At 17 years old I had my fashion epiphany. Browsing rack after rack of prom dresses left me with satisfaction and glee. After consulting with a sales associate who looked at me incredulously when I asked her for the plus size options, I was a 14 instead of my usual size of 24; I had to make a decision between a reddish-orange fiery number, or a more svelte, light blue ensemble. Twirling in front of the mirror I let out a small giggle. Finally, a choice was available to me. Where before I had to settle for whatever I could find, that half the time made me look like a prematurely 80-year-old woman, I now had the ability to pick something.

Indeed after 12 years, and coming to peace with my body image, the realization that plus sized women are still shafted in age appropriate professional wear has left me a bit aggravated. The old adage about appearance still resonates with me. Even for someone who prefers books to shopping, it has been the bane of my existence.

The problem with online shopping of course is that you can’t teleport yourself to their warehouse, try on the items you want and come back. So what’s a woman to do? There are options like Dress Barn, Marshall’s, Lane Bryant, New York & Company, but for the picky, and sometimes broke, fashion conscious professional a thrift store hunt is always fun. Here are some tips from the wallflower who prefers suits and solid colors to dresses and skirts.

Rule 1: Dress for yourself. Face it, we’ve all asked our friend, mother or significant other if they like it. News flash people… they are not wearing it. If you don’t like it then don’t buy it, end of story.

Rule 2: Just because it looks great on the rack, page, or mannequin doesn’t mean it’s a home run. Outfits always look better on others. I’ve had many a time where a top or suit looks killer, but after trying it on I find the color is too dark or the cut is too short, long or frumpy.

Rule 3: In my experience patterns are poison. They look cute, but they can draw attention to the not so flattering parts of your body. In my case, they tend to make my stomach huge.

Rule 4: Don’t get discouraged. This seems simple enough, but it is hard to follow after a day spent browsing the racks, shelves and hooks. Fear not. Most often I find the perfect outfit in more than one place. Mixing and matching always pays dividends. It’s all about quality not quantity.

Of course these are just basic rules. A good portion of name brand stores have some fabulous items, but more often than not they also have potato sacks.