Shopping in New York for your winter wardrobe can feel like the logistical equivalent of paging through the September Vogue: overwhelming, over-perfumed and overpriced. Sure, the thrill of the hunt may sometimes be exhilarating, but it’s more often an exhausting, dehydrating experience that leaves you feeling chubby, poor and pasty.
Yet, like most things in life, shopping successfully in New York is all about picking your battles and having a plan. After too many years of practice, I’ve established a route that runs from high end to discount, from avant-garde to every day, in the space of about six hours (lunch optional).
First, some preparations: Wear clothes with a minimal number of zippers and buttons. Skirts are best- they’ll exhaust you less quickly than pants, and you can see how shoes and boots really look on bare legs. Take a bottle of water. Wear reasonably comfortable footwear, but nothing so junky that you’ll be ashamed of yourself in a boutique. And definitely eat breakfast before you hit the streets.
At 10 a.m. sharp, start at Barneys (660 Madison Ave., 212-826-8900, http://www.barneys.com). Yes, the prices are ridiculous and your handbag will not pass muster with the saleswomen on the ground floor. But you’re not here for approval- the idea is to use this luxury zone as a metric for the rest of your shopping day. Think of Barney’s as a seven-floor, touch-friendly catalog with good restrooms and plentiful water fountains. If nothing else, tour the ground floor (accessories, jewelry, handbags) and the fourth floor (shoes) to get a sense of where fashion is heading, and how far you want to go with it.
Need holiday gifts? Walk down Madison Avenue to 57th and try the Dahesh Museum of Art Shop (580 Madison Ave., 212-759-0606, http://www.daheshmuseum.org). This jewel of an art collection features work by academically trained European artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. It also boasts one of the most alluring gift shops I’ve ever seen. Forget Mondrian mouse pads and Monet dishtowels- Dahesh stocks stunning Loredanna handbags made from vintage kimono fabrics and free-form jewelry by Michael Michaud. Perfect for stylish mother-in-laws.
Continue south on Madison Avenue to Fogal (515 Madison Ave., 212-355-3254), one of the world’s premiere hosiery stores. If this year’s legging craze feels too trendy, Fogal’s elegantly patterned stockings and subtle fishnets are an easy, affordable way to give your wardrobe a bit of a boost without losing your fashion dignity.
Pick up the E train at 53rd, toward Brooklyn. What you save on taxis you can spend on lunch without guilt. Get off at 14th Street and head west toward the Meatpacking District. Stop at Lucy Barnes (320 West 14th St., 212-255-9148, http://www.lucybarnes.biz) a lovely boutique with distinctive but understated dresses and surprisingly affordable jewelry. Keep heading west on 14th. Pass Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, and La Perla unless there is a sale sign in the window, and you’ll arrive at Jeffrey (449 West 14th St., 212-206-1272), brilliant for shoes and boots. If you buy those amazing Alaia pumps, have them shipped to Baltimore and save on sales tax. Walk down to Scoop (430 West 14th St., 212-691-1905, http://www.scoopnyc.com), great for everyday basics, and then to Henry Beguelin (18 9th Ave., 212-647-8415, http://www.henrybeguelin.it), located on the ground floor of the Hotel Gansevoort, to inhale the rich scent of handmade leather goods.
Have a light lunch, and recover from sticker shock, at Pastis (9 9th Ave., 212-929-4844, http://www.pastisny.com), the French bistro where you might see Julianne Moore and husband Bart Freundlich sharing a plate of pommes frites with their kids, or financial guru Liam Culman (son of former Center Stage honcho Peter Culman) lunching with his uber-tastemaking, gallery-owning spouse, Marianne Boesky (Marianne Boesky Gallery, 509 West 24th St., 212-680-9889, http://www.marianneboeskygallery.com). Don’t forget to fill up your water bottle while that handsome waiter is bringing you the credit card receipt.
After ducking into the tiny Boucher (9 9th Ave., 212-206-3775, http://www.boucherjewelry.com) to have a look at Laura Mady’s drape-y necklaces, stroll up to Loehmann’s (7th Avenue and 16th Street, 212-352-0856, http://www.loehmanns.com). This five-floor destination has a much bigger selection than the outpost in Timonium, although it’s equally hit or miss. (I found a gorgeous Missoni bag at 75 percent off here, and an endlessly useful sleeveless shirt by Donna Karan.) Start up at the Back Room- it occupies the entire fourth floor- and work your way down. A good look through this Loehmann’s can easily take an hour, but don’t miss the men’s department in the basement. And if you keep your receipt, you can return any unwanted items within 30 days at the Timonium branch. For an even more random roll of the shopping dice, head up to Fisch for the Hip (153 West 18th St., 212-633-9053) an overpriced but well-stocked consignment store. They have a good men’s selection and shelves full of previously owned Hermes bags.
Get back on the E and head downtown to the Spring Street stop (or walk if you gave in to Pastis’ pommes frites). Olive and Bette’s (158 Spring St., 646-613-8772, http://www.oliveandbettes.com) has several locations, and you can visit them online, but this branch has a friendly staff and a plentiful supply of basics from Splendid, James Perse, and Petit Bateau. Ask for recommendations about their favorite new jeans; I reluctantly bought a pair there last fall and now wear them four times a week.
Walk to Thompson Street and stop in at INA (101 Thompson St., 212-941-4757, http://www.inanyc.com), my single favorite store in New York. There are four INA consignment boutiques- including a men’s store- but I love the saleswomen here (they watch The Wire religiously), and this location seems to have the best shoes. You might find anything from a BCBG camisole ($45) to a fur-collared Dolce and Gabbana rock star coat ($1,200), and this is a perfect store to find a killer cocktail dress at the last minute. If you have your own designer items to consign, call ahead- at least a week- and set up an appointment. (Items must be relatively new and in absolutely pristine condition.) Down the street is a little gem called Legacy (109 Thompson St., 212-966-4827, http://www.legacy-nyc.com), featuring gorgeous dresses from the London brand ISSA, unusual knits by Orla Kiely, cool Antipast gloves and socks for your picky tween daughter, and a case full of beaded evening bags. Not cheap, but these are collector’s items.
And now, after a full day of stress-free shopping, take a taxi to the Temple Bar (332 Lafayette St., between Bleecker and Houston, 212-925-4242), an oasis of sublime mixology and heavy velvet drapes. While sampling its popcorn and waiting for your Kir Royale, congratulate yourself on your purchases, and decide you’ll have to wear that new dress to the theater tonight. 9
One-time New Yorker- and former Baltimorean- Charlotte Stoudt now does her clothes shopping in Los Angeles.