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Photographs by Katherine Bish
Sometimes the best buys don’t come from the clearance rack, but rather from wisdom gleaned directly from the source. SLM asked St. Louis boutique owners and industry insiders for their tips: how locals can look their best, score under-the-radar deals, and hit the stores at just the right time. Follow these 15 tips, and outfox other shoppers this fall.
1. Do Dwight Yoakam Proud
Sometimes tight jeans can be the right jeans—at least according to Natalie Woods. The owner of Daisy Clover (8146 Big Bend, 314-962-4477, daisy-clover.com) believes people often can’t find jeans that fit because they pick pairs one or two sizes too big. “Jeans are all made to stretch,” she says, “so you have to buy them a little tight.” If you still can’t find the right fit after forgoing the extra breathing room, Woods suggests dropping any preconceived notions and getting help. “It’s kind of like Murphy’s Law,” she explains. “If you try to do it on your own, and you haven’t had any luck in the past, chances are you never will without assistance.” She suggests Joe’s Jeans’ mid-rise style (left), starting at $158.
2. Build on the Blouse
Choose a blouse or top for its versatility; find something that can dress up denim or be paired with formal skirts or slacks. “Go for something that you could wear several times in different ways,” suggests Melodie Tauben, owner of Vie (9660 Clayton Road, 314-997-0124). Be on the lookout for dressy tops year-round, she says, and focus on gold and neon tones as well as classic ivory. Examples at Vie include Flavio Castellani’s line of stretch-cotton blouses ($125 to $300) and Bailey’s embellished microfiber tops ($95 to $170).
3. Arrive Accessory-Ready
Don’t even think about stepping into a dressing room sans accessories. Meghan Fort, co-owner of The Little Black Dress (9793 Clayton, 314-993-6060, lbdladue.com), sometimes sends customers home to fetch already-purchased items like shoes, jewelry, and undergarments. “It’s important because it finishes the outfit,” she notes. Shoes are especially important in the dress-buying process, because wearing them allows you to tell whether hemming is needed. Underneath all of the frill, Fort recommends wearing Cass body shapers ($78 to $128) as opposed to the ever-popular Spanx, because Cass shapers don’t roll or ride up.
4. Tailor Trends
Stick to trends that flatter. “Don’t work the current trend if it doesn’t work for you,” says Hillary Dutcher, owner of Ivy Hill Boutique (304 N. Euclid, 314-367-7004, ivyhillboutique.com). Dutcher points to the high-waisted belt craze, with women donning wide belts on dresses, tunics, tops, and even wraps and jackets. Be careful, though: “If you’re thicker through the middle or have a larger ribcage, the look might not be as flattering as another style,” she notes. Trade in one trend for another, and try big, bold earrings ($20 and up), unique cocktail rings from Ben-Amun and Bora (below; $90 and up), or layered necklaces from Sara Patino ($80 and up).
5. Walk the Walk
“You don’t have to have 25 pairs of shoes,” confesses Rosemary Barry, the owner of Heels (170 Plaza, 636-273-4000, heelsboutique.com). And if the shoe does fit, make sure you can wear it more than one way, she adds. Barry has seen women picking up special-occasion shoes without realizing their true potential. Her recommendation: Invest in heels that can easily transition from work to play. A. Marinelli, a shoe line found at Heels, makes pumps (below; around $100) perfect for both office and party wear.
6. Bank on Bling
Last year, a pattern emerged at Genovese Jewelers (12460 Olive, 314-878-6203, genovesejewelers.com): “Many of our customers…started to purchase hard assets out of fear,” recalls store owner Joe Genovese. Buyers began to view bling as a more stable investment than, say, stock. It’s something Genovese has known all along. “Gold and diamonds have the same value everywhere in the world,” he says. When shopping for investment pieces, Genovese advises going with a tennis bracelet ($1,500 and up), diamond studs ($515 and up), or a diamond ring ($1,200 and up). His advice: Never pay full retail for a diamond, and make sure its clarity isn’t too high or too low.
7. Cover Yourself
“I am struck with these women walking around in elegant swimsuits just wearing a tank top or shorts,” says Lori Coulter, president and CEO of her self-titled, made-to-order swimwear line. What are they forgetting? Coverups, of course, which Coulter says are the one element of swimwear most often overlooked. “Make sure you have something that covers up top and bottom at the lake or the pool,” she advises. “Have something that transitions from air conditioning to the hot sun.” Coulter’s shop (6138 Delmar, 314-727-9879, loricoulter.com) offers white or black mesh sheer pants ($80), a colorful Missoni-inspired crochet knit dress ($90), or a pull-on skirt in matching swimwear fabric that’s available in several lengths ($80).
8. Be All You Can V
When looking for a T, go with a fitted V-neck (right). “Not only do they look good on everyone, they are also really in right now,” says Carolyn Burghoff, owner of Paperdolls (110 E. Jefferson, 314-965-3655). The Kirkwood shop carries trendy, neckline-accentuating shirts from Vintage Havana that go for around $30. Burghoff calls V-necks versatile, suggesting shoppers can layer them under or over other items for the perfect fall look.
