Being a girl is a mysterious, frustrating thing. At a certain age, people start expecting you to look, if not fashionable, at least put together. Guys get a free pass on wearing roughly the same uniform every day (my brother, for example, wears cargos/jeans, sneakers, a t-shirt, and a hoodie if it is cold, and has for his entire teenaged and adult life), but not girls. Clothing, hair, and makeup become hobbies that take up exorbitant amounts of time and money no matter how hard you try to avoid it. And the worst part is, at no point are you given a class or primer on how to do this stuff, you’re just supposed to magically know it.
I’m 26, I’m employed, and at some point I realized I have managed to trick people into thinking I have my shit together, appearance-wise. I have one co-worker who’s always commenting on how cute and fashionable I am. Considering that in seventh grade I thought the height of fashion was cutting up tights and wearing them as sleeves, I think this qualifies as character growth.
The thing is, I am two things that are very antithetical to Being A Girl, and that is that I am both lazy and cheap. But the nice thing about being lazy and cheap is that you develop really great shortcuts so people don’t know how lazy and cheap you are. And I realized one day, as I was getting ready for work, that the world deserved to know these. Surely, there are many girls out there who, like me, are lazy, cheap, and just want people to think they know what they’re doing when it comes to their personal appearance. And so I present to you this very long, detailed blog post for every lazy, cheap girl out there who’s just like me.
A NOTE ON CLOTHING: Bodies come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. This is a primer that works especially for girls with my body type (short, solidly built/moderately curvy, pear shaped). I’ve tried my best to make it universal, but as I only have the body I have and no experience having any other, I can’t really speak to what works for different builds and shapes. (My special apologies to plus-size girls – I know that getting clothing sucks extra hard for you.)
Also, these are all tips for American shoppers. Again, I have no experience being anything else.
Shirts: The Basics
There are a wide and dizzying array of shirt types out there, but there are only a few things you absolutely need in your wardrobe, shirts-wise.
You need basic tank tops and t-shirts (that do not have a crew neck). I like them in solid colors because then they literally always match with each other. You can dress these up or down depending on if you wear them with a skirt or pants. The best place to get these, hands down, is from Gap. They’re 100% cotton and are not made of see-through tissue paper, reasonably priced (especially if you watch for sales) and they come in every color of the rainbow. They last FOREVER. (Get the tank top here, get the v-neck here.)
You also need cardigans. I prefer v-neck cardigans, because I kind of feel like you wind up looking like a preppy grandma with crew-neck cardigans. Combine a tank top + v-neck shirt + cardigan (add accessories like scarves or necklaces at will) and BAM, formula for an instant outfit.
My most beloved cardigans are ancient 100% cotton ones I got from American Eagle roughly eight bazillion years ago and sadly, they no longer carry them. Instead the new trend has become “boyfriend cardigans”, which look kind of sloppy since they’re oversized. Don’t buy boyfriend cardigans. You deserve better than that.
The best cardigans I’ve found since then are the Charter School Cardigans from Modcloth. They have exactly two downsides: one, they are not 100% cotton (but still machine washable and nice fabric, so who cares). Two, they’re 3/4 sleeves, which in the winter can be a little cold.
(NOTE: Nordstrom’s currently has cotton v-neck cardigans on sale for under $20 here as well.)
The final thing you need is, of course, awesome t-shirts. The internet is full of places you can get great t-shirts. My two suggestions are the following:
First, if you see a graphic or quote you like, google “[phrase] + tshirt”. There is like a 90% chance that the artist (or someone, anyway) has slapped it on a t-shirt and put it up for sale. That’s how I got the shirt pictured above, which is objectively the greatest shirt ever. (Yes, there is a cat version. Also this rad sloth shirt.)
The second place is Threadless.
