These independent women’s clothing boutiques are where you want to do your fashion shopping this fall, according to Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News columnist Elizabeth Wellington
By Elizabeth Wellington, Lifestyle Columnist
Thursday, September 20, 2018
There is a myth that there is no good shopping in Philadelphia.
I’m here to tell you: That’s not true.
To prove it to you, I visited dozens of women’s boutiques and specialty stores in Philadelphia and surrounding burbs. What I found, in the midst of cozy sweaters, prairie dresses, and jumpsuits, were dynamic -- and did I say chatty? -- entrepreneurs who champion style and local businesses.
To make the list, stores had to offer a good mix of brands, customer service, and a variety of sizes. Prices, of course, vary depending on the store. But I made sure there were ample, high-end, low-end, and middle-of-the-road destinations. Each store has a definite point of view.
Happy fall fashion shopping. And fellas, I got you next time.
Skirt is for the girly, yet still edgy, girl. As in, yes, I will take that Iro cropped leather jacket, throw in the Veronica Beard winter floral frock, and yes, I will wear them together. Labels are modern and on display in the fabulous, always revolving windows: think A.L.C., Love Shack Fancy, 27 Miles, ATM, and Mother. The good news is that while funky, owner Maureen Doron’s buying style doesn’t scare Philadelphia’s conservative Main Line shopper. This fall’s soft T’s, racing-stripe jeans, and cashmere sweaters made me want to buy, even though a work-appropriate dress will run you between $300 to $400. But the customer service is worth it. Doron’s staff of 20 are more stylists than saleswomen. Call in advance and a rack will be ready upon arrival.
Browsing through Joan Shepp this fall is akin to stargazing. Pleated skirts are midnight sky-metallic. Cardigans pop with celestial prints. Sheaths glisten and accessories — whether a wallet or reversible hat — are emblazoned with crescent moons and stars. To top it all off, the specialty store twinkles with astral shapes thanks to an old-school projector. Vogue-worthy designers abound, so prepare to dig deep into the fall budget. Shepp has added Stella McCartney and Calvin Klein’s 205W39NYC to her museum-retail offerings — a black velveteen coat from the Comme des Garcons Fall/Winter 2018 collection will be part of an extensive fashion exhibit set to open at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in October.
You must make an appointment at Galit Carmely’s Old City jewel My Little Redemption, but the 30 seconds it takes to text her that you'd like to visit is your ticket into Carmely's figure-forgiving world of Israeli fashion. The minute you try on a Kedem Sasson floor-grazing dress or an Alembika pantsuit, your body-image issues will disappear. Another benefit: Each piece serves multiple fashion purposes, so if you pay the bills by making presentations during the day and attending swank events at night, this is the store for you. Outfits range from $100 to $300. Carmely travels to Israel four times a year to shop the collection and she tries everything on herself. And that equals a perfect fit.
Vagabond is that spot where I buy something every single time I walk in. This fall the store, co-owned by Megan Murphy and Mary Clark for 20-plus years, is giving me hippie grandma’s attic vibes. We’re talking wide-wale corduroy trousers, raw canvas jumpsuits (it looks as if the onesie will continue through the change of season), prairie-style dresses complete with tiny floral prints, pussy bows, and tiers. Local artisans, including the emerging local sneaker brand HNCOK, are front and center. But it’s their chic collection of reasonably priced, well-crafted Indie brands like Caron Callahan and Black Crane that makes Vagabond among my most favorite shopping destinations.
Whether in lightweight floral print or figure-flattering ponte stretch, ellelauri is the home of the wide-legged pant this fall. And I’m loving it, because, every woman can use a pair of full trousers. Roomy slacks, however, are far from the only items Liz Rymar designs and sells from her now five year-old 1,000-square-foot Center City boutique; she’s a master of the flowing jumpsuit, silky blouse, and maxi dress. In addition to her ellelauri private label, Rymar carries shoes from the popular (and walkable) brands Soludos and Kaanas. Here is where a girl shops for her busy cubicle-to-happy-hour life. And with prices squarely between $88 and $300, here is where we go for a little retail therapy without too much guilt.
At the end of this month, designer Bela Shehu plans to show her androgynous, drop-crotch cool, body-skimming, and now seemingly timeless collection during Paris Fashion Week. Shehu is also continuing to work on retail collaborations with local businesses like KnitWit, Ubiq, and West Elm. Shehu's clothing is as cool as it is upscale. Dresses start at $400 and pants about $500. Expensive, these pieces are hard to resist. Included in Shehu's most recent collection of all things black, slate, and olive is a boatneck shirt that unzips into a sleeveless maxi that costs $595. I actually considered bringing tuna fish to lunch for the next two weeks. I still just might.
