I’ve had a couple of people comment that I seem to find some really great offbrand stuff and while part of that is luck, part of that is also having spent a loooot of time getting to know the feel of where to shop to find it. So here are my biggest tips, in no particular order and some conjecture as to why they exist. This is all from my personal experience so no references to cite.
1) It is seasonal.
You’re going to find a lot more lolita style blouses (and possibly gothic/ega dresses) during the winter, everyone is trying to be classy and to the nines during the holidays so things like pintucks and ruffles and other shows of opulence are going to be in. January is a great time to go shopping since that all goes on clearance about then.
The best seasons for JSKs are undoubtably spring and summer. Spring is a little better since shorts seem a little more prominent than dresses in summer but you can still find cute things. Easter and graduations make knee length airy dresses popular during spring I think. You can also find cardigans that would do well with sweet style (and sometimes classic) as spring is normally pastels and light colors which go hand in hand with sweet style. Summer is better for primary color sweet stuff like reds and blues.
Fall is great for classical lolitas, the color palate is more mature and you start getting into furs and stuff being in. Gothic things can also be found, and not just around Halloween.
Winter is when the goths are going to have the best luck, black is always popular as are deep jewel tones. Those jewel tones are also good for classical lolitas too.
Walmart is almost always a waste of time, especially if brand size M fits you well. They just don’t sell clothes in that size. But also unless the current trends are towards lolita-ish things they just aren’t going to have anything. The handbag and jewelry departments can yield some good things though. I normally do a quick run through the jewelry and handbag department whenever I’m at a Walmart (which honestly isn’t all that often) since it only takes a minute or two.
Target is good, they are like a slightly more mature Forever 21 if that makes any sense. Converse One Star which is sold at Target USED to be a go to for blouses and dresses but lately it really hasn’t been. The skirts on the dresses haven’t been near big enough to fit a petti the last two seasons. They also seem to be falling prey to vanity sizing as their 2/x-small has been bigger lately than what it used to be. Sadness. The Merona stuff, especially blouses and cardigans, can be very lolita as well, but they have always had the vanity sizing issue. Their size 2 is probably equivalent to a Baby or AatP JSK in sizing (aka too big for me) whereas the Converse size is off and on Victorian Maiden sized (aka my perfect size). They are also a good hit or miss for shoes. The past season or two hasn’t really spoken to me but before that I could normally find at least one pair a season that would work well for lolita. Shoes from them wear out kind of quickly though, the longest I’ve been able to nurse a pair of their shoes is about four years but with regular wear I normally only manage a year of use and daily wear can break them as quickly as 3 months. Their handbags, jewelry and other accessories are also a good bet and in winter they have cute real leather gloves, the S/M size fitting moderately small hands well. That’s a store I go to pretty much bi weekly and keep an eye out at. Since I wait for things to go on clearance I’ve missed a few really good things but I’m cheap.
I would have paid full price if I knew you existed in x-small!
And they never did have that olive green ruffle coat in an x-small in my store which made me mad. It would have been the perfect coat for my green lolita wardrobe.
Forever 21 is one of the best places to look for accessories. You’ll find funky and traditional things there and most of it is cheap. Currently they have some decent Alice bow headbands for $1.50 and in quite an array of colors. No true white, grey, green, pastel pink or lighter blue though. I think the only ones I didn’t get were the teal and red ones (why couldn’t the red be a more saturated hue?). They also are great for loli-ish jackets and coats. Blouses not so much since they are loathe to use cotton (unlike Target which loves cotton) and hem lengths tend to nix skirt options. They also are more of a BtssB sized store which makes me sad. But cute things can be found here too. The quality is pretty subpar so just try on and inspect everything you are thinking of buying to make sure it is decent. I wouldn’t suggest the shoes though. Rather uncomfortable and wear out quickly. You could def find things for Mori-Kei or Dolly-Kei as well.
They don't have things that are great too often and often times don't have VM sized things. And then you get things like that skirt up there which are great. Just don't ever pay full price there. The quality is terrible and they overcharge. Kinda like another Forever 21. But they have more basic staple type stuff as opposed to Forever 21's trendy trendness.
Kohl’s is a place to never buy something for sticker price at. It will go on sale or you can use a coupon from the weekly newspaper (or both)! Same sizing issues as everywhere else though the Lauren Conrad stuff is hit or miss on that front. This is a great store for blouses and accessories. And occasionally you’ll find super amazing things like that suit that looks kind of like VM’s Charlotte suit. It is a good store to blow an hour in. Shoes can be amazing too but only like 30% of the time. They last a little longer than the Target ones though.
Anthropology has lovely things and if you are VM sized then they do normally carry clothes that will fit. Just hope you don’t have another size 0 in your area since they only ever seem to get one of those for anything. They charge Bodyline to brand prices so be prepared for that. When I lived near one I would keep an eye on the clearance section, that helped with prices a bit. The sewing quality is most of the time nice and the materials are normally good but shoes are the same bad deal as brand shoes. Also they through in pockets more than most stores which is rad.
H&M is what you would get if you crossed Target and Forever 21. It has a lot of the grown up sensibilities of Target but with some of the crazy pieces of Forever 21 and goes about 50/50 on the quality. Some pieces are really great, I have a shirtdress (not lolita but the top would make a great loli blouse) which is a great grey sateen and sewn beautifully. I also have those four shirts, two of which are size 2 and two of which are size 4 (what kind of size variance crap is this?) and none of them breath even remotely well. But they are great cutsew/blouses for when I have nothing else to wear and were on sale for cheap. It’s a give and take. The accessories and handbags are pretty uninspiring here but they do tend to get nice knitwear in. Haven’t bought their shoes but they look like F21 style stuff.
