At some point in your life as a stylish college girl, you'll face an important choice: buying clothes, or buying books? 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 discount 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 cheap! There are tons of affordable clothing retailers with low prices and stylish clothes... you just need to know which ones to shop.
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.
To help you out, here's the official College Fashion love list of the top 10 best stores for fashion on a college budget. Visit these affordable clothing stores, shop right, and no one will know that your outfit didn't cost a fortune!
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 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, classic skinny jeans, and chic ballet flats.
Another store like Zara, Mango is one of the most underrated affordable fashion sites. Between their trendy (but not too trendy) pieces, good quality, and great prices, Mango is like a more sophisticated and grown-up version of Zara.
They carry clothing up to size 22, so if you can't find your size at Zara (Zara's clothes run small), Mango is your alternative.
In addition to their selection of cool clothes, they also carry cute jewelry and shoes, and have amazing handbags that could easily pass as designer.
Mango is the place to go if your style is more subtle, or if you're looking for nice workwear or classic pieces that you'll wear for years to come.
As you may have noticed if you've been keeping up with my articles, I'm a huge fan of jewelry!
I love Baublebar for their cute and colorful aesthetic, as well as their playful takes on the latest jewelry trends. They also carry accessories, including bags, sunglasses, and scarves.
Unlike with other affordable stores like Forever 21, the jewelry from Baublebar is high quality and made to last.
Also, everything that they carry is ultra wearable, so you won't run out of ways to style their pretty earrings, cool necklaces, lovely rings, and beautiful bracelets!
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 fabulous 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.
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.
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.
While H&M's quality is more variable than Zara's, for example, if you shop wisely, you're almost almost 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 Alexander Wang and Kenzo, and celebrities such as the Weeknd and Nicki Minaj (coming in Fall 2017!).
4. Old Navy
Old Navy is one of those classic stores that just never gets old! From their sweet 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, which is awesome.
Personally, my favorite things at Old Navy are their flip flops, (all priced under $11 rn) and their cozy pajama bottoms, which come in tons of cute prints.
They also have an activewear line, which is definitely worth a look if you exercise a lot or just love the athleisure style vibe.
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 inexpensive swimwear.
Lastly, ASOS has petite, plus-sized, and tall lines, and even carries wide-fit shoes, so you're sure to find something that you like, no matter your body type!
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.
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!
1. 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. Another downside is that Forever 21's return policy isn't the greatest; they only accept exchanges, so you have to be sure about your purchases.
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.
So there you have it; Part One of the best affordable fashion retailers for college girls on a budget!
For more recommendations, see: The Top 10 Stores for Fashion on a Budget, Part 2, with ten more stores we love!
Now that you know my top ten 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 ten budget stores!
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2008; it was completely revamped in 2017 to reflect the clothing websites we love today.