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Shop With Me: Some Unexpected Mainstream Fashion Finds

A photo of a woman in a chunky sweater and a sequinned gold skirt in a store dressing room

Every once in a while I like to haul myself into a few "big box" fast fashion retailers and try on whatever catches my eye. These days, most of what I prefer to wear is thrifted and/or vintage, so I consider these little outings more like fact finding missions than actual shopping with intent, but taken purely as an exercise, it's fun! Every time I do this I unearth a few "secret" fast fashion pieces that I feel are are worth mentioning, I learn something new about my own sartorial tastes as a 50+ customer, and every so often I even end up with something new.

Last week I was in the city for the day, and took the opportunity to do a try-on recon mission. There were a lot of misses (like always), but also some pleasant surprises! Let's jump right in, shall we?


A Quick Word on Mainstream Fashion Fit and Quality

At this point in our collective sartorial history it should come as no surprise that both sizing and garment quality is all over the place with mainstream fast fashion. You can easily pick two similar pieces off the rack in two identical sizes and get two wildly different fits and fabrics. This is where try-on recon missions like this really come in handy, and why it's so important to not talk yourself out of trying something you think you might just never know.

Hiden Gems at H&M: Everyday Chunky Sweaters

Fall 2023 is definitely the Season of the Chunky Sweater, and H&M has a lot of them on display. Quality-wise, not all of them are great. In fact, some of them are downright awful (as is the way with modern fast fashion knitwear), but as I often find with H&M, there were also a few pieces that stood out because they are of surprisingly good quality and are worth a look.

The 90s-inspired pieces below appear in various permutations all over H&M, and I'm into it. I really like their take on the high-low mix of a basic thick funnel neck in a warm neutral with a slim, sequinned gold midi skirt; it's a perfect way to deploy a bit of holiday bling without going over the top. While quality-wise the sequinned skirt certainly isn't a masterpiece, for the amount of times you will probably wear a gold sequinned skirt, it's comfortable, looks great, and the price is right. At the end of the day, the difference between a stretchy $35 sequinned midi skirt and a $3500 stretchy sequinned midi skirt seems like a pretty big chasm to cross.

The simple chunky-knit ribbed sweaters featured here are of a really nice quality that you do not often see in mainstream knitwear. My favorite is the first of the two "Shaker" knit style sweaters; these knits have a louche, casual appearance and a substantial hand to them. The cropped version is also decent, and makes for a great layering piece if you're not wanting to show the world your 52 year-old midsection. know... ahem...for example.

*Hover over the individual items in the photos for more information on pieces!

Hidden Finds at Zara: Edgy & Unique Pieces

Zara and I have always had a rather adversarial relationship. Personally, I've always found that they have fantastic designs in theory, but dubious execution and sizing. Zara gets a lot of traffic, and I often find that on the rare occasion that I'm in there trying things on, I find that the garments already have ripped seams, holes, and signs of wear that definitely should not be there off the rack, no matter how busy the's hardly the best prognostic indicator for garment longevity, even with our modern fast fashion expectations permanently set to "low."

Sizing in particular at Zara has historically run on the small side, but to their credit, I noticed on this last visit that they have added a lot more plus sizing to their inventory, something that's really good for inclusivity, but also gives you more wiggle room if you need to size up - and if you're tall like me or are at all long-waisted, you will probably need to size up. And even then, fit can be questionable.

I find that as a long-waisted 5'10", US size 10 (considered a "transitional" size in the industry...whatever), separates at Zara rarely fit me properly, even when I do try to size up. The armholes and busts don't quite hit at the right place, the rise in the jeans is always in the wrong place, and going bigger almost always means these problems still exist, compounded by the addition of a too-big waist or bust. However, this season they have some cute, 90s-inspired (again) shift and column dresses that seemed to work on me, once again driving home the point that you really do have to try things on to be sure. As an aside, their dressing room lighting is the casts a harsh, film-noir type shadow over everything you try on, so I'm preemptively apologizing to you for that. It is what it is.

The first dress here is a crinkled satin, loose mock neck in a midnight blue. The quality of the garment isn't great, but I really liked the color and the casual coolness of the shape. I even liked how it looked over my jeans (evoking more ghosts of the 90s - Y2K era). I think this piece would work best dressed-down, layered with denim and or leather, chunky knits, and boots. I'm wearing a medium here (over my jeans), and I would probably ideally want to size-up to a large.

The long column dress is a faux leather dress that I tried on just for giggles. I ended up loving it. I am sort of regretting not buying it, even though I hardly have the need for such a thing with my current boots and jeans lifestyle. But the fit was surprisingly perfect without sizing up (I'm wearing a large in the photo).

A woman in a store dressing room trying on a midnight blue satin dress

A woman in a store dressing room trying on a fitted faux leather midi dress.

The Blooper Reel: Pieces That Didn't Make the Cut

A woman in a store dressing room trying on a too small vest

A woman in a store dressing room trying on a top that does not fit right

A woman in a dressing room trying on a poorly fitted sleeveless sweater and faux distressed leather skort

A woman in a store dressing room taking a selfie while wearing a glittery, sequinned tassel dress.

*Select items in this post are affiliate links, and may generate a small commission to Highland Fashionista at no cost to you. As always, Highland Fashionista promises not to spend it all in one place.

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