I have a lot of guys that ask me if it’s okay to shop at “fast fashion” stores. I know there are a lot of men out their on tighter budgets and stores like H&M, Zara, and Uniqlo fit their price-point.
The selling point for these places is that you can get stylish clothing on the cheap. It’s never been easier to dress well on a budget as it is right now. You have internet shopping, stores that are constantly running promotions, fast fashion stores opening in US cities, and of course - guys like me who tell you what looks good on you.
So what is “fast fashion”?
It’s like fast food for your closet.
It’s cheap, it satisfies a need, and it looks pretty good on a menu (model), but the quality isn’t all that great.
It should be noted that nearly every fast fashion retailer has come under fire for their labor practices at some point. That’s fast fashion for you. You can’t make a $5 t-shirt without some sacrifices by the people making the clothing. These companies have gotten better in the past couple of years, however there are still some issues. When you buy fast fashion, know what you’re getting into.
With all the choices you have in buying inexpensive clothing, where do you shop? I’ve tested multiple garments from each of these guys and I’ll give you a rundown on each brand and tell you where you should be shopping for your clothing if you’re on a budget.
H&M is the second largest clothing retailer in the world. For me, H&M falls right in the middle of the three. The clothing leans a bit more trendy, although not as much as Zara. You can still find some staple pieces here.
Everything here is just, well, okay. The quality, the price, the style, all of it. It’s just - fine. A lot of budget-conscious men default to H&M once they decide to do a bit more with their style. You’ll often see a lot of guys, particularly younger men, wearing the same clothing from H&M.
H&M’s strategy is heavily based on marketing the brand and aligning it with influencers, attempting to raise the status of the brand to something “higher fashion.” Nothing wrong with that, but know what you’re getting. The quality just isn’t here for what it is and if you haven’t explored the other places below, I would not default to H&M.
H&M = 6.5/10
Zara’s leans the most fashion-forward, usually offering edgier looks, tighter fits, etc. Zara is probably not the place to shop for the bodybuilder or the calorie enthusiast. This clothing is made for the more streamlined European body. If you’re on the slimmer side, this might be your place.
This store has a very high turnover of products. Their strong point is their ability to follow trends closely and then, have the manufacturing power for a quick turnaround. From design to production, to placement on store shelves takes them as little as 20 days. Insane.
The only reason I can get behind Zara more than H&M is that their stuff just looks better. If you want to sprinkle in a few trendier pieces into your wardrobe, Zara might be the lab to experiment in.
Zara = 7/10
Uniqlo is a much smaller brand. I say that it’s smaller, relative to the rest of the big dogs of fast fashion. Uniqlo’s distribution is primarily based out of their home country - Japan, with over 700 stores.
It has yet to catch on in the US as much as the other stores, mainly because of its focus on minimalistic designs. The kids want the trendz. However, a lot more stores are popping up here. Uniqlo zigs while the others zag. Instead of trying to play catchup to runway looks, Uniqlo provides better made clohing, in more staple colors.
If you don’t have a lot of cash and you’re trying to build out your wardrobe, I’d start here. Whenever I’m traveling and need a quick piece of clothing, I try to find a Uniqlo store near me. You can shop online too, but their website seems harder to navigate than it should be.
Uniqlo = 8/10
March 2019 update: Easy 8.5 upgrade. I’m now even more sold on Uniqlo after a recent online purchase. From a quality perspective, it’s just far superior to the others, and even some much more expensive brands.
To me, Uniqlo is the winner in this lot. The designs are sustainable. The quality is on point. The fits look good. The price is right. Like I mentioned before, I have items from all three retailers. The goods from Uniqlo are the only ones that haven’t let me down, especially after multiple washes.
Another brand I should mention is Everlane. Ethical labor practices are the core of their brand. I don't own any garments from them, so I can't speak to their quality, but I support their mission.
Fast fashion is what it is. I would rather have guys invest more into their wardrobe and save up for certain pieces. But, if you’re on a shoe-string budget and want to look good, these retailers are what you need.
If you need help figuring out what those certain appearance are and navigating the shopping world, or just want an expert opinion on what you can do to improve your appearance, just ask me. It’s actually free.