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 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.

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

To help you out, 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 outfit didn’t cost a fortune!

20. Lulus

Screenshot of Lulus website

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

Known for their affordable, slightly boho-styled 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.

In addition to their collection of everyday clothes — which encompasses everything from basic bodysuits to swimwear — the brand also has an event-wear line of dresses for weddings and formals. As well, they sell 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. Kohl’s

As a Canadian, I have never set foot in a Kohl’s store before. (Cue gasps!) However, I have browsed their extensive website enough to know that they offer tons of budget-friendly options by way of clothes, shoes, bags, accessories, swimwear, and beauty products.

While some of their things are aimed at an older audience, there are still plenty of trendy, youthful options to choose from.

The best part about Kohl’s is that they offer a wide range of sizes, from plus-sized to petite to juniors, so you’re bound to find something regardless of what size you are!

Their beauty section is also quite impressive, so I’d recommend checking it out if you’re looking to update your look without dropping too much cash.

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. Francesca’s

Best budget fashion stores: Francesca's (screenshot of Francescas website)

Francesca’s sells cute and pretty boutique-style clothing, jewelry, and accessories at cheap prices. In addition, they have a lovely selection of home and beauty products.

With its relaxed and feminine aesthetic, Francesca’s almost reminds me of a less-expensive Anthropologie.

One of my favorite things about Francesca’s is their way of interpreting trends in a way that is more subtle and wearable than some other wallet-friendly retailers.

Furthermore, the quality of the merchandise appears to be pretty good for the price.

Therefore, if you are looking for fashion-forward and girly pieces, you should most definitely check it out!

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

15. Modcloth

ModCloth is known for their adorable and quirky indie and retro-inspired pieces, so if you’re in the market for a dress with a fun print or a pin-up-style swimsuit, this is the place for you!

In addition to clothing and accessories, ModCloth sells unique shoes, accessories, and gifts (which mostly fall under the home decor category).

Though most of the items sold on ModCloth are affordable, they do offer some more expensive pieces as well. Even so, their prices are cheaper than what you might pay for a similar item at a department store.

One of the best things about ModCloth is that they have an extensive selection of plus-sized clothing! Furthermore, like many of the other retailers mentioned in this article, they also offer petite and tall sizes.

Though most of the items that I have seen from ModCloth appear to be good quality, there are some discrepancies, so be careful, and always read reviews and look at customer photos before buying.

14. Express

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

Express is known for their stylish pieces and workwear staples–particularly its famous Editor Pant, which comes 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; they also have an athleisure line called One Eleven.

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

13. 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.

12. Topshop

Best stores for fashion on a budget: Topshop (screenshot of Topshop website)

Topshop is the ultimate destination for It Girls on a budget, and caters to a variety of aesthetics, from feminine to sporty to boho–and beyond.

In addition to clothing, Topshop stocks shoes, bags, accessories, and a fun selection of beauty products, all of which fit in with their cool, model-off-duty vibe. They also offer tall and petite sizes.

In terms of quality, Topshop can be a bit inconsistent. While not necessarily the cheapest retailer on this list, Topshop’s prices correspond well with what you get — fashion-forward, designer-looking pieces for less.

Furthermore, their products seem to sell out rather quickly, so if there’s something that you’ve been eyeing, it’s probably a good idea to snap it up sooner rather than later.

Topshop carries both men’s and women’s styles, but if you’re looking for something gender neutral, see our list of the best unisex clothing stores.

11. 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, Swap.com, and ThredUp have 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.

10. 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 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.

9. Mango

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.

8. Baublebar

Best cheap shopping sites: Baublebar

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!

If you’re looking for jewelry on a budget, be sure to check out our list of the best jewelry brands online right now! 

7. 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 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.

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.

6. 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.

5. 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.

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.

4. 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 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.

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.

3. 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 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!

2. 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, Marimekko, 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!

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.

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!

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 2018 to reflect the clothing websites we love today.

87 thoughts on “Top 20 Best Stores for Fashion on a Budget”

  1. Wow, a few of the places I agree on, some…not so much. I’m a college student AND a young mom, so I’m on a double budget, lol!

