Is Shein—the cheap clothing brand all over Instagram—a scam?
A fleece coat for $20 sounded too good to be true...
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For as much as I love high-end brands like Lululemon and Tory Burch, I am a sucker for fast fashion brands. When it comes to clothes, I like to get a lot for a little: Give me a $3 Forever 21 tank top and a $12 bathing suit over something 10 times that price any day.
So naturally, when I noticed all the big Instagram influencers were posting about the pieces they bought from Shein—for what seemed to be too-good-to-be-true prices—I was intrigued.
But I was also skeptical. I've read too many accounts of people who have attempted online shopping at similarly cheap retailers only to get clothes that look nothing like their pictures, show up months late, or, worse, fall apart while they're wearing them. Is Shein legit? Would it live up to its promise of inexpensive clothes that look—and feel—like expensive ones? Itching to find out for myself, I decided to give it a try. Two years later, and it's become my favorite place to shop.
What is Shein?
Shein is an online fast fashion company based in China that started in 2008 and is known for its super-cheap clothes focusing on women. With its motto of “everyone can enjoy the beauty of fashion,” Shein mostly sells women’s apparel but also offers an increasingly wide selection of accessories, shoes, children’s clothes, and men’s apparel. The brand has become so famous on social media because it markets its products to Instagram influencers who use affiliate links, sending them free clothing to review in paid advertisements. It's also been at the center of controversy due to its lack of transparency regarding supply chain issues, and its "real-time" model that gathers customer data to craft new designs in as little as three days.
What is it like to order Shein clothes?
The amount of clothing available on Shein’s website is overwhelming, to say the least. So while the site is easy and intuitive to navigate, know that a “shopping trip” won’t be quick. I spent nearly an hour clicking around before I settled on my pieces: an oversized leopard-print cardigan, a green button-up dress, and a teddy jacket.
Once I added my items to my cart, I moved onto shipping—and my options were less than ideal. As the clothes ship from China and I'm in the United States, unless I wanted to pay over $12 on express shipping for my clothes to arrive the next day, the website said I’d have to pay $3.90 and then wait six to eight business days. As a woman who's grown accustomed to Amazon Prime (hello, free next-day delivery), that’s an eternity.
On the bright side, if you spend over $49, you get free shipping. So even though I had to wait one week before my clothes arrived on my doorstep, at least I didn’t have to pay extra for delivery. Another benefit of ordering from Shein is that, if you live in the U.S., you’re entitled to free returns within 40 days of purchase.
How do Shein clothes fit?
One of the hardest things about online clothes shopping is determining what size to order. I had heard nightmare stories about the sizing so I was extra-cautious. Fortunately, each item has an in-depth sizing chart with the specific measurements for every size, so it’s less of a guess. But even if you know your usual size, I would always check the chart just to be safe—multiple reviewers complain that they ordered a small only to get something that felt more like an extra large, and vice versa.
My pieces fit fairly true to size (that’s blogger speak for “they fit like I expected them to”). The dress, which I ordered in my usual size, was fitted in all the right places and hit exactly at mid-thigh as shown in the photo. The teddy jacket, ordered one size larger than my usual, was roomy enough to fit over other clothes and the sleeves came right to my wrists as promised by the sizing guide. However, the “oversized” cardigan was a little more snug in the sleeves than I’d like, despite the fact that I ordered a size larger than I usually would.
Are Shein clothes good quality?
Yes and no. In my experience, the clothing quality was as inconsistent as the sizing. And from the reviews I’ve read by other bloggers and influencers, it’s the same experience across the board.
For example, my leopard cardigan is thick and cozy and, despite my fears, isn’t at all scratchy or stiff. And since it's made of acrylic, it didn’t shrink or stretch out, even after wearing it for two straight days and then putting it through two washer and dryer cycles.
I was hopeful that the dress I bought would be just as much of a winner—but it wasn’t. While it looks just as it did online and is super-cute (I got tons of compliments on it!), after washing it just once, one of the buttons fell off and some loose threads popped up near the seams.
And as for the teddy coat, I’d rate it subpar. It’s soft, sure, but the material itself—a polyester fleece—is very thin. I wore it on one chilly fall day and it didn’t keep me very warm, as the wind went right through the coat. However, it held up in the wash without shrinking and looks more high quality than it feels.
Are Shein clothes worth it?
I love good deals as much as the next person. But that being said, I don’t love Shein or inexpensive things that fall apart after the first use. And with Shein, you get what you pay for: low-cost, trendy clothes that can be hit or miss when it comes to actual quality. It’s the online-only equivalent of mall stores like Forever 21 and Charlotte Russe. I’d recommend pieces shopped at Shein for those fun items you only plan to wear a handful of times, like a party dress or a graphic tee, but not for investment pieces, like a winter coat or jeans, that you want to get a lot of use out of.
Make sure you do your research before buying something from Shein, too, to avoid having to deal with customer serivce. Know that the sizing, quality, and look of an item may not be what you expect or what you see in the pictures, so you should always check the sizing chart and read any reviews of the item first. I found honest reviews, in particular, to be helpful because a lot of people also upload photos of their purchases so you can see what the pieces look like in real life.
The bottom line? You never know exactly what you’re going to get with Shein. But with low prices and free returns, it’s a fun (and cheap) way to try new styles and experiment with trends.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.