they have a gender-neutral line of clothing, as well.

They also have an activewear line, which is definitely worth a look if you exercise a lot or just love the athleisure-style vibe.

If you’re looking for more places to buy activewear, be sure to check out our list of the best stores for cheap workout clothes.

11. Amazon

Amazon fashion screenshot

In decades past, Amazon wasn’t exactly a fashion mecca, but now that’s all changed. These days, it’s one of our favorite places to shop for affordable clothes.

Amazon carries a massive range of fashionable clothing and accessories. From Shopbop exclusives to their own house brands to their influencer-inspired line The Drop, they have everything, and most of it is very affordable.

And they really shine in the activewear area — you can find everything from viral Lululemon dupes to the comfiest workout tanks of all time. With such an amazing selection available on Amazon, there’s no reason to spend hundreds of dollars on activewear anymore.

Yes, the clothing on Amazon can be hit or miss, so it’s important to always read reviews and look at the photos users post in the review section. And remember that Amazon’s return policy is generally great, which makes the shopping process much less stressful.

Need to accessorize your look on a budget? Here’s our guide to the best places to buy cheap accessories.

10. Missguided

Best stores for fashion on a budget: Cheap shopping sites. Missguided

If you want to stay on top of the latest fashion trends but don’t want to break the bank, Missguided is the store for you. The best part is that they’re almost always running a sale or offering a major discount code!

While they also sell sweats and basic pieces, Missguided is the ultimate destination for going-out looks: eye-catching dresses, trendy crop tops, and sleek skirts abound. Missguided also offers inclusive sizing with tall, petite, and plus-size options.

Thanks to Missguided’s unique designs that you won’t find at other stores, everyone will be asking you where you got your outfit on your next night out!

9. PrettyLittleThing

Best stores for fashion on a budget: Cheap shopping sites. PrettyLittleThing PLT

PrettyLittleThing is a lot like Missguided, both with the type of clothing they offer and with their too-good-to-be-true prices. You can count on PLT to offer site-wide sales and/or epic discount codes all the time, so you’re sure to score ultra-trendy items for a bargain.

PLT also adds new merchandise to their website daily, so I’m constantly checking their “New In” section for freshly updated pieces that reflect the hottest trends, including accessories, shoes, and beauty products.

You’ll be able to find your perfect fit by shopping PLT’s ranges for petite, tall, plus-size, and shape (created for hourglass figures).

8. Uniqlo

Best stores for fashion on a budget: Cheap shopping sites. Uniqlo

Uniqlo is my go-to store for practical-yet-stylish basics.

Style-wise, Uniqlo is a cross between H&M and Gap: Their pieces are functional enough to stand the test of time, while still being fashionable.

I recommend their amazing HEATTECH line for the colder months, as well as their signature Ultra Light Down jackets. (I have one, and it keeps me so warm while feeling like nothing! I don’t know how they do it!)

Uniqlo also has high-quality sweaters, as well as feminine skirts and dresses in chic silhouettes.

In addition, they carry loungewear and intimates (although unfortunately, bra sizes and styles are limited), and have done unique collaborations with style icons like Inès de La Fressange and Carine Roitfeld, as well as Disney and Star Wars.

We love Uniqlo’s inexpensive intimates, but they aren’t the only option. Check out our list of the best places to buy affordable bras.

7. Torrid

Best stores for fashion on a budget: Cheap shopping sites. Plus size fashion retailer Torrid is the best for inexpensive plus size clothes.

No list of affordable clothing stores would be complete without mention of plus-sized fashion store Torrid.

They carry everything: clothes, intimates, loungewear, activewear, swimwear, and accessories. And unlike some plus-sized stores, their pieces are stylish and fashion-forward, rather than frumpy.

While I personally don’t have experience shopping at plus-size stores, whenever I have seen the topic come up, Torrid is frequently mentioned. Customers have lots of positive things to say about them, especially when it comes to their bras, which come in a variety of sizes.

I also love that Torrid encourages all women to be proud of how they look, and not to hide behind ill-fitting garments.

Want more plus-size store recommendations? See our list of the best plus-size clothing sites.

6. Windsor

Best stores for fashion on a budget: Cheap shopping sites. Windsor

Are you in need of a show-stopping dress but don’t want to spend a lot? Head to Windsor.

Windsor has a vast selection of occasion dresses that are sure to make an impact at your next date party, prom, wedding, or other dressy events, with most formal dresses under $100.