    My list and how I feel about stores u listed:

    1. I agree with TARGET. Target is awesome and they’ve really come a long way over the years! I’m not the smallest girl in the world (blame my baby hips!) but I’m in that weird gray area that tends to be forgotten, and my size varies greatly by whoever is making it, not helped by other weird proportions of mine (short, large breasted…) Target makes me happy with the extended sizes they have in juniors and also really nice women’s clothing that makes me look cute and trendy, but still not outrageously dressed since I am a mother.

    2. TJ MAXX I like, but don’t love. They are half and half with me. If I need to go somewhere nice and dress up, I can rely on them to have better workwear/event wear than another place I have on my list that is similar. I tend to like browsing their designer purses, sometimes their shoes, and if I need a coat or jacket, I like going there as well, but I don’t go too often because they just never seem to have enough clothing!

    3. Charlotte Russe use to have awesome clothes, but I think they’ve slid a bit down hill with me. I don’t tend to go often because the clothes come across to me as too “14-18” ish. I’m 23, so I don’t want to wear a bunch of random floral skater dresses and tees with awkward messages on them! It even bothers me when I see women who are in their 30’s shopping there. I use to love their shoes…I haven’t been able to find a pair I like there in ages.

    4. Forever 21’s sizing is just weird to me. I also find it to be a bit too big and intimidating. I like browsing their jewelry from time to time, but you won’t catch me buying too many clothes. When I buy clothes, I DO want them to last, maybe even transition seasons with me. Forever 21’s items are just what they say they are: Fast Fashion. Not worth it even if it is cheap to me…

    I do like H&M, but there isn’t one in my area (shocking…we are in a mid-sized city). They don’t ship to me so I can’t really take full advantage of them. DSW I’ve gone in once and found their shoes to be a bit on the pricier side. I once bought a pair of Not Rated Flats from there, but I haven’t gone back in a bit though if I think about it I might.

    1. Ross- There is something about Ross being somewhat disorganized that makes the hunt fun. I like finding that one dress nobody saw because it wasn’t so organized. Seeing as people tend to be my size around where I live, I frequently find my size completely missing when I’m looking at a dress I really like, and then I have to cry because I won’t get it. Ross doesn’t have their garments organized because they tend to have 1-4 of a given dress, meaning there isn’t really a way to organize it. They do have it organized by garment though (dresses, tops, maternity, shoes, etc.) that’s organized enough for me! I can come out of there having only spent 100 dollars and have 8 new outfits, 200 dollars and I have a new wardrobe! When I can find tops for 6.99 and dresses for under 10, I’m in heaven, especially when they look like they are worth more than that. Just bought a Nine West bag there yesterday that was marked down from 90 to 20.

    2. Kohls- I like them, but I don’t consider them cheap. I don’t usually go for things for myself either. I typically find myself there when I am looking for clothes for my daughter who is 3. Even still though, they tend to charge more money for the same brands (carters, osh kosh, etc.) than the other stores do, so I usually find myself upset I bought her a seat of pj’s there that were discounted EVERYWHERE else, even the manufacturer’s main website! I don’t usually find items I like enough to buy there but find myself trying to keep give them chances.

    Other stores I like: Goodwill (shoot me!) and other thrift stores, Belk (it’s a southern store…), Dillards occasionally. I use to swear by JC Penny, but they really messed up. Lost my loyalty.

    Reply
  2. I liked your blog for several reasons. The fact that you included 2nd hand stores was great. Who could live without TJ Maxx and Marshalls those are two stores you go to before online. Nothing wrong with online, but nothing is more frustrating and disappointing than shopping for hours even days and it shows up and is not at all what you expected. If you don’t mind waiting 6 weeks for delivery Lovelywholesale is a direct wholesaler without a minimum, never seen lower prices anywhere. Thank you

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  3. I don’t recommend shopping Target AT ALL. The clothes are cheap, but they’re cheap for a reason. Buy one of their fitted t-shirts and it will look old, stretched out and baggy after a few wearings. So then you go and buy another one, and that’s how they make money.

