In the lexicon of phrases that describe clothing, "going out" is one of the most odious. It's near-to-impossible to disassociate a "going-out top" from the smell of stale vodka crans, the feel of heels clapping against a sticky floor, and the sound of a droning hit song that promises tonight's gonna be the best night evaar. But, as your taste in venues has evolved over time, so, too, has your preference in after-hours clothing. You may be over bandage dresses and spiked platforms, but you still want something that makes you feel like you could have a dance-off with Beyoncé — and win.
We armed four of our editors with $100 each and asked them to shop for a complete, head-to-toe, night-out outfit. They needed to be able to move in the clothes — without feeling like they were perpetually one tequila-fueled wobble away from busting out of them. Ahead, check out how these four gals with very different styles made do with their challenge.
Annie Georgia Greenberg, style editor
"Let's be honest: Everything in this store could be worn on a night out. But, I was surprised by the range, the price, and in some cases, even the quality of the pieces at Necessary Clothing. The shoes, which combine equal inspiration from Tabitha Simmons and Schutz, were the first things I saw and loved. I balanced them out with a more feminine pencil skirt and a comfortable T-shirt — both of which could be worn separately. The earrings (which were actually on sale for $4.99) topped everything off and made the look a bit more glam for night."
Connie Wang, style director
"I haven't set foot into a Wet Seal since I was in high school, when I had a slight obsession with collecting 'going-out' tops in every single color, to wear with bolero sweaters and low-rise jeans (it was a dark, dark time). I was apprehensive about being assigned Wet Seal, but I found my shopping experience to be way more pleasant than I had anticipated. Since most of the dresses and shorts were hilariously butt-cheek revealing, I stuck with a small-but-fruitful range of simple jumpsuits. The 'You Can't Sit With Us' tank I paired with the jumpsuit is a classic conversation starter ('Is butter a carb?'), and the shoes are surprisingly comfortable, given how high they are. The single Wet Seal location in NYC was well-stocked, clean, and organized — and the staff was incredibly helpful in explaining the million different sales they had going on.
"It seemed like everything was either half off, buy-one-get-one, or marked down with some other variation of a deal. Heading up to the cash register with my bounty, I had anticipated pricing in at just under $100 based on the sticker prices. However, after everything was rung up, and all the deals were taken into account...the total was shockingly low. I could have easily picked up a second outfit, no sweat. The quality is definitely subpar — I'd be surprised if these clothes last me through a few times of wear — but I didn't expect anything more substantial, considering the price. The only thing I couldn't find was a clutch, so I used one of my favorites, a mini Meredith Wendell wristlet. The hefty iPhone case is also a must-have; as someone who loses her phone at least quarterly each year, the more obnoxious the case is, the less likely I am to leave it at the bar."
Gina Marinelli, associate fashion features editor
"I can't say I shop at Forever 21 as much as I did in college. But, being that it used to be the place for picking up almost all my 'going-out' ensembles, I'm well-versed in shuffling through the racks to find the gems. Still, it seems like my skills have gotten rusty; at the location in Soho, I definitely panicked when I came up with nothing but mountains of body-con everything and big festival florals (pretty, but not very me). I don't know what made me try on this dress — considering it resembled a slingshot on the hanger — but I was pleasantly surprised at how subtle the crop-top detail was once it was actually on my body. I finished the look with an ankle-strap pump with a great gold feature on the heel, a chunky pair of drop earrings, a few bangles, and a sparkly clutch. I definitely kept it on the classic side — Forever21 does of-the-moment trends so well, I didn't want to just pile them all on at once. Actually, I think that's a good trick when shopping at mass retailers: Look for classic pieces that have a little quirk, or test drive just one trend (in this case, the crop top) to see what works best."
Rachel Besser, fashion assistant
"This was my very first Cheap Challenge, and boy was it a challenge. You'd think that putting together an outfit at Urban Outfitters would be a cakewalk, but its prices sting a little when it comes to doing it under $100. My saving grace was the floral dress. Call it beginner's luck, but ringing in at $9.99, that dress saved me. When I head out at night, I usually sport a frock, because its my idea of low maintenance. Throw it on and bam! You're essentially styled. That being said, the most important part of this look is the shoes. I hate heels, and I love dancing, so functionality is key. My splurge was definitely on the open-toed booties, because the heel is a manageable height, and they look chic with or without a sock. Sold. The last necessity for any nighttime 'fit of mine is a trusty crossbody bag, so I grabbed the least expensive one. Messing around with clutches is a no-go because I'm notorious for setting things down mindlessly. Until there's a Find My iPhone app for bags, I will stick to the crossbody."