Threadless is a website where artists upload designs, and the designs the community votes on get printed on t-shirts (and tank tops, and sweatshirts, and iPhone cases, and posters, and…) There is one problem with Threadless, and that is that it’s gotten quite expensive in the ten years since I discovered it as it gets more and more popular. Luckily, twice a year or so (usually around major holidays) there are big old sales where they half the prices and t-shirts are around $15. Stock up then (and do it fast, they sell out quickly).
(I should also note that of course, as a hockey fan, I have multiple Pittsburgh Penguins shirts. Buying hockey merch as a female hockey fan is dicey because what’s available for women is so different from team to team. If you’re a fan of a team that is both a) a big market team and b) interested in appealing to female fans, you usually get a pretty good selection. If you’re not, you tend to be in a pickle. Luckily, I am a fan of the Penguins, who are a larger market team that’s more interested in marketing to female fans than the average.
I have two official NHL shirts (and a sweatshirt that they don’t sell any more). The first is last year’s version of this shirt – the logo is just chrome instead – and this shirt, but in navy and with this version of the logo. And I have to say, I like the men’s shirt much, much better. Men’s shirts are longer in the body, and tend to be cotton more often, and just fit me better. So my advice to female sports fans – just buy the dude shirts. They’re also cheaper.
And, of course, there’s always fan-made merch.)
Dresses: Because Matching Tops and Bottoms Is Hard
Sometimes (and by sometimes I mean “in the summer”), you don’t want to bother with a top and a bottom, you just want to throw on one damn thing and look really good and like you put in a lot of effort. This is why dresses were invented.
The Holy Grail of cute dresses is, as everyone knows, Modcloth. Not only do they have a mind-boggling array of dresses, but they’re almost all very reasonably priced. The one downside to Modcloth is a lot of their dresses say “hand wash only”, and honestly who has time for that? I have found over the years, though, that their laundry instructions are a bit like the Pirate’s Code in that they’re more of a loose suggestion.
The absolute, number one, best dress hands down Modcloth offers on their site is the I Love Your Dress. I own it in the original color, olive, but it comes in six different colors. It’s light, breezy, super easy to accessorize, it hugs your form without clinging to the bulging bits, and from what I can tell from the dozens and dozens of pictures customers have posted, it flatters literally everyone. The one downside is that you do have to wear either a slip or biker shorts under it unless you want people seeing your panty line, but since I do this with every dress I wear, it hardly counts as a downside for me. Also, it says hand wash only, but I’ve owned this dress for over five years and only ever washed it in the machine, and it’s fine.
If that’s not your style, though, Modcloth has literally hundreds of dresses for every occasion. My picks for starting your dress wardrobe are the following (all of these come in multiple colors):
Two: The Artisan Iced Tea dress. This is fancier than the other dresses (and it’s a bit more childish/twee in style), but it’s utterly charming and can be dressed up easily if you have a wedding or shower to go to.
Three: The Meet Me At The Punch Bowl dress. If you are a fancy person who works at a fancy office, this is a great staple dress. Also, Modcloth apparently has a tendency to sell dresses that air on the shorter side (which as someone who is roughly hobbit-sized, I have never noticed), but multiple reviewers who are taller noted this one is a nice, not t00 short length.
Four: The Too Much Fun dress. A nice, basic shift dress that comes in a variety of prints (and the prints change every season, so if you don’t like the current ones, just wait a few months). It also comes in a shorter and longer length, so you can decide how much leg you want to show.
You’ll notice all the dresses I listed are shorter dresses, and this is because, as a comically undersized person, I hate maxi dresses. Also as a cheap person, I prefer dresses that are fine to wear in any season, and for some reason maxi dresses are only appropriate to wear in the summer. (Why, I don’t know. You’d think that you’d want longer dresses when it’s colder so you can wear more layers, but women’s fashion has never really been about function.) Modcloth, however, does have two really nice maxi dress options that come in different colors, the Adore County dress and the Breezy Night Stroll dress.
