I think I'm a good-looking girl. I eat pretty well, and I run a lot, so I'm in good shape. But I don't feel attractive sometimes and it’s probably because of what I wear. I've never been a stylish person. When I was younger, I was growing fast and wore a lot of cheap stuff and sweatshirts. I still dress like that now in my 20s, even though I wish I had a bit more flair. But I feel like I can't keep up with changing styles. What can I do to stay on top of what's fashionable?

Fashion has delighted — and confounded — people for centuries. It's always been a little tough to figure out, and even tougher to keep track of.

But fashion can be your friend if you know how to use it properly. Once you get the hang of it, you'll find that dressing well can make you look better, and perhaps even feel better. Like it or not, people make snap judgements about other people’s appearances. Perhaps you'll feel more confident when you dress better.

So how can you dress better? It's not as hard as you might think. The key is to understand how fashion works, rely on some classics, and use the modern fashion marketplace to your advantage.

The first key to understanding fashion is that, in most cases, it's all about fit. Clothes go in and out of style, but well-fitting clothes always look good — which is why actors and actresses in those decade-old films always look good even when they look vintage. To get a good fit, you need to get quality clothes. In general, the cheap stuff at big box stores is going to be boxy and unflattering. Pay just a little bit more to get the right fit, and trust popular retailers to know how to merge that fit with the latest styles. Get a sense of which retailers make clothes that fit your body type well. (Yes, your body type matters a lot when it comes to fits.)

Next, build your wardrobe around basics. You'll have time to worry about whether infinity scarves are in or out (they're out again, by the way) if you have reliable tops and bottoms in your wardrobe that you're sure are always in. This is easier for men, but women can play, too: Simple tops, blazers, and trousers are classic, never-fail choices and can be layered and accessorized as you wish. You get a lot of pressure to stay on-trend in your 20s and 30s, but if you cast a careful eye on what the hippest folks are wearing, you’re likely to see a lot of tried-and-true standbys.

For the more "stylish" part of your wardrobe — the bits that you recognize may go in and out of fashion over a relatively short period of time — rely on modern conveniences to make things tolerable. Fast shipping and easy return policies make it easy to shop online, so try out online retailers to see if you can't get affordable fashion delivered to your door Just be careful not to fall into the trap of ordering boxy stuff from those gigantic retailers. A trendy online boutique would beat a massive e-retailer any day. By shopping online, you can save a little time and a little cash on the stuff in your wardrobe that may not be there in a year. But don't skimp on quality — you never know how long a trend may last, or when it might come back.

You can get pretty far without ever picking up a fashion magazine. If you simply choose to spend sufficiently (and wisely) at trustworthy, hip shops that deliver well-fitting clothes, then you'll always be wearing stuff that the fashionistas saw fit to sell. But once you're comfortable in the world of fashion, consider checking out the many magazines, books, and websites that revel in its complicated world. It can be silly, but it can also be fun and immensely rewarding. You may find that by discovering fashion, you’ve discovered a wonderful new hobby as well as a way to look your best.

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