What Makes Fast-Fashion Shoes Look Expensive

You've found yourself at a familiar crossroads. You're standing in a fast-fashion store looking at the shoe of your dreams, which happens to have a pretty amazing price tag. But, you know how fast-fashion shoes can be: cheaply made, uncomfortable, and as good as garbage after just a few wears. And yet, you're forced to answer the burning question for yourself: They're so cute, but should I get them?

That's where this guide comes in. If you're going to buy fast-fashion footwear, you've got to be smart and strategic about it. Don't fall victim to blister-inducing construction and overpriced kicks with super-cheap materials. Instead, it's time to crack the code on these too-good-to-be-true shoes, and we're showing you how to know when to take the risk and when to walk away.

Click on for our ultimate guide to shopping shoes at your favorite affordable stores, and if you have any suggestions from your own experiences, make sure to sound off in the comments.
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Stick To Safe Silhouettes
There's a 100% chance a low-heeled mule is going to be more sturdy and comfortable than a sky-high stiletto, no matter how much you're paying for them. So, when you're shopping for footwear that isn't produced with the nicest luxury materials, stick to silhouettes that tend to be reliable and, more importantly, walkable. The simpler the better — with fewer buckles and straps, you've got fewer chances of turning into a walking first-aid kit.

Mango Deconstructed Leather Sandals, $69.99, available at Mango.
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Shop In-Store If Possible
As much as we hate to say it, and while this isn't always a reality, you're better off going into brick-and-mortar stores and trying the shoes on in person than ordering online. E-commerce imagery has a deceiving way of making shoes look a lot higher in quality than they really are. Fortunately, stores like Zara allow you to see where a particular color and size of a shoe is available in your area, and you owe it to yourself to see and feel a shoe before you buy it, even if it's not an investment piece. And when you do try them on, put on both shoes and do a full lap around the store for a solid test run.

Zara Lace-Up Espadrilles, $49.90, available at Zara.
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Read The Reviews
Shopping fast-fashion shoes IRL is one thing, and shopping for them online is a whole different ball game — you can't even try them on. So, lean toward sites that offer customer reviews. Forever21 and Free People both have super vocal customers who will get very real in the review section to tell you if those shoes are a must-have or a must-skip. These sandals in particular have a four out of five star rating and one review titled "Straps of God," so you can buy with confidence knowing the strips won't kill your feet. Listen to reviewers and you might just save yourself from a barefoot night out when your $29.99 heels hurt too much to keep on.

Forever21 Crisscross Faux Leather Sandals, $24.90, available at Forever21.
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Pay Attention To Materials
There are some materials you should trust and some you shouldn't when it comes to fast fashion. For example, patent leather tends to look cheap in the fast-fashion world, whereas you can usually get away with a good faux suede or a matte canvas. Foam platforms and flatforms will dirty easily and are difficult to clean, and anything with metal buckles or detailing is risky. Knowing what synthetic materials look the most high-quality and stand the test of time will help narrow down your fast-fashion shoe shopping both online and in-store. And, don't forget to inspect where the shoe meets the sole to spot cheap lasting techniques that will fall apart in no time.

H&M Embroidered Backless Flats, $69.99, available at H&M.
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Try Try.com
If you haven't been turned on to Try.com, allow us to convert you. The service, which you download as a browser add-on, has partnered with certain retailers to allow you to try clothing (and shoes!) for free for 10 days, and only pay for what you decide to keep. That means you can order multiple sizes and styles from sites like ASOS and only keep what you love after trying it all on.

ASOS Mavis Flatform Lace-Up Shoes, $64.70, available at ASOS.
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Buy The Trends, Not The Classics
When you're shopping fast-fashion shoes, have fun with it — chances are, these affordable kicks won't last you as long as spendier versions, so you should be buying the trendy shoes (we're talking the colorful pom-poms or fringe sandals you'll be tired of in six months anyway) instead of the go-tos you know you'll need to rely on for years.

Mango Fringed Cross Strap Sandals, $59.99, available at Mango.
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Prepare For A Break-In Period
Almost all fast-fashion shoes require a good amount of breaking in. This means you won't want to plan on wearing a new pair of fast-fashion gladiators for an eight-hour day of exploring Disney World. Instead, wear them for a few days, for a few hours each, until they start to wear in and loosen up. The good news is that fast-fashion leathers will soften up much more quickly than higher-quality leathers, so look for those if you need to get your shoes worn in fast.

& Other Stories Embossed Leather Platforms, $195, available at & Other Stories.
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Wear Them Indoors First
If you do take the plunge on a fast-fashion-quality shoe, wear them indoors first — throw them on as you clean your place on a weekend or while getting ready one morning. This is a great way to get a true feel for the shoe and break them in a little bit. Most fast-fashion retailers won't take a shoe return if it's been worn or the sole has visible wear and tear. Wearing them in the comfort of your own home keeps them clean enough that you can still return them if they're a no-go.

Topshop Rosa Sandals, $120, available at Topshop.
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Check eBay If You Miss Out
The best fast-fashion shoes move, well, fast. If you miss out on an on-point Zara shoe your coworker has, don't lose all hope — you can find a lot of fast-fashion footwear on eBay long after it's wiped out of the stores. If you get lucky, you might just find your size in that sock boot you regretted not buying.

Zara Metallic Crossover Sandals, $69.90, available at Zara.
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Make It Work
The size and comfort-factor of a pair of fast-fashion shoes may not be absolutely perfect, but if you're only spending $30 on the shoes themselves, you can afford to have some good insoles or moleskin (soft, super-sticky adhesive you can line pinchy parts of a shoe with for added softness) on deck to improve the shoes' fit and combat any pain points. Basically, if you can't resist buying a cheap, cute, yet extremely uncomfortable shoe, be willing to pay for the extras that will make the pair wearable.

Wrap-Over Leather Sneaker, $135, available at COS.