Bottoms: Sadly Business Casual PJ Pants Don’t Exist
I used to hate pants. The easiest way to drive me into a violent rage was to even mention that I might need to go pants shopping. I am short (so I have never had a pair of pants in my life that did not need to be shortened) , and curvy (so pants would either fit my waist or my butt, but never both). Plus, pants are just so damn uncomfortable. I used to come home and before I even said hello to my family, I would immediately strip and get into my pajamas.
And then the heavens parted, God looked down upon the masses, and he saw their suffering and said LET LEGGINGS COME BACK IN STYLE. (Honestly, if leggings coming back in style isn’t proof of a higher power then I don’t know what is.)
I have two pairs of leggings I love:
The first is this high-waisted pair of leggings from Asos. Now the only reason I don’t wholeheartedly recommend Asos as a place to shop is that their quality is extremely variable. These, however, are great. They’re a lovely, warm gray and the waist is, as promised, high. I used to not believe in high-waisted anything, so my first pair of black leggings (which are fine, but nothing special) is a normal waist. But I quickly discovered that leggings, more than normal pants, slip down and give you plumber’s butt very, very easily. On top of that, if you’re like me and you carry your weight in your stomach, they give you muffin top by cutting right in your fattest part. But high-waisted leggings smooth everything and hit at your midsection where you’re smallest, and there is absolutely no risk of plumber’s butt.
The only problem with this pair of leggings is that they’re on the thinner side. This is nice during the summer if you’re like me and work somewhere that doesn’t allow you to wear shorts (don’t get me started), but you have to be careful to wear pretty neutral underwear, or your sister will say “are your underwear bright red and pink stripes?” when you’re getting in the car and you’ll be like “wait, how did you know?”
Not that that happened to me.
My absolute favorite leggings I own, though, are these Vince Camuto leggings I got on sale at Nordstrom’s. They’re a nice, thick material that breathes great even though it’s not cotton. They’re almost $50 so I recommend waiting until they go on sale again, but they’re totally worth the money.
Sadly, we have not yet evolved enough as a society to recognize short leggings as anything but appropriate for entering in the Tour de France, so summertime is a struggle. If you don’t want to live in skirts (I’m getting to those next), you need shorts. These are a lot more complicated to shop for because you’re back to doing what women did in Ye Olde Days Of Non-Leggings Pants, which is shopping forever until you found that one company that made pants with the exact perfect ratio of your butt to your waist and then NEVER BUYING ANOTHER BRAND SO LONG AS YOU LIVED.
I’ve had luck with New York & Company shorts, but I don’t feel comfortable telling everyone to go out and buy them because, like I said, it really depends on your own personal ass/waist ratio.
As I mentioned before, though, workplaces often ban shorts in the name of “business casual” (which makes zero sense logically, but there you go), so the trick to getting through summer not just rotating between a few dresses is skirts.
My favorite skirt I own is the Accordion to You skirt I bought at Modcloth a million years ago. It’s a heavy fabric so its really better suited to fall/winter, but it’s not a particularly warm fabric, so you can wear it in the summer too. It’s a really nice length, which is to say it’s short but not scandalously short, and it doesn’t do that weird thing where it’s shorter in the back because it has to go over your butt.
If that’s too Catholic schoolgirl for your tastes, though, Modcloth has a good array of basic skirts to choose from (again, these all come in multiple colors):
Two: The Curry Your Enthusiasm skirt is super adorable and again seems to nicely fit the “short but not too short” bill, but the pictures make it clear (and reviews agree) that it gets quite a bit thinner in the waist.
Three: The Breathtaking Tiger Lilies skirt is another great midi skirt with pockets (POCKETS!!!)Miscellaneous Other Things: All That Stuff I Never Got To
In my opinion, there is exactly one good place to get underwear on the internet, and that is Aerie. (This is sadly not true of people who are larger than 38DD – I’m sorry the world has failed you.)
