A Billion Dollar Babes sample sale Credit: Andrea Bauer

With more boutiques
opening every year and the
city’s increasing awareness
and support of the local design scene,
Chicago’s style IQ is higher than ever.While that can translate into higher
prices, savvy shoppers can always
find a bargain. Here are some tips for
working the retail system.

This will be a season of big
change on the department store
landscape. The locally founded
chain Marshall Field’s, whose flagship
store (111 N. State, 312-781-1000) dated back almost to the
city’s founding, has just been
absorbed by Federated Department
Stores, whose Macy’s brand
instantly evokes New York.
However, the new owners are
bending over backward to woo
Chicagoans, promoting local
designers and hosting several events
in conjunction with Fashion Focus Chicago (which runs through this
weekend). Meanwhile, the Loop
location of Carson Pirie Scott (1 S.
State, 312-641-7000)—long the
dowdy sister of downtown department
stores, despite its grand landmark
building by visionary architect

Louis Sullivan—is expected to close by March. For now, though, it’s a
good bet for affordable name-brand
men’s suits and inexpensive
jewelry and handbags.

All the other department
stores hold big
regular sales
throughout the year
and usually have a
few discounted racks
going at any one time.
Bloomingdale’s (900 N.
Michigan, 312-440-4460)
tends to attract a wide customer
base, and Nordstrom (55 E.
Grand, 312-464-1515) is a step up
on the luxury scale. Saks (700 N.
Michigan, 312-944-6500), Barneys(25 E. Oak, 312-587-1700), and

Neiman Marcus (aka Needless
Markup; 737 N. Michigan, 312-642-5900) are the top of the heap, but if
you stop in at the right moment you
might be able to score a heavy discount
on that top that caught your
eye in Vogue last season. If you do
go to Neiman’s, bring a wad of
cash—they take AmEx and their
own store card but not the dirty
likes of Visa or Mastercard. For real
fire-sale prices, head to Filene’s
Basement (1 N. State, 312-553-1055) and Nordstrom Rack (24 N.
State, 312-377-5500)—but
you’ll have to sift through a
lot of ill-conceived dreck
to find a genuine good
deal.

If you can’t wait for
prices to come down
on the real thing,
there’s H&M (840 N.
Michigan, 312-640-0060, and 22 N. State, 312-263-4436) and Forever 21 (28
S. State, 312-977-2121, 540 N.
Michigan, 312-595-0489, and 845 N.
Michigan, 312-867-0220), both of
which carry designer knockoffs at
low, low prices. And Mango, Spain’s
answer to the Swedish H&M chain,
is supposed to open in Water Tower
Place (845 N. Michigan) next month.

If you want your selection more
closely curated, lately Chicago has no
shortage of high-end boutiques—and
they all mark stuff down sometime.
The trick is knowing when. Krista K (3458 N. Southport, 773-248-1967)
holds an “around the clock” sale
every January and July, opening its
doors at 8 AM and offering discounts
up to 50 percent for the first hour;
that percentage decreases incrementally
thereafter until closing time. Its
neighbor down the block, Red Head Boutique (3450 N. Southport, 773-325-9898), often holds a concurrent
sale. Other stores with intimidating
price tags, including Hejfina (1529 N.
Milwaukee, 773-772-0002), Robin
Richman
(2108 N. Damen, 773-278-6150), Penelope’s (1913 W. Division,
773-395-2351), P.45 (1643 N.
Damen, 773-862-4523), Blake (212
W. Chicago, 312-202-0047), and

Ikram (873 N. Rush, 312-587-1000)
offer occasional steep discounts, and
you don’t need to be the owner’s best
friend to find out about them ahead
of time: these and many other boutiques
have mailing lists, and Web
sites like Style Chicago
(stylechicago.com) and Fashionista
(chicagofashionista.com) announce
sales and other events like designer
trunk shows and sample sales.

Long a staple for Manhattan shoppers,
sample sales are a relatively
recent phenomenon in Chicago.
Originally a way for designers to
unload actual sample pieces used to
sell their collections to stores, here
the sales usually feature multiple
designers and are more likely to feature
overstock, discounted anywhere
from 40 to 90 percent—happy news
for those of us larger than a size two.
Beta Boutique (betaboutique.com,
next sale 10/7-10/8), Billion Dollar
Babes
(billiondollarbabes.com,
next sale 11/11), and Luxury Drop (luxurydrop.com; their sales charge
a nominal admission fee) all hold
events in different locations around
the city. Be forewarned: dressing
rooms are usually rudimentary and
communal, and pushing and
elbowing are just part of the deal.