If your sensibilities involve supporting the work of local artisans that dabble in fashion, then M Concept needs to be on your shopping radar. Curated by former University of Pennsylvania public health scientist Ethan Nguyen, M Concept features the work of 50 emerging clothing and accessories designers. Handcrafted silks by Oscar de la Renta-trained Alexandra Damiano and Zoey Hudson’s muted separates are among the best of the racks. Look carefully and you will notice the trendy blouses and dresses stamped with MCX150, M Concept’s private label. Nguyen also designs Atelier Nguyen, featuring his signature handmade denim dusters. Most pieces range from $100 to $400. And if you can’t find what you are looking for, Nguyen will custom-make something for you.
The first thing Nicole Miller franchise owner Mary K. Dougherty showed me during a recent visit to her 1,500-square-foot Bellevue store was a selection of forest green and black sweaters, skirts, and leather jackets appliqued with sequins in the shape of an eagle. Yes, the New York-based designer’s fall 2018 collection was inspired by the Super Bowl champs. These aren’t the only pieces from the recent collection that will appeal to Philadelphians: Smart pantsuits in crushed velvet and camouflage, and plaid shirtwaist dresses are sure to tickle our fall fashion fancy.
Everything at KIN Boutique is perfect for the active woman who has a day job; all the stuff in this closet-style, 800-square-foot spot is wearable, washable, and foldable. The best part of perusing through the racks of Acler jackets, Saylor blouses, and Senso shoes is chatting it up with owner Joey Clark about what’s a must-have for fall. (According to her, it’s the soft sweater and the pant that holds us together). While most of Clark’s collection is casual, there are a few knockout black-tie-appropriate pieces. And since most of KIN’s pieces fall within the $100-to-$500 price range, they won’t wreck your budget.
Ann Gitter’s Knit Wit is 3,000 square feet of plush. My suggestion: Start in the back of the store, where there is a sumptuous collection of Michael Stars tees, dusters, and joggers. As you move to the front you’ll see the hunt for the cashmere sweater is over. Spilling off the racks are yummy Norma Kamali stretch, spandex blend dresses and Stella McCartney for Adidas yoga-to-brunch leggings and hoodies. Knit Wit is the easy-to-wear go-to spot, though it’s not cheap to look so effortless. Expect to spend anywhere from $200 to $800 on any piece, but it’s worth it, because at the rate that we are wearing our comfy clothes, we need them to last.
As Frame wax-coated jeans and L’Agence denim jackets greet shoppers at the entrance, Boyds Philadelphia’s brand-new modern sporty vibe is immediately apparent. The 12,500-square-foot, just-renovated first floor (and 2,500-square-foot mezzanine) is the only shop in town to buy Chloê, Akris, Altuzarra, Dolce & Gabbana — and that’s just a few of the luxe store’s exclusive brands. For most of us, Boyds is definitely a more browse than buy shopping destination, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t venture inside its iconic floor-to-ceiling glass doors. After all, taking a glimpse inside the world of the rich and famous can be fun.
Charlie’s Jeans owner Sebastian McCall and his staff are Philadelphia’s jean whisperers. There is no hip-to-waist ratio that can’t be fitted in this Old City 3,000-square-foot storefront. These days McCall is making and manufacturing his own line of denim for women and men, eponymously named Sebastian McCall in upward of 20 styles. Prices start at $120 and go up. Must-have jeans for this fall? Skinnies are still on top, but McCall says don’t shy away from the clean wide leg.
Sizes: 24 to 32, roughly 2 to 14. Larger sizes can be made to custom fit.
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821 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr
Go on, I dare you: Pick up any skinny pant, pleated skirt, or ponte legging at Grove 121 and I promise it will easily pair with any cozy sweater, or silk blouse in the store. That’s because owner Sandy Edelstein — you may know her from her days at Ella’s Grove — did an excellent job making sure her store meets the lofty needs of the busy woman who wants to look good but doesn’t want to think too hard about fashion. That means flat-front trousers by Avenue Montaigne have some stretch in the waist and Valentina button-down blouses are infused with Lycra so the buttons don’t pop. Except for a few leather jackets by Jakett, most of the pieces are priced below $300, so go ahead, treat your wardrobe to a jewel-toned pop.