This means all my bras need to be two things: 1. lined cups and 2. hella comfy. So I love the Katie bra from Aerie. It’s lined without being padded or a pushup, it comes in lots of colors (non-white ladies – it comes in TWO DIFFERENT browns. I know it’s really sad that that’s groundbreaking, but that’s groundbreaking), it comes with lace if you want something a little fancier, and it’s $30 with free shipping/returns (and usually if you buy more than one you get the second one for like $10). It does have an undewrire (I’m aware some people don’t like that), but I honestly have never noticed it once.
I am also a special snowflake when it comes to underwear. I have psoriasis on my upper thighs right where the underwear ends, which means I need 100% cotton underwear in a boy cut with ABSOLUTELY NO LACE ON THE LEGHOLES. That last one’s the killer. Aerie in recent years has decided that all legholes must have lace around them at all times. And when they don’t have the lace around them, they tend to have absolutely hideous patterns that seem to get worse over time. I like this boyshort because it’s got the lace up top so it’s cute, but no lace on the bottom and no eye-searing pattern.
I have had some luck with Gap Body’s girl shorts. The shipping isn’t free, but you do tend to get discounts if you buy more than one at a time. You also should wait until there are sales because they veer on the more expensive side otherwise, and make sure both that it’s cotton, not modal (they like to trick you) and that the sale extends to underwear (it usually doesn’t). My only real complaint with Gap is that the underwear’s almost all plain, solid colors, but they’re cute and there’s no lace legholes, so I deal.
I used to love and exclusively get Aerie’s boybriefs, which, while a lot of them have lace nonsense, have a much wider variety of cute patterns to choose from. Sadly, however, they tend to cut exactly where my psoriasis is, so now I avoid them.
I also like to use Aerie for my workout gear. I know a lot of people are very particular about their workout gear, but I mostly work out in shorts and a t-shirt and it’s been great for me.
Now, with all the skirts and dresses I recommended, you’re going to need tights, especially for when it gets cold. The best place to get tights on the internet is Sock Dreams. They tend to be a little pricey because they really get the best of the best when it comes to tights, but they are totally worth it. Also, if requested, they will draw something for you on your receipt. (Try not to abuse this privilege.)
The best thing to buy from them, in my humble opinion, is their Signature Cotton Tights. They come in a ton of different colors (I currently own four) and they’re as thick as pants, which is great for New England winters.
But if you want nude tights and it’s cold (or, like me, you had a wedding with an outdoor ceremony in November), get yourself to a Capezio’s and pick up a pair of their footed tights. I’m not sure which one of these are the ones I picked out (I just chose the Capezio’s brand ones), but they’re thick and last for years without getting runs in them.
If you need a bathing suit, I cannot recommend the Esther Williams suit highly enough. I got mine about four or five years ago and I love it. It comes in a huge range of sizes (including plus sizes!), it’s supportive of the girls, it’s flattering on literally everyone, and best of all, you don’t have to shave your hoo-ha to wear it. (Well, unless you have thigh creep. I can’t help you there.)
As someone who is vehemently anti bushwhacking (IT IS SO ITCHY and ingrown hairs there are the worst and honestly I’ll do it the second it becomes equally mandatory for men to do the same), this suit is a godsend. You’d think that you need a more revealing suit to look good in, but no (and if you’re self-conscious about your body – especially your tummy – this is a blessing). I get so many compliments on this suit every time I wear it from both men and women it’s ridiculous.
If you, too, want to own the most magical bathing suit in the world, you can go one of two places. The first is directly to the Esther Williams website. Or, you can head on over to Modcloth where its known as the Bathing Beauty Bathing Suit (comes in solids and patterns) or, when it’s in polka dots, the Beach Blanket Bingo Bathing Suit. Some patterns that are on the Esther Williams site are not on Modcloth, and vice versa. Getting it direct from Esther Williams is cheaper, but their return policy isn’t as good. Also, remember when ordering, this puppy runs small.