    You’re better off getting something that is more expensive, but well made.

    Reply
  4. Thanks for this amazing post. I normally shop: Target (price return of the items is okay – Remember you are paying cheap). For an alternative in finding cheap discounted jewelry and accessories I shop sixless.com which is not on the list.

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  5. Basically if you want to return something at Forever 21 you have to sell your soul. I only buy from there if I can’t find anything anywhere else.
    I love Target and Old Navy, and definitely Marshall’s and thrift stores. I’m going to be on a small budget for the next several years if I want to pay off loans, so these places are my favorites.

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  6. I absolutely adore your list! I’ve been waiting to see a list of budget-friendly noteworthy shopping places instead of websites (even though I love the Coupons Weekly you do) since you can see the fabric and it’s easier to return.

    My Top Ten (no particular order)

    1. Old Navy–you can find some real gems
    2. Kohl’s–it’s really diverse in style there, so I know I’ll find something I like
    3. Dillard’s–when it’s on sale, you know it’s good quality and they
    4. Gordman’s
    5. T.J. Maax
    6. Outlet stores
    7. Marshall’s–I love the dresses there.

    I go to a couple of international trips once every five years, so I do some shopping there. Most of it’s much cheaper there. (I just pack nothing, and get a lot of stuff.)

    I don’t have a H&M, Forever 21 or Vanity (very cute accessories) where I live, so sometimes when I go visit a friend who does have those stores, I hit up those places. I love them all, and they’re definitely on my Top Ten list.

    I also like Talbot’s Outlet Stores and Shoe Carnival.

    Reply
  7. I love all these stores, especially Charlotte Russe. Although a few items I’ve gotten there seem to be have been poorly made… They ripped only after a few wears (and I know you they’re not meant to last years, but it was still disappointing).

    I disagree with what you said about go jane. I’ve bought a lot of clothes from there, and have been happy with almost all of them. The pieces I hated were easy to return though, because they have an awesome return policy. It’s just like what you said about Wet Seal, you need to have a good eye for cute vs. tacky.

    Reply
  8. Great list! I might have to check out GoJane. I’ve never heard about it.

    I’m also a big fan of deparment store clearance racks. You can find some great stuff for incredibly cheap, but it takes a lot of effort. I have a really cute sweater that I scored for $1.50 (in the summer).

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  9. I’m so glad C. Russe made the list. I <3 their layering camis! I bought a back-to-school top there and I’m more excited to wear that then my new Lucky jeans! <3 <3 <3

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  10. Target= AMAZING. So happy it made this list.
    The other one that I LOVE is a consignment-like chain called Plato’s Closet. They deal strictly with gently used teen and young adult clothes, and have really rigid rules as far as what they take (LOTS of current A&F, Forever 21, AE, etc.). So I definitely love them! You can look to see if you have one near you at their website, platoscloset.com.
    =]

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  11. I would be interested to hear your opinion on the top ten online stores. Some of the stores you have mentioned are no where near my small town.

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  12. URBAN BEHAVIOR ROCKS MY SOCKS.

    Ahem. However, my closest one just closed and I am DEVASTATED. Where else am I going to get my 5 to 10 dollar dresses?!

    H&M never did anything much for me. I found much of their things fit strangely. It may be just me.

    Shoe Carnival is another goodie. Especially when they have sales, oh my! I got a 7 dollar pair of real suede boots, in GRAY!

    I’ve also gotta say though, if you have a Steve and Barry’s near you, and it’s well-stocked with Bitten, then go!!! I love SJP’s line and the quality is pretty good and it fits perfectly!

    I also love New York and Company for when they have sales, because they have really nice work clothes that you’re going to need!

    Reply
  13. aw old navy should definitely be on this list. Urban behavior is in Canada. Sad =( I’ll never see one. it’s weird that you guys are saying charlotte russe is classy because here it’s really trashy and cheap looking.

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  14. Definitely agree with H&M. That place has such great clothing – sure, they have some expensive items at times. But really, every time I go there there are a lot of really amazing items on sale.

    Reply

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