Claire’s you all know about, and probably their sister store Icing as well. I don’t even need to talk about it. Just remember that like once a month they do a 10 red mark items for $10 sale, normally on a Saturday. It is easy to get it cheap.
Charming Charlie’s is amazing if you have one in your area! It is like Claire’s for 16-20 year olds. A bit pricey but you can find some really unique stuff here. Like my favorite little ram necklace. :3
Marshall’s and Ross are going to be pushes if you are VM size as with most American mass retailers but sometimes you find a gem. It will just be rare so I’d say skip the clothing unless you have an hour to waste. Shoes and purses are quick to browse and you can find good things, especially for Classic or Gothic. Ross is the cheaper of the two though Marshall’s has a better selection of shoes. Also if you’re a toy collector then this is a good place to look for discontinued toys you either missed in clearance or which were a late wave which the mass retailers passed on. Also Tuesday Morning is like another Marshall's, it is where I got those pretty burgundy flats from the last picture.
Big Lots is like the skeezier version of Ross. No clothes or shoes to be found here but occasionally hair things and if you’re looking for make-up that was discontinued then here’s your best shot after ebay. They also get good craft things in if you like to make your own jewelry or deco or scrapbook. This is also a great place to shop for frilly looking food for meet ups.
Thrift Stores are going to vary by where you are. Where I currently live is terrible as I’m in podunk but Austin, TX is vaguely nearby and has amazing ones. There is one in Houston, TX where all the rich people seem to dump their stuff as you’ll find real fur and gorgeous vintage overcoats and stuff. The ones near me when I was in CA had some great stuff occasionally too. And I know at least one had a Bodyline shirt since I donated it aha. But just realize while the prices are good and you’ll occasionally find some great things you’ll be investing a lot of time. Get to know your local ones to find out if it is worth it bothering (like how I don’t bother at my local ones now since they stink).
Vintage/Resale/Antique stores will have lolita things. That’s just a given. But the price is going to normally be high. You probably won’t be able to do a whole outfit from one store either, blouses are hit and miss though jsks are easy to find. Shoes tend to be a little meh. Handbags and other accessories can be amazing but priced accordingly. They are like thrift stores too in that some are better than others. That is part of why I named what stores I got my things from in my wardrobe post, so you’ll know some good ones. Vintage Dreams in Covina, CA and whichever one is by the starbucks and the traffic circle in Orange, CA are great (and always compliment lolita outfits). Buffalo Exchange in Austin is hit or miss but can be amazing.
3) Get to know materials, get an eye for quality, and know what little things you can do to make things better.
If you go at it long enough then you’ll be able to spot shoddy seams from 20 paces and fabrics that won’t breath from one touch. You’re just wasting your money if you buy crap. It would be better to buy one nice brand or expensive offbrand blouse rather than three offbrand blouses you can’t stand wearing.
I don't trim the fabric off taken in cutsews in case I want to sell them later. It takes two minutes to take out those two lines of stitching and makes it easier to sell.
If you’re a VM sized person like me then it is worth your while to try things on that you know are too big because sometimes it is a really easy fix. This is especially true of things made with cutsew material/jersey as a lot of the time just laying a shirt flat, pinning in about an inch or so and sewing a straight seam where those pins are will solve that sizing issue. But that is just something you have to deal with as a smaller sized person in a larger sized country. Consider it a challenge! A fun challenge!
4) Get to know your sale cycle
Maybe I’m just Cheapy McCheaperton but I try to not buy my offbrand unless it is on sale or on clearance. Part of it is that fast fashion quality means the lifespan of these garments (even when well cared for) is going to only be a few years or so but I also just don’t like spending that much money. So I’ve gotten to know when stores I frequent do their sales and how long I’ll probably have to wait for something to hit clearance. It was easier when I worked at Target admittedly but it isn’t too hard now. And if there is something I absolutely love I just ask if I love it enough to pay full price. That happens sometimes. I think the last time that happened was that green wool ruffle coat from Target I mentioned earlier. If they had gotten an x-small in I would have dropped the $65 they were asking for it.
5) Just keep an eye out whenever you’re shopping!
Kohl's, Claire's, Belk, Tuesday Morning and... Winchester Mystery House. What can I say, their cutsews are super cool.
Kohl's, Claire's, Belk, Tuesday Morning and... Winchester Mystery House. What can I say, their cutsews are super cool.
You never know what you’ll find. That was how I found that pinkish striped shirt at Belk, I was just putzing through and saw it and fell in love. This is also very true of accessories. Sometimes you’ll just see something odd like a chunky men’s watch that really would look good with your Iron Gate. And I always have my best luck when not looking for lolita stuff. If I go out thinking I’d love to find something cute and lolita I never do but when I’m just strolling along, not a lolita thought in my brain that is when I find great things. The lolita gods just roll like that.
And lastly, have fun! If you’re grumpy while looking you won’t find anything or you’ll always remember the unhappiness when you wear it. Make it a fun hunt. Consider it a challenge and don’t lose hope (even if stores keep vanity sizing you out of things that fit)!