When you’ve got Dior dreams on a dollar-store budget, stores like Delia’s, Wet Seal, and Forever 21 can be your best friend — up to a point, that is.

I’m 32. Until about eight months ago, when I was looking for a cheap, unusually colored cami, or a dirt-cheap dress, I could always count on Forever 21. The store wasn’t in my shopping circulation for staples, like jeans, work wardrobe, or outerwear, but I wasn’t ashamed to hit them up for weekend wear. I once scored a cute, one time-use, faux-chiffon party frock for $8.80 there. I was about 27 at the time. No shame in my game.

But lately, I just haven’t had the success I used to in shops that are marketed toward a younger crowd. I don’t know if my advancing age is entirely to blame, but I’ve certainly become more aware of the shoppers around me in stores like Forever 21. There are an increasing number of overly made-up baby faces, searching for clothes they think will make them look older. Meanwhile, the racks seem to hold more and more pieces ironically designed with that consumer in mind.

Forever 21 has officially become the sartorial version of a fake ID. And since I’ve been able to use my  real ID for 12 years now, it’s long past time for me to put the store behind me.

Long ago, I gave up on Wet Seal (which used to be called Contempo Casuals when I was able to wear their clothes confidently) for similar reasons. But last weekend, exhausted and defeated after fruitless forays into my other cheap go-to clothiers like H&M, I ventured in to see if I’d luck up on a floral tank or workable skirt there. Who was I kidding? Flimsy, one-strap minis abounded, weird plastic-pleather jackets were everywhere, and even the pajamas and undies looked like they’d been designed for the too-grown middle-school crowd.

That’s when it hit me: My style is evolving. Into what, I still don’t know. I’m in fashion purgatory, hovering somewhere between the Macy’s Juniors and Misses sections.  H&M is still hit or miss. I scored a great zebra print dress there at the start of the season. But I’ve officially aged out of Forever 21.

I think they should change their name. You’re only 21 once. Trying to look like it long before or long after is setting yourself up for a fail.

Do you feel like you’ve aged out of stores like Forever 21? How old is too old for stores like that? What super-inexpensive stores do you frequent on a tight budget? 

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  • I, too am in fashion purgatory. I don’t know what to do with my look these days…

  • ALM

    Stacia, try Zara. They are a more sophisticated version of Forever 21 that is still affordable. I also like New York and Company (although sometimes their coupons seem too good to be true, i.e. $45 off $90).