Filling in the Gaps: Where To Get Everything Else
Obviously what I have suggested is only the barest bones of a wardrobe and you’ll need to fill it out more with all sorts of stuff that’s best suited to you and your style. I’ve shopped a lot of places most people get cheap clothes from (H&M, Forever 21, Target), but I’ve found that with most of them, you get exactly what you pay for. Also an absolute must for me is that anywhere I shop have low cost shipping/returns and at least a month’s return window so I have time to decide on things. (I hate when there’s like a seven day return window. It takes seven days to get the thing shipped to you!)
My favorite places to shop are:
In case my love affair with Modcloth wasn’t clear enough, I love Modcloth. I check them religiously every day to see what they have new in and order from them several times a year. They’re a great, friendly, body-positive clothing store to order from with a huge variety of clothing (though it tends towards the slightly twee and vintage. This suits my aesthetic, though). They have extremely friendly customer service, free shipping if you spend over $50 (which you almost always do), and simple returns with a full refund after 30 days (minus a $5.99 return shipping fee). If it’s after 30 days they refund you with store credit which, if you shop there as often as I do, is no problem whatsoever.
The one thing I don’t like about Modcloth is their consistent use of fabrics that are either dry-clean or hand wash only. As I’ve said before, you don’t have to always follow the washing instructions, but it is safer to. Always check before ordering what the care instructions are and what the fabric is made of. And read the customer reviews! Modcloth customers by far leave the best reviews of any website I’ve been to, complete with their measurements and where certain items fit (or were too big/small). Plus, they often include pictures which can give you great styling ideas.
Far and away the best department store (both online and in person) is Nordstrom’s. They tend to be more expensive, but they always have very, very, very good quality. Their shipping and returns policy is also great (this is a big deal for me, since I do all my shopping online). They’re fast, free shipping both ways, and they have an open policy, which means that they’ll accept, within reason, stuff after a nearly unlimited amount of time. (And if they don’t accept it, they’ll let you know why and work to resolve the issue). My mom would also like me to tell you that the boxes they use are very high quality, and she likes to save them for mailing other things.
The trick to Nordstrom’s is checking often for sales and filtering any search you do by cost. You can even find stuff you like and bookmark it or wishlist it so it’s easy to check and see when it goes on sale. If you set a limit of $100 before you search, there’s still a huge variety and chances are between a sale and price limit, you’ll get good results
(There’s also always Nordstrom Rack, which does have better prices, but their policy is a $6.00 shipping fee for all orders under $100 (within the US) and a 90-day return with an additional shipping fee of $6.00.)
There is literally no better place to get shoes in the entire world than Zappos. (I will get into this more in Part Two.) Great customer service, super-fast free shipping (sometimes literally overnight, even if you’ve ordered it at like 7 PM the night before) both ways, accepts returns with a full refund for a whole year after purchase. And for a site that started strictly for shoes, they have a surprisingly wide array of clothing. A lot of the brands they carry are fancy and expensive, but you can search easily within price parameters, and it’s always worth checking out what they have.
A huge amount of my clothing comes from my favorite thrift store, Savers. Savers is ginormous (at least the one I go to in West Roxbury is), and the prices are always ridiculously low. If you go with a “senior citizen” (anyone over 65) you get extra discounts on Tuesdays, which is much better than fighting with the crowds on sale days.
The thing about thrift/consignment stores is that they’re, by nature, extremely regional and individualistic. To find the best one, you have to go to a bunch around you. I will say this about thrift stores – in general I avoid the small and trendy boutique ones. The reason is that big thrift chains (like Savers) get huge amounts of donations and therefore have the luxury of a) having a big old selection so you’re more likely to find something and b) they get to pick and choose the best of the best. Small stores have to either hope someone fabulous dies and their children/surviving relatives choose them to donate to, or they have to do a lot of scrounging for the best stuff. They also tend to have much more manicured selections. So while a big place like Savers will dump almost everything assuming that someone, somewhere will like or need it, small shops with not as much room will have selected literally every single thing in their store and you have to go in hoping that your aesthetic matches their aesthetic, which is a crapshoot.
