Brands that won’t break the bank, compromise your ethics or make you look basic.
Almost separately from its reputation as an ethical, transparent brand working to produce its clothing as sustainably as possible, Reformation has long been a go-to for millennial city dwellers looking for cute, sexy, on-trend clothes that are relatively affordable without the disposable, guilt-inducing element of fast fashion. It also has a certain cult-ish appeal: As Jia Tolentino writes for The New Yorker, “The brand offers its customers the hard-to-resist, self-satisfactory pleasure that comes with conforming to a prototype.” Its success has led to profitability and an acquisition last year.
But the Los Angeles-based brand’s cool factor seems to gradually loosen its grip on customers as they grow older — at least, that’s what happened to me.
Once blinded by the effortless vibe of its models, ’90s-inspired silhouettes and conversational marketing copy, I can now see more clearly the products’ inconsistent fit and quality, the lack of representation for different body types, its oversimplification of carbon neutrality and — most prominently — the fact that, at 31, I’m just too old for it.
I still commend the brand’s leadership in scaling responsible design and production practices, which make it a better alternative to brands with similar sexy, retro-tinged aesthetics — there are now many, but the Revolve universe comes to mind — and one can’t deny its reliable bridesmaid dress options (and, OK, its shoes are pretty solid, too). But I, along with many of my peers, am feeling a bit of Reformation fatigue. As in, I just don’t want to look at another low-cut, calf-length linen dress with strings that tie at the shoulders, regardless of how many gallons of water were “saved” during its production. And while I don’t really believe in “dressing for your age,” I can’t help but feel silly wearing one at this point in my life.
That leaves the question: Where are the brands for us “old millennials,” who may want a more elevated (but still fun and relevant) aesthetic, but are still spending the majority of our incomes on rent and ClassPass and thus can’t yet afford go the designer/luxury route? (Aside from the obvious: Uniqlo and Everlane.)
While they haven’t yet reached the scale of Reformation, there are a growing cohort of (primarily) direct-to-consumer labels that offer a few similar elements — whether that’s ethical manufacturing, a cool and recognizable aesthetic, a sense of community or stuff to wear to weddings — at an accessible price point and with a more mature or timeless point of view. Read on for our picks.
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If you’ve graduated from saucy going-out dresses to comfy sweats, you may like Entireworld. Scott Sternberg, formerly of Band of Outsiders, has used social media to build a following for a brand that inspires emotional connection with familiar-feeling everyday clothes made with distinctive, often retro-inspired cuts and joyful hues. And while it’s known for its candy-colored sweatsuits, Entireworld also sells excellent fitted tees, button-downs, sweaters and pants. The Los Angeles-based label doesn’t overdo it on the sustainable messaging, but most pieces are made from organic cotton and can survive both trends and constant wear.
Have you decided to start dressing like a grown-up but still enjoy a fun night out every now and then? Then this two-year-old brand by Parisian influencer Anne-Laure Mais, which already has a massive Instagram following, is likely what you’re looking for. And if you aspire to look French as much as I do, you’ll really be obsessed with the brand’s perfectly-cropped sweaters, easy suiting, refined wrap dresses and dainty heels — all of which are priced under $400.
Formerly the in-house brand of Shop Super Street, founder Lucy Akin closed the L.A. shop to focus on this line of vintage-inspired vacation-wear that also works for when you’re not on vacation. Its dresses, flirty tops and skirts are easy to throw on but still have a certain sophistication. And the imagery is cool and aspirational without skewing super young. While the price point is slightly higher than others on this list (most pieces hover between $290 and $400), the products are made to last.
Another L.A. label, LaCausa (meaning “the cause” in Spanish) is committed to ethical manufacturing and low-waste design and also has a donation program, where it gives back to organizations like Cool Earth, the NRDC and Inner City Arts. The clothes are hip, comfortable and laidback without looking sloppy — think: matching trouser-jacket sets and jumpsuits in soft cotton twill, tie-dye tees and easy tank dresses.
This Austin-based slow-fashion label produces all of its timeless, pared-back, vintage-inspired pieces in the U.S. It makes an effort to source quality natural fabrics, use low-impact dyes, hire vetted ethical factories and reduce waste by repurposing any leftover fabrics. It also offers extended sizes, up to a 4X. Aesthetically, it has the “I moved from New York to Austin or L.A. to start a family but am still cool” look down pat.
This New York-based line is perfect for those who feel aged out of Madewell — and that’s no accident as it’s designed by former Madewell designer Somsack Sikhounmuong. Its workwear-inspired, trend-averse, quality wardrobe staples are easy to wear without feeling basic and the brand’s jumpsuits have practically reached cult status. Its tagline? “Nobody needs new clothes right now. But everyone needs the right clothes.”
This brand is growing rapidly thanks to its approach to size inclusivity, offering its easy-to-wear wardrobe staples in sizes 00 to 40. While the line comprises a lot of timeless basics in neutral tones, it doesn’t feel “basic,” thanks to smart, modern cuts and silhouettes that are relevant without being trendy. There’s a breadth of offering that’s much wider than other size-inclusive brands, too.