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Forever (And Ever) 21

“How will I feel once I get there?” I could hear the fear and concern in my friend’s voice, and it brought back stinging memories of my first time. She gripped her coffee mug tighter, and I placed a comforting hand over hers, trying to soften the blow of the answer that I was about to give her.

“Afraid. Overwhelmed. And broke as f*ck.”

We were talking about her first trip to Forever 21, of course.

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Let’s face it—if you’re the parent of a teenage girl, you’re going to spend a ridiculous amount of time in this retail wonderland. You’ll while away hours, maybe days at a time standing outside the dressing room, or on a hard bench outside the store. You’ll be asked your opinion on jumpers and crop tops and skinny jeans, and sent to fetch 600 different sizes of short shorts. Over the course of a few months you’ll spend enough cash within those brightly colored walls to sustain a small country. Let me tell you, those $12 dresses really add up.

So for the uninitiated, here are a few pointers for surviving the Forever 21 experience. The more you know.

Resist the Urge to Shop for Yourself

At some point you’ll be standing among those racks and you’re going to think, “Hey, these polka dot leggings would look really cute on me!” But why not make a mental note of it and come back alone in order to avoid embarrassing your kid? I have to confirm this story, but I hear one teen had a breakdown right there in the aisle when her mom and the teen’s BFF emerged from the dressing room wearing the same tankini.

Be Prepared to Wait ... and Wait

With 50,000 different styles of sundresses in stock and your teen determined to try on every single one of them, you’re in for a wait. Sometimes they go into that dressing room and they don’t come out for hours. Days, even. You’ll be tempted to go in and check on them, maybe take them some rations and a cot, but don’t—you’ll be sorry when they just ask you to get them a smaller size in a different color.

That cute bikini might actually be a bandeau top and a pair of teeny Daisy Dukes.

Inspect Your Kid’s Haul Carefully

I know it’s easy to get caught up in the ridiculously low prices, so when your daughter walks up and hands you 15 pieces of clothing and says, “I’m only spending $40!” your first inclination is run, sprinting toward the cash register with your credit card held high. After all, $40 can’t even get you a pair of Spanx at Bloomingdales! But some of the styles here might not be appropriate for your kid’s age, so go through it all carefully. That thigh-length "top" might really be a dress. And that cute bikini might actually be a bandeau top and a pair of teeny Daisy Dukes. Doesn’t make sense to spend all that money if you’re only going to throw everything in the "Over My Dead Body" pile when you get home.

Look Straight Ahead When Standing in Line for the Cashier

These clever folks have made it so that every cashier line snakes through an enticing display of nail polish, makeup and useless trinkets. Sure, you think you’re getting off easy by just getting in line with only a $5 miniskirt; but, if you’re not careful, by the time you get to the cashier you’ll find your arms filled with several shades of eye shadow, numerous small purses and a nail clipper that looks like Hello Kitty.

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Reward Yourself

Pat yourself on the back—you made it out alive. Now that the kids are set and will spend the rest of the day taking selfies in their new clothes, head out for an evening of unbridled fun and debauchery with your friends. Now you know why they call it Forever 21.

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