How Fashion Girls Find The Best Stuff At Target, H&M & Forever 21

This story was originally published in June 2015.

One can go into Forever 21, H&M, and other big-box fashion stores and emerge looking casual-Friday, clubby, or Coachella-ready. That wealth of possibilities is key to those stores' appeal, but it also accounts for their intimidation factor. Entering a Forever 21 is like trying to date in New York City — you just know there's a game-changing, perfect-for-you gem in there somewhere, but you're gonna have to sift through a lot of duds to find it.

Which is why it's time to share some tried-and-true techniques fashion girls use to instantly sort a massive product array into "never would I ever" and "must cop." From secret homepages, to personal stylists, to private labels you didn't know existed, read on for how to shop eight of your favorite stores so you only see the good stuff.

Photo: Courtesy of H&M.
Hidden deep in H&M's drop-down menu is a little section called "Trend" that is about to dazzle you with its spot-on selection of the most fashion-forward pieces you've ever bought for $69.95. Think luxe-looking work pieces, on-trend bodysuits, silky culottes, and dozens of other things no one will believe you got at a mall store.

Pro-tip: The Trend section exists in stores, too — most often it's located right by the main entrance to attract passersby.
Photo: Courtesy of Target.
Whether you're shopping online or in stores, the label you want to look for at Target is Fashion Union — a more trend-focused than Mossimo or Xhilaration. It's made for juniors, so unfortunately the sizes aren't for everyone, and there's still a bit of eye-hurty neons to sort through, but if you're in the market for ridiculously affordable denim crop tops or wide-legged pants, this is your jam.

Also worth noting is Target's current "Summer Whites" edit, where you can find all kinds of off-the-shoulder blouses, ripped jeans, and lace dresses in everyone's favorite non-color.
Photo: Courtesy of Forever 21.
Forever 21
Thankfully, the teen-skewing retailer sorts much of its fashion-forward pieces into "Contemporary." Some stores feature this section near the front, but mostly pieces are scattered throughout — the full range is most easily shopped online. Go here for elegant summer dresses, perfect-for-lounging sateen pants, and comfy basics that are a far cry from the loud-ass logo tee your cousin just picked up.

The e-comm site also sells a small but well-curated selection of minimalist-leaning labels; be sure to check out its Brands We Love page for more. And don't cruise through F21 without a glance at its activewear — if you ask us, it's the most underrated section of the site.
Photo: Courtesy of Zara.
Okay, so it's not that hard to find cool stuff at Zara. But, if you're paralyzed by options, start with the new arrivals section. Updated every week with a new collection of super-covetable items, it's the perfect way to see the newest of the new, and whet your appetite before diving into the site at large.
Photo: Courtesy of Topshop.
If Topshop feels like a confusing trend salad, consider shopping the Boutique or Unique lines. Yes, they're pricier — but not that much more than the rest of the brand's offerings. In return, you get noticeably higher quality, a tight edit of runway-ready trends (the line is shown at London Fashion Week, after all), and best of all, pieces from within the lines coordinate really well with each other.
Photo: Courtesy of Free People.
Free People
If you think it's not your style because you don't do boho, think again. These days, FP offers assortments based on five different types of customers, each with its own character: There's free-spirited, world-traveling Meadow; body-conscious Ginger; super-femme Candy; tomboy Lou, and laid-back, beachy girl Sandy.

Fashion girls will find the most to love in the Sandy product lines — think airy separates and dresses that are flowy and drapey, but stop well short of dubious "ethnic" influences and over-embellishment.
Photo: Courtesy of Pixie Market.
Pixie Market
PM's another store where there's no shortage of trendy pieces, but we like to scan the site's "Back To Stock" section before we dive in. That's where you'll see pieces so popular, they've sold out and been restocked. Consider it your handy cheat-sheet to what the cool girls can't get enough of.
Photo: Courtesy of ASOS.
To help you navigate its dizzying selection, ASOS has a team of 13 stylists who make product edits and offer styling advice. Go here to check them all out, or shop our faves: Becky for loud, over-the-top pieces, and Paloma for sleek, retro picks curvy girls will love.

Bonus tip: The brand's trend edits are a great way to filter through the hundreds of pages to find exactly what you're looking for.
If you're looking for a deal, head to #newprices. But if you're looking for a more curated selection of goods that feel on-trend, the "Edits" section will give you just that — and show you how to wear said pieces, too.

Pro tip: Their denim guide is also expansive and informative; it's broken down by trend, and goes in-depth into the shape and fit of each.
Photo: Courtesy of J. Crew.
J. Crew
Both the brick-and-mortar and e-commerce have SO much to search through, it can feel impossible to know where to start. The themed selections, from Jenna Lyons' weekly picks to the "Looks We Love," break things down more easily, and the styling and photography is so on-point, it convinces us we want even the pieces we never thought we would.
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