In addition to their flattering dresses and gowns, Windsor offers on-trend clothing like crop tops, jeans, and jackets, with many options that are perfect for going out.

P.S. check out Windsor’s line of Halloween costumes during the fall, which are cute and affordable, and often come with included props.

5. Nasty Gal

Nasty Gal has changed quite a bit over the years and is now one of my personal favorite stores to check out when I’m in search of an #ootd-worthy outfit.

There’s always a great sale happening or major discount code being offered, and the variety of clothing styles caters to everyone’s aesthetic, whether your style is trendy, laid-back, glam, or edgy.

I especially love Nasty Gal’s sets; from their sweat sets (which include matching joggers and sweatshirts) to swim sets (which involve bikinis with matching cover-ups), these make getting dressed so much easier, and the prices are hard to resist!

4. H&M

Best stores for fashion on a budget: Cheap shopping sites. H&M

Ah, Hennes & Mauritz – in my mind, a true fashion paradise. H&M truly has something for everyone, including stylish plus-sized pieces.

Whether you’re looking to buy a trendy item to wear for the current season, or a classic piece that will last you years, H&M is a great place to start. They have EVERYTHING you might want – from cute tops and fabulous dresses to statement jewelry, scarves, and even shoes, (almost) all at very affordable prices.

H&M’s quality can be more variable than Zara’s, for example, but if you shop wisely, you’re almost always guaranteed to find what you’re looking for in sturdy fabrics and streamlined silhouettes.

One of the best parts about H&M is that they frequently do collaborations with high-end designers such as Simone Rocha and Johanna Ortiz, so always be on the lookout for the next big collab.

3. Target

Best places to buy affordable clothing: Target

You probably knew that Target would make the list. That’s because it’s the worst kept secret of stylish women on budgets everywhere.

I love how Target makes fashion fun and doesn’t skimp on style, unlike many large discount stores. Moreover, regardless of what you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it – and more!

Target carries tons of plus-sized items, so you can look great no matter what size you wear.

Lastly, like some of the other stores on this list, they have done collaborations with well-known brands such as Victoria Beckham and Lilly Pulitzer.

Even if you don’t have a Target in your area, don’t worry – everything is available online, and ready to ship to your door. Just another reason to love them!

2. Forever 21

Best stores for fashion on a budget: Cheap shopping sites. Forever 21

You didn’t think that I was going to make a post about affordable fashion and leave out Forever 21, did you? With its ultra-trendy aesthetic and even lower prices, Forever 21 is the ultimate fast-fashion destination and one of the most popular discount clothing stores in America!

In my experience, Forever 21’s sizes run small (although they do have a plus-size line). Also, browse with caution, as some of their fabrics can be cheap and do not hold up well in the wash.

On a more positive note, if you shop wisely and with care, you’re very likely to find something you love, as they cater to a variety of different aesthetics, from boho to sporty to preppy and beyond.

Another tip: If you want your clothes to look more expensive, stick with simpler (read: less trendy and more classic) colors and styles; I’ve had luck with my Forever 21 purchases by shopping this way.

Finally, I have to say that I am a big fan of Forever 21’s adorable fabric tote bags and shoes that come in a variety of trendy styles and colors.

We’re also huge fans of F21’s budget-friendly selection of sunglasses. See our guide to the best cheap sunglasses to learn more!

1. ASOS

Best stores for fashion on a budget: Cheap shopping sites. ASOS

While ASOS carries clothing, shoes, and accessories at a wide range of price points, their selection of affordable clothing stands out as one of the best online (or anywhere, for that matter)!

While most ASOS pieces are on the trendy and sometimes edgy side, they also carry options that are classic and mature-looking (but not boring or matronly).

In addition, ASOS has a fabulous selection of formalwear that proves that getting dressed up for a special event doesn’t have to cost a lot. They even carry cute and affordable swimwear.

Lastly, ASOS has petite, tall, curve and plus-sized lines, and even carries wide-fit shoes, so you’re sure to find something that you like, no matter your body type!

Your Thoughts?

So there you have it; our list of the best affordable fashion retailers for college girls on a budget! (Note: You can also get a discount at many of these stores just for being a college student! See our list of student discounts for all the details.)

Now that you know my top twenty best cheap shopping sites, I want to see your lists! Which stores are your favorites, and what are your fave things to buy there?

Leave a comment & tell me your top budget stores!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2008; it was completely revamped in 2022 to reflect the clothing websites we love today.

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