Ginger McCandless and Niki Thomsen, young Omaha professionals and friends, decided one evening over cocktails to help other young women like them dress well on a budget.
McCandless, 31, works as an interior design consultant. Thomsen, also 31, is the director of creative services at Dial Retirement Communities. Both say it is a challenge to look professional and trendy on a budget.
“I would love to dress in all J.Crew,” Thomsen said, “but that’s just not realistic, especially in your late 20s and early 30s. We’re still in the beginning of our careers.”
So the duo started Forever 31, an online project where the two shop at the teen-centric clothing store Forever 21 at Westroads Mall and create outfits that are reasonably priced and age and work appropriate.
The pair said they chose Forever 21 because it’s a store they loved when they were in their 20s, and they weren’t ready to give it up yet.
They take photos of their ensembles in the store’s dressing room using their iPhone cameras and then post them to a Facebook page and an Instagram account. They started the project in June, and so far, have nearly 700 followers.
In one post, Thomsen shows how to transition a sweater that costs $24.80 from day to night. In another, she shows how a $9.80 black and white polka dot skirt can be worn for work when paired with a red sheer blouse then transformed into a weekend outfit when paired with a sweatshirt featuring a pair of sequined lips.
The women also show examples of outfits for Husker game day that don’t feature any Nebraska logos. Instead, they employ a red dress, a red and black checked shirt and a red blouse to show team spirit.
McCandless styled a $22.80 floral kimono two ways: with a burgundy maxi dress and a knee-length black dress. Many of her posts focus on how to make trendy pieces — like harem pants, studs and crop tops — wearable.
On average, the outfits they post cost about $50 and sometimes include shoes and accessories.
McCandless said shopping at Forever 21 can be daunting, especially when the mannequins are often styled in looks that veer toward the younger woman.
To offset that, the women look for longer dresses and shorts, longer shirts and more understated versions of trend pieces. They look for tops that don’t expose bra straps and pieces that can transition from workweek to weekend.
“Some of our friends have taken photos of us from the site into the store and asked the employees where those items are,” Thomsen said. “I think people see us as if we were the mannequins.”
They don’t always buy what they try on, but when they do take an item home, they try to post outfits using the new item with clothes they already own. Thomsen brought home a cream leather jacket recently that cost $42.80, an investment for Forever 21. But she’ll pair it with staple pieces she has at home to show how it fits into her wardrobe.
“We never steer away from the classic pieces that we spent money on,” McCandless said. “It’s about mixing and matching.”