You know I love a good fashion deal. But there are times when H&M or Zara styles just aren’t sophisticated enough. In those times, I opt for midrange fashion brands with classic styling, rock-solid quality, and pricing that doesn’t make me gasp.
The thing is, if you’re used to shopping Amazon, Target, and Forever 21, the midrange fashion space can be intimidating. Truly, there are lots of online stores that’ll sell you a $100 pair of trousers. So, finding your go-to midrange brand can involve some trial and error. And, as you know, trial and error gets expensive when you’re shopping for clothes.
To keep you from blowing this year’s clothing budget in search of quality garments that won’t break the bank, here are some tips and strategies for shopping midrange fashion.
What’s midrange fashion?
So we’re on the same page, let’s define what I mean by midrange fashion. I’m sure you’re already familiar with the two ends of the fashion spectrum: Zara and its fast fashion brethren are at one side, while luxury designer labels like Chanel, Gucci, and Prada occupy the other side.
Here are two fun data points to put that spectrum in perspective:
- You can buy women’s jeans from Zara right now for $50.
- A pair of Prada jeans will cost you $1,420.
Midrange fashion takes the space in between. Popular midrange brands include COS, & Other Stories, and Michael Kors. At these stores, women’s jeans are regularly priced in the $100 range.
Midrange lines are also called bridge lines — an obvious name, considering they bridge that gap between the highest and lowest ends of fashion.
Qualities to look for in a midrange store
To avoid buyer’s remorse after you drop three digits on a single article of clothing, look for these six qualities when you’re shopping midrange fashion retailers. I’m using images and info from COS to demonstrate these midrange must-haves.
Note that I have a separate list of qualities outlined for midrange jewelry stores.
1. Clothing quality and construction
Admittedly, you must rely on circumstantial evidence to assess quality from an online store. Here’s how to do it:
- Check the garment materials. A higher-end manufacturer will lean heavily on natural fibers over synthetics. So you want to see higher percentages of cotton, silk, wool, and linen vs. polyester.
- Read the sustainability policy. Better midrange stores will have sustainability policies, expressing their commitment to sustainable, low-waste manufacturing. For an example, read COS’ sustainability policy here.
- Zoom in on the photos. Zoom in on the product photos to inspect stitching and all small details, including notions. Double-stitching and concealed zippers indicate a higher-quality product.
- Read reviews. Not all ecommerce retailers publish product reviews, but you can usually find store reviews elsewhere, usually on fashion blogs (like this one!).
2. Classic styling
If you’re going to spend more on a garment or two, you want multiple seasons of wear in return. Lean into midrange brands that have elegant, sophisticated styles. You’ll want to see collections that are heavy on solid colors and classic shapes.
Presentation isn’t everything, but it’s a good indicator of the store’s attention to detail. The product photos should be thorough and professional, with a high-fashion vibe. Models should be wearing accessories, backgrounds should be consistent, and nothing should look out of place.
You’re paying a premium for midrange clothes, so you should expect a decent return policy. And by decent, I mean you should get free returns.
COS offers free returns on unworn merch within 30 days of your purchase date. The returns label is included in your shipment, so you just repackage everything, stick the label on, and drop the parcel at UPS.
You can also return online purchases in a COS store if there’s one nearby.
5. Customer service
Finally, look for a customer service phone number or online chat. A straightforward means of contacting the store is a must. If you can’t find it, shop elsewhere.
6. Bonus: Physical stores, somewhere
Physical stores show a minimum level of establishment. Granted, physical store chains do go out of business faster than online retailers — but when there are stores, at least you know you’re not dealing with a fly-by-night operation.
Most reputable midrange brands I know — COS, & Other Stories, and The Frankie Shop are examples — have store locations. Those stores may not be anywhere near where you live, unfortunately. But they’re out there.
The presences of stores also gives you another way to research the shop’s reputation. Check Yelp for local reviews. The in-store service may not be terribly relevant if you’re shopping online, but you can look for commentary on clothing quality.
Shopping midrange fashion
When it’s time to add some higher quality pieces to your wardrobe, you don’t have to jump straight to high-fashion labels. Take the middle ground and shop reputable midrange stores.
Look for stores carrying high-quality, classically styled clothes made of sustainable materials. Choose pieces you can work seamlessly into your wardrobe right now and next year, too. Remember that it’s OK to spend $100 on a garment as long as you intend to wear it a lot. And a lot can mean many times this season or a few times in each of the next 10 seasons.