A more boutique thrift store I like to go to sometimes is Buffalo Exchange. They have a location in Davis Square (if you are a Bostonian reading this) and until I looked them up, I had no idea they were a chain. They’re more like getting something 50%-75% off instead of getting something for like $7 the way you get it at Savers, but they tend to pick really good items.
Because my mom calls this Ann Taylor Loft, I, too, call it Ann Taylor Loft (though they now are just Loft, because apparently like pop stars, stores become automatically cooler when they go by only one name). It’s basically the quality of Ann Taylor, but without you looking too literally like Michelle Obama. (I say this lovingly as I think Michelle Obama is fabulous and I aspire, when I am her age, to be even a percent as fabulous as she is. Heck, I aspire to have even 1% of Michelle Obama’s fierceness even now.) It’s a little expensive, so this is more a place to go if you really need something nice, or they’re having a sale, or you have a friend or family member who is in the mood for generously treating you to something and you don’t want to totally take advantage of them.
Loft is one of the few stores I prefer to go in person to, because while they do have a nice window for returns (45 days), they have a $9 shipping fee both ways. Also, you tend to find more stuff squirreled away in the sale section of an individual store than you do in their online store.
Boden is what my sister and I refer to as “aspirational fashion”, as in “I aspire to one day to have the money and lifestyle that will allow me to clothe myself in Boden all the time”.
Boden is a British brand that has no physical locations in America, but runs a great online store. They’re kind of mom fashion, but, like, the incredibly cool mom that everyone sees picking her kids up from school and wonders how in the heck she manages to look like that.
But Boden is expensive. Even sale stuff tends to be on the upper limit of what I’d consider spending. The quality, however, is really, really worth it. I tend to go to them when they’re having major seasonal sales to see if I can find a treat for myself, or when I have an occasion that I need something special for.
As always with me, the customer service at Boden is great (I refuse to shop anywhere that it isn’t). Free shipping for any order over $45.00 (it’s physically impossible that your order will be less than that though), free returns, 365 days to decide before returning. And if you are dumb like me and forget to, say, enter a discount code, they will happily apply it to your order.
Serious talk time.
In the lives of most women (and/or people who wear women’s clothing), there comes a time where you are going to want to a) not be wearing a lot of clothing and b) look very good doing so. It may be your instinct to go to Victoria’s Secret. DO NOT GO TO VICTORIA’S SECRET. I have been there several times and always come away disappointed. Their stuff, let’s be real, is both not that great and at this point kind of a cliche. Frederick’s of Hollywood isn’t much better. And honestly, both those places feel kind of creepily male gaze-y, like you’re going there not to get something you’ll enjoy, but more something to please the dude (because obviously it’s a dude) that you’ll be disrobing for. Like, sometimes when you want to look good mostly naked, even if you are doing it somewhat for the sake of a dude, you’re going to want to feel like your principles aren’t compromised doing so, you know?
In these cases, go to Journelle.
Jornelle is a lovely store my friends who are into much fancier underwear than I am turned me onto. And let me tell you, this stuff is fancy. And expensive. It breaks all my underwear rules (cotton, no lace, etc, etc), but it’s beautiful. Plus there’s free shipping and free returns within thirty days of purchase.
As a very very single person, I own one thing from Journelle (it’s this PJ romper. I am decidedly anti-romper in real life, but God I love this thing). It came very quickly, it was beautifully wrapped (I didn’t even ask for it to be wrapped!), and it was such a joy to receive. Even though, again, no one in the near future will see me in this besides my parents (who I live with) and my gerbils (who live next to my bed and see me in everything), it’s absolutely one of the best treats I have ever treated myself to.