If stuff that’s reasonably priced to
begin with is your bag, there are
plenty of good options. You’ll have to
wade through racks of bohemian
basics at Andersonville’s Presence(5216 N. Clark, 773-989-4420), but
the reward is less-expensive versions
of trends you don’t want to invest in
too heavily. For jeans head down the
street to Hip Fit (1513 W. Foster, 773-878-4447) for vintage and secondhand
designer denim at significantly
less than a couple hundred bucks a
pair. The Mexican Shop (801
Dempster, Evanston, 847-475-8665)
is worth the schlep for its extensive
selection of ethnic-influenced jewelry
and offbeat accessories. And Wicker
Park’s Akira empire offers club-ready
duds for men (1922 W. North, 773-276-5640) and women (1837 W.
North, 773-489-0818, and 2347 N.
Clark, 773-404-9826), plus shoes for
both (1849 W. North, 773-342-8684,
and 122 S. State, 312-346-3034).

Speaking of footwear: Lori’s Shoes (824 W. Armitage, 773-281-5655) has plenty of designer pairs
around $100 and the back is a permanent
sale rack. For more
fashion-forward options, City Soles (2001 W. North, 773-489-2001),
and 3432 N. Southport, 773-665-4233) periodically offers sale shoes
for a nickel when you buy another
pair at regular price.

Going secondhand is probably the
number one way to save cash, but not
everyone has the time or patience to
comb the racks at Unique Thrift Storeor Village Discount Outlet—two
chains that still offer the occasional
find amid tons of junk. Some reliable
resale stores that have done the work
for you (and don’t overcharge for it)
can still be found on a stretch of
Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park,
including Una Mae’s Freak Boutique (1422 N. Milwaukee, 773-276-7002)
and Lenny & Me (1463 N. Milwaukee,
773-489-5576). If your look is more
right-now than eclectic, try

Crossroads Trading Company (2711
N. Clark, 773-296-1000, and 1519 N.
Milwaukee, 773-227-5300) or
Plato’s Closet (2150 N. Clybourn,
773-549-2070), which feature secondhand
clothes in current styles—
and you can sell or trade them the
stuff you’re already sick of.

Keep an Eye on Their Eye

MELISSA TURNER The first-ever director of fashion art and events in Chicago,
Turner is charged with supporting and publicizing the city’s nascent fashion industry
and acting as a liaison with designers. So far she’s had her hands full with Fashion
Focus Chicago, now in its second year, but future projects reportedly include developing
an online resource guide to help designers find materials and showcase their
work and a “fashion incubator” at Macy’s for emerging talent.

KELLY RYAN O’BRIEN O’Brien is the director of the Chicago outpost of Gen Art,
a national nonprofit that highlights the work of up-and-coming artists in fashion,
music, art, and film. Gen Art helped spark the city’s discovery of its own homegrown
talent, featuring hot local designers in splashy extravaganzas like its annual Fresh
Faces Chicago runway show, and continues to help those designers achieve national
standing. Gen Art also organizes the popular Shop CHICago events, which bring the
wares of local designers to a single venue. For more see genart.org.

LINDSEY BOLAND In the year since she opened Habit (1951 W. Division, 773-342-0093), her boutique devoted to showcasing the work of independent designers
(including herself), Boland has emerged as a major player on the local fashion scene.
With a knowing eye and endless enthusiasm for the innovations of emerging designers
(some of whom are still in school), Boland’s built her boutique into one of the few
where you really can find something different.

IKRAM GOLDMAN As the owner of Ikram (see main story), one of the highest-profile
designer boutiques in the country, Goldman makes runway styles accessible to
the average woman—so long as she’s got an above-average bank account. But even if
you couldn’t afford a button in her store, it’s worth taking a look around to see her
beautifully edited selection—she’s a visionary at the top of her game.

ROBIN RICHMAN Designer Robin Richman opened her boutique (see main story)
in 1997 to showcase her own exquisite hand-knit sweaters alongside lesser-known lines
from New York and Europe. Now it’s morphed into a venue-cum-workshop for several
local artists and designers, some of whom may be found tallying up your purchases
behind the counter. Richman’s friendly Bucktown boutique doesn’t even have a Web
site, but it’s well-known among customers who like a little art with their fashion. | HK