How to navigate the high street if you hate following trends

If nightclub-appropriate and trend-driven attire are getting less-appealing by the minute, then shopping the high street can be difficult. Here's how to shop the high street stylishly and efficiently, writes Niamh O'Donoghue.


Not including my stint in retail at 18, high-street trends have never really dominated my wardrobe. I wish I could say this is because I'm too high-brow for the high street and earn enough money to shop in off-the-beaten-track boutiques. The reality paints a different picture. You see, my mother was a seamstress in her past life and would meticulously scorn me for spending my money on skimpy-made tops that would get all-but-one wear. She would see me sneaking into the house with the brown paper bag and inspect the seams for flaws, before marching me back to return it. I owe her a lot of thanks for being able to spot a dud on a shop floor from four feet away.

There was also the problem of growing up with a physical disability. Having a spinal deformity restricted me from wearing clothes straight off the rack, and almost everything I bought required some form of altering (thanks again, mam). The clothes on mannequins didn't look the same on me and I never saw models in magazines with bodies like mine. So for these reasons, I felt like I couldn't wear what everyone else wore. This really drove me to find my fashion identity (plot twist: I'm still finding it) because it gave me the confidence to lead the fashion charge, instead of always following it.

It's choosing your favourite fish dish on the menu but swapping out the fish for a piece of steak instead. The premise is the same, but the end result is actually something totally different and brand new.

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Every high street shop - whether it falls into your Love or Loath category - contains at least one per cent of absolute wardrobe gold. But, more often than not, you have to dig to find it (the post-Christmas, post-apocalyptic Zara sale, for example). Some of my favourite pieces – lavender kick-flair suit pants from Topshop, a H&M X Kenzo orange tiger jumper, a pair of wide-legged, panel jeans from Bershka – are all from the high street. But I've had to rewire my brain to find pieces that suit my individual taste and lifestyle but also pieces that don't pigeon-hole me into certain trends. It's like choosing your favourite fish dish on the menu but swapping out the fish for a piece of steak instead. The premise is the same, but the end result is actually something totally different and brand new.

I've had one-night-stands with leopard print but I've mixed and matched it with tiger print or pony hair. I've done the athleisure trend by going hi-low: a low-key pair of cigarette pants with a racing stripe from Penney's with a pair of Stella McCartney trainers and a crisp, white shirt, and I've bought all of the slogan T-shirts. Really, there is no escaping trends but there are plenty of ways to make them your own. Here are some tips I've found useful when shopping the high street and returning with some of your wardrobe personality still in-tact.

Buy basics and make them your own. By anyone's wardrobe standards, a loose-fitting black shirt is a very basic, albeit necessary, thing to own and is something that is always "on trend". This one from Zara, below, comes with button detailing that adds a smart point of difference, taking it from high street to high chic. And when you're bored with it, swap up the buttons for a new set. Or better yet, recycle some from another garment to make something new. Smart separates will be your sartorial saviour, too.

Shirt with button detailing, €79.95 at zara.com

Shirt with button detailing, €79.95 at zara.com

Try new high street shops. Just because a friend-of-a-friend got a bad deal one time, doesn't mean you will. There are a lot of new places on the market to try (online and IRL): I wasn't convinced of & Other Stories when it first opened, but now I buy all my winter basics there.

Wool blend cropped turtleneck, €69 at stories.com

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Wool blend cropped turtleneck, €69 at stories.com

Don't be put off by window displays and signs marketed for 'younger' buyers. There's no reason why anyone of any age can't shop in Zara, Topshop, Monki, Asos or River Island. Initially, it can be daunting crossing the threshold of a shop that's screaming "25% off for students" with lots of flashy colours and patterns. But beyond that, there is light. My advice? Walk away from the screaming brightness and head to the calm of the back. You'll find less tight, Friday-night dresses and more cashmere and tailoring.

Dark green blazer, €68 at topshop.com

Dark green blazer, €68 at topshop.com

Timing is key. If you know you'll hit panic stations as soon as the shops get too busy, then avoid rush-hour shopping. Do yourself the favour of getting into town as the shops open. That way, you can take advantage of deserted shop floors. And finally, try on before you buy. Do your future, stressed-out self a favour and wear clothes that can easily be chucked on and off. Sizing on the high street *can by temperamental (a size 8 is never, ever an 8) so if in doubt, try it on.

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