9. Get Personal
Boutiques offer an intimate shopping experience, but department stores strive to match it with complimentary personal shopping service. Pat Bradshaw, above, a personal shopper at Nordstrom (47 West County Center, 314-255-2000, shop.nordstrom.com), says it’s a tremendous timesaver. “A lot of the women I work with are busy,” she says. “It allows them to shop in a very quick manner.” Bradshaw urges customers to come with specific needs, so she can pull items in advance. The best part? It gets people in outfits they’d otherwise avoid. “They are surprised when they look in the mirror and see how good things actually do look!” says Bradshaw.
10. Leave Room to Grow
They’re your small wonders, but Dana Radetic wants you to remember how quickly they grow. “It sounds kind of hokey, but I always say buy bigger when shopping for kids,” says the owner of Jillybean Children’s Boutique (9208 Clayton, 314-872-2988, jillybeanboutique.com). A lot of times, parents or grandparents stop in without the wee ones and then ask, “Which size should I buy?” Radetic reminds them that kids are only going to grow.
11. Consider Trade-In Time
Time and time again, Scott Bolozky, co-owner of Clarkson Jewelers (1306 Clarkson Clayton Center, 636-227-2006, clarksonjewelers.com), has witnessed men trading in one watch for another. “A lot of men get tired of a watch after a while,” he says. He suggests buying one with resale or trade-in value. “Resale really varies on the demand of the watch,” Bolozky explains. “There’s no formula for it, because certain watches are in more demand than others.” So which brands hold their value? Rolex ($5,000 and up) and Patek Philippe ($10,000 and up) lose the least value over time, he says.
12. Revisit Resale Shops
Whatever your resale shopping philosophy, you must go—and go often—to find the best deals. “We are buying and selling hundreds of items every day,” says Avalon Exchange (6388 Delmar, 314-725-2760, avalonexchange.com) owner Stuart McLean, who has been in the vintage clothing business since 1979. With new items arriving daily and a full turnover every 30 days, there’s always a nifty needle in that hipster haystack. If you’re looking to sell, McLean says the store buys more during a seasonal switch. “For the most part, we try to accumulate hard-to-get items,” he says.
13. Splurge on Suits
After spending a quarter of a century selling menswear, Sam Cavato knows quality comes at a high price—especially when you’re talking suits. “Don’t buy a suit under $800,” he says. “Anything below that just doesn’t have the workmanship.” Fit and fabric are the first things Cavato notices about an ensemble, but the shirt, tie, shoes, and handkerchief shouldn’t be ignored. Deeming tie selection an art form, he believes selecting one without too many patterns is key. Cavato names suits from Italy-based Canali ($1,500 to $2,000) as one of the best values at his namesake menswear store (265 Plaza Frontenac, 314-997-1100).
14. Find Support
Think you’ll never need another bra fitting? Think again. According to Jenny Hannis, owner of Jule Lingerie & Loungewear (9757 Clayton Road, 314-983-9282, juleonline.com), refitting is the secret to continuing support. “You can lose weight, you can gain weight, you can have a baby, which means your bra size will change,” explains Hannis. She recommends getting refitted every year or so. One of the biggest misconceptions: that one should avoid scrunching back fat by selecting a bigger band. Hannis emphasizes the need for a fitted band: “That’s where your support comes from.” Swap your oldest bra with a new one every six months, she suggests.
15. Surf Before Shopping
Don’t wait for your favorite store to reach out to you—keep up with the latest sales and trends online. Pulse (1644 Clarkson, 636-519-4022), for example, updates its site regularly to reflect recent shipments, which arrive daily during peak seasons. If it’s on pulsestl.com, then it’s likely in the Chesterfield boutique, says co-owner Bunne Weinhaus. Add local boutiques to your Facebook or Twitter network, and sign up on mailing lists to receive email blasts or postcards about special sales. And keep up with trends and other savings by bookmarking helpful retail sites (see “Window-Shopping on the Web,” below). With a little knowledge, you’ll go from spontaneous spender to shopping sage.
Window-Shopping on the Web
Five clickworthy sites in St. Louis and beyond
1. Coupon St. Louis
Learn how to be astonishingly frugal in St. Louis—even, in one case, purchasing $139.89 worth of items for only $8.09.
2. St. Louis Handmade
With the slogan “Living the creative life under the Arch,” St. Louis Handmade delivers craft news, events, and local artists’ profiles, all in one spot.
3. The MidWasteland
This Chicago-based blog documents Midwest street fashion and offers helpful links, social events, and stores within driving distance.
4. Missouri Mercantile
Whether you’re looking for sorghum, soaps, or Stone Hill wine, Missouri Mercantile lives up to its slogan: “Purveyors of fine Missouri products.”
This search engine lets you browse 90,000 printable coupons and 150,000 online coupons.
An online store for fashionistas, Bluefly offers fresh designs marked down at least 40 percent.
7. Piper Lime
Linked to sites for Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy, Piper Lime helps you pair new purchases with stylish matches.
8. Shop the Look
This international online accessory store follows the latest trends and helps you hunt down those new styles seen in magazines and on TV.
9. Fred Flare
This quirky online store has retro ’80s treasures—Pacman oven mitts and Risky Business shades—sure to make anyone smile.
10. The Good, the Bad & the Lovely
This is SLM’s own source for fashion finds, tips, and news.