The moment I walked into Gabrielle, I wished I had somewhere exciting to go because owner Susan Cooper’s collection of floor-length sparkle is to die for. The offbeat yet satisfying work of designers like Canadian Greta Constantine fills the racks. Dresses generally start at $500 and very special pieces cap off upward of $5,000. Among the red-carpet-worthy confections: Kevan Hall Designs and Jeffrey Levinson clutches.
You can count on a Paula Hian viscose knit to ease around your curves perfectly. Hand and machine knit in Paris, a Hian geometric print is fun to try on because you will look good in it. It’s just that the dresses start at $1,000. Still, venture in. The Hian experience includes the trying-on, the trunk shows, and of course the champagne, and that makes for a good time.
The turnaround at Curve Conscious, Adrienne Ray’s Brewerytown plus-size consignment shop is quick, so if you see something you like, buy it. The store, in its second year in business, carries a stellar collection of curvy-girl-friendly brands including gently used Eloquii, Lane Bryant, Asos, and City Chic. This fall, check out velvet blazers, winter florals, and all thing, sequined. And at $15 to $45, this of-the-moment fashion definitely respects your budget.
Never Too Spoiled is the Philadelphia fashion scene’s softest place to land. On a recent afternoon, during a visit to the 1,000-square-foot store, I found a bevy of cushy lounge wear, soft sweaters, and corduroys that capped off at $150. This is snuggle I can afford. Owner Rene Galvin's soft summer pinks deepened into fall mauves, mustard yellows, and olive greens. Recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, the store specializes in sustainable lines like Honey Punch. And the clothes just aren't soft to the touch, they are splashed with positive mantras like "It's Cool to Be Kind."
This fall The Style Loft is a throwback to the 1990s, complete with denim overall short sets and spandex neon biking shorts with matching tops. Owner Sharkeya Revels’ mission is to keep prices below $150; in addition to keeping her customers trendy, she wants the Southwest Philadelphia community — the one she grew up in — to be able to have a specialty-store experience, complete with trunk shows, fashion presentations, and a little bubbly.
There are few specialty stores where moms and daughters can shop together and one — or both — don’t look as if they are trying too hard. Rowen is one of those places. Jordan LeWinter opened Rowen five years ago because she wanted to give women a place to buy basic casual pieces like Flying Monkey denim and soft Hayden T’s in an easygoing environment. Here everything is Netflix and chill appropriate and, believe it or not, everything — except for a few leather jackets — is under $100.
As women, we have a lot of fashion concerns: Does this sweater work with our complexion? Are these trousers too tight? How do we dress our changing bodies? Chances are Maria Delany, owner of the Main Line’s Louella boutiques, can help you address them. Trumpet-sleeved blouses, skinny pants, pencil skirts, and occasional sheaths are very Lilly Pulitzer-meets-Eileen Fisher. That means Delany’s Nic + Zoe pieces and Julie Brown NYC items — all for the most part priced under $300 — come in varying shades of pastels in easy-to-wear silhouettes.
Boujee is where the stylista goes for fun. Cheesy fun. But fun, nonetheless. The pieces that owner Amy Mitchell chooses are very faux-fur duster with skinny leather pant, winter floral maxis, ripped denim, and plaid button-up shirts. Think of Boujee as the Forever 21 of local specialty boutiques where labels aren’t important here, but floor-length dresses with dramatic slits paired with leather high-tops? Well, they are everything.
When I first heard of Estate boutique in Doylestown, I pictured an old store with musty clothes. But when I walked into Brittany McGinley’s vibrantly hued specialty store, I was pleasantly surprised. Helmut Lang and Rebecca Taylorsheaths were in the house alongside roomy, yet tailored always-appropriate-with-sneakers downtown style of Smythe and Elizabeth & James. Prices are in line with what you would expect to pay for designer dresses, upwards of $350 for Financial District-appropriate looks. At Estate you find clothes for the life you want.
Dolly’s Boutique is where the ladies who church, the ladies who brunch, and the ladies who committee convene to keep up appearances and have a cocktail … or two. For 10 years, Dolly’s owner, Shani Newton, has dressed the likes of actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, and reality television stars Claudia Jordan and Yandy Smith in jewel tones and flattering silhouettes. The celebrity price tag, however, isn’t a high one; the average price of Newton’s pieces are between $80 and $150.
At Toile, Philadelphia University (now Jefferson University) and Central Saint Martins graduate Bianca DiPietro features the work of 50 local designers — who specialize in deep purple, gray, and black everything whether it’s a lacy special occasion or stretchy piece of athleisure. Much like a classic atelier, DiPietro does free alterations, so if you purchase one of her pieces that range from under $100 to $300, you've managed to snag a pretty good deal.