The Champagne Life on a DIY Budget Since 2007

Looks for Less: Top 10 Bargain Shops

top 10 bargain shops

Sure, most shoppers know about the big three when it comes to getting current looks on the cheap (H&M, Forever 21, Charlotte Russe), but Shoestring’s staffers thought we’d take this opportunity to share with you our favorite indie haunts and mainstream havens for finding that coveted Look for Less — some you may not have heard of before.


1. LuLu*s
If you were ever the type of girl that raided your mother’s closet for unique clothes, then Lulu’s is the shop for you. Launched in 1996 by a mother-daughter team, Lulu’s Fashion Lounge offers an eclectic mix of lesser-known designers and fabulous vintage pieces at prices just north of the five finger discount of yesteryear. Items are updated daily, and if you’re feeling generous, buy a little something stylish for mom with all the cash you’re going to have leftover.

2. Modcloth
In between stalking your ex-boyfriend and looking up that girl who sat next to you in second grade, you probably stumbled across a Facebook ad or two for the super-cool hipster clothing shop Mod Cloth. If, like us, you clicked away, you probably and immediately fell in love with owner Susan’s stylish picks. What started as a side job selling unique thrift store finds became a full time gig in 2006. Now, Susan and her husband travel around the world finding up-and-coming designers and vintage items so they can continue to bring us all the cheap and chic finds we crave. Love them!

3. Chic Star
Like a marriage of Project Runway and eBay, ChicStar is an online boutique and community for independent fashion design, where concepts are submitted for review, produced, voted on, and, if you’re lucky, auctioned off. According to their mission, ChicStar’s goal is to “empower women to express their personal style by offering the latest fashions at easily affordable prices.” Designers can submit their concepts, and if selected, the designer receives a free prototype of their design. If the design is mass produced, the designer gets $250 and their name on each garment’s label. Failed sewing class? Don’t fret, there are plenty of styles on sale and you don’t have to pick up a single pencil or inch of fabric from Mood.

4. Fred Flare
What started off as a mobile store with one product (read: a bike and a vocal salesman) soon grew into an online boutique, which now sells original Fred Flare products as well as the company’s favorite brands. Products include modern wardrobe staples for any urbanite, like this sweetheart red bustier dress, to the kitschy and super-cute Holly GoNightly” sleep mask. With its decidedly retro feel, Fred Flare is like the indie little brother of retail giant Urban Outfitters.

Shop LuLu*s Memorial Day Sale for an extra 30% OFF sale items! Sale Dates: 5/23-5/26


5. Forever 21
If you haven’t yet friended Forevs, we suggest you do so post haste. Sure, one look at their catalog gives us pangs of guilt over the rampant infringement of fashion designers’ copyrights, but then we remember the disparity in price tags and immediately forgive them on discount alone. If you’re looking for a current trend, especially one whose staying power is in question, Forever 21 is your answer. We don’t generally advocate “disposable” clothing, so take care of your buys here as well as humanly possible so they can be donated to charity or your next clothing swap.

6. Charlotte Russe
For more than 25 years, this SoCal shop has been bringing the budget-friendly looks teens and twentysomethings crave in a big way. A recent rebranding and shift in focus towards more style-conscious and fashion-forward women is already proving to drain our paychecks, albeit while stocking our closets with those looks for less we can’t live without. From satin rompers to chain necklaces, Shoestring staffers find ourselves filling our shopping carts on the cheap at least once a week in Charlotte Russe’s online store.

7. Delia’s
There’s nothing like walking into a building in the middle of winter, only to be greeted by a blast of tropic-like heat. The name of the game is layering, and for affordable layering basics, Shoestring heads to Delia’s. Although specifically marketed towards teenagers, don’t discount this catalog brand just yet. We stock up on layering basics and trendy pieces alike. If your height is like the temperature — either really high or really low — check out Delia’s denim selection. Unlike most women’s denim, you can buy jeans by the inseam, which saves you moolah in your hemming budget at the tailor, plus their prices start around $39.50 so you can afford to try out those bleached, destroyed jeans without getting your hands dirty.

8. Zara
Described by BusinessWorld magazine as being “a fashion imitator,” Zara handles all steps from design and production to distribution, in-house. Operating on a two week turnaround, Zara can take a look seen on the runway and have it in stores while most other retailers are still putting those heinous tube top dresses from last season on clearance. Zara, as a rule, keeps no product in a store for more then four weeks, which means brand new styles arrive once a month. Although their US stores don’t seem quite as chic (or cheap) as their European counterparts, Zara still offer stylishly thrifty pieces with quality that belies their budget price tag. (Look for an online shop from Zara coming soon.)

9. Mango
Spanish retailer Mango is the go-to “look for less” outfit in town for most European college students. Shoestring fell in love with the brand on a trip to London in the 90s, and is thrilled that outposts and an online shop have now launched in the US. Items are on the higher end compared to others in this category, but the styles tend to also be a little bit higher concept and the quality a little more “permanent.”

10. TopShop
Well before Kate Moss came on board, Shoestringers were crossing the pond to fill our closets on the cheap at TopShop’s European locations. Probably the priciest end of the look for less spectrum, TopShop is the absolute go-to when it comes to getting true red carpet imposters on a recessionista budget. Current faves include the red hot bandage dress in blood orange and the “Horror Girl” collection, no doubt inspired by the world’s current obsession with vampires, only these vamps are on a budget.

11. H&M
No “look for less” shops list would be complete without an entry for H&M (shortened from Hennes & Mauritz), though sadly the Euro retailer still refuses to put their merch up for sale online. The website does, however, offer seasonal lookbooks and other window shopping eyecandy, allowing you to more effectively and efficiently stock up when you do make it into one of their brick and mortar stores. Recent drool-worthy, look for less designer collaborations have included Jimmy Choo, Stella McCartney, and Karl Lagerfeld — and Sonia Rykiel has just signed on to design their next “diffusion” line. We’ll be waiting.


Story: Copyright 2009, Shoestring LLC. Photo: iStock