Ah, spring. “When the world is puddle-wonderful,” as e.e. cummings put it, or, in New York’s case, sometimes still snowing. The season when your most rational friend drops the complacent guy she’s been cuddling with all winter for some jackass who looks better without a puffy jacket on. You start taking that Cardio Striptease class everyone’s been talking about after you see a gym poster that says, “57 days till summer: Are YOU ready for someone to see you naked?” People start thinking orange is a good color to wear.
Around the middle of March, I start thinking that if Young Stud Sunshine sees bronze lace-up sandals in my closet, he’ll convince Old Man Winter to ease up. Call it “if you buy it, it will come,” call it faith, but sometimes unabashed shopping for warm-weather goods can actually will spring into being. This spring’s hot wares are as tantalizing as ever — wispy skirts and dresses, bronze woven belts, cropped jackets, stripes and sparkles.
And so it was that on a sadly optimistic Saturday in March, I painted my toenails, put my cowboy boots on and headed for a day of shopping and adventure in NoLita and the Lower East Side. I got off the R train at Prince Street and Broadway at high noon, armed with coffeeand banana bread. (Anyone who starts shopping before noon has an air of desperation.
12:10pm, Mulberry St. For anyone with a Gwen Stefani complex (and some spare cash), walking into Amy Chan is like rummaging through the platinum bombshell’s dressing room. When I walked in, the first thing I grabbed was a Foley+Corinna runched corset. Despite the $199 price tag, its faded watercolor tones and cleavage-enhancing fitted chiffon layers make them spring musts. I plan to stick mine under a crisp white blazer. I loved their Punk Royal Ts and their Keenan Duffy tweed blazers with silk-screened images on their backs for those misty April days we all know are coming.
12:32pm, Mott St. I grabbed soft C+C Ts and Ella Moss shirts off the racks at Poppy like the store was on fire. My fantasy purchase was a cropped gold LaRok jacket ($248), but I ended up buying some soft cotton Tart pieces with plunging necklines ($90-$150). A warning here: A small glass case next to the register contains a myriad of gold charm necklaces packed in like sardines. Passing it without buying one is a Herculean feat. While I was strong enough to resist, I couldn’t leave without picking up a few charm bracelets for $10-$25 each. I felt better and worse when I found out that Jessica Simpson had bought about 30 a few days earlier.
1:12pm, Mott St. Crossing the street, I watched a giant black Rolls Royce make an awkward parking job. The driver, a striking figure in matching black leather pants, made a bee-line for Mixona, and I envied whatever dame would be the recipient of some beautiful, tissue-wrapped lingerie set. Forget Victoria’s Secret, my undies drawer is lined with Mixona’s own brand of stretch lace bras for $40 and Cosabella’s push-up perfection for $65. There’s even a few spots I’m reserving for that lace and leopard print Dolce & Gabbana set. Sigh…
1:13pm, Mulberry St. The Market NYC is like an art fair for your closet. Oodles of real live designers sit at makeshift tables, eager to chat with you about their wares, in a space that looks like a high school gym. I was only five minutes in when I came face-to-face with the hands behind Nabi Design’s adorable gold and silver charm necklaces. Nabi Kim even thanked me for having bought her “Lady Luck” necklace online. One aisle down, I scored a $70 draping cotton top from a fledgling designer named Katya that might just hang in my closet as a work of art or may make it out with the white leather and snakeskin pumps I got for $18. I chatted about paying the bills by designing for T.J. Maxx and the saving graces of the Internet with young designer Karen Nieto (“no overhead,” she pointed out). Heading toward the back, I found Paolo and Rina˙s tailored shirts made from flawed fabrics they hoard from trips to Europe and Hong Kong. Paolo explained that the fabrics were often the ends of fabric rolls or a yard where a machine made a mistake and overlapped several color patterns. Finally, while I’d lusted after the satirical T-shirts up front with catchphrases like “Ski Iraq” and “Gaza Strip Club,” I ended up snatching a worn Red Sox T-shirt that a young designer named Jac Currie had painted over with an image of a priest or saint. Turns out Jac and I are both from southern states, and Jac has created his very own version of “Keep Austin Weird” with his “Defend New Orleans” stickers and Ts. Like most designers, Jac got started on the Internet (eBay, specifically) and now sells at Piece in the East Village. While aspiring doctors are victim to constant badgering of “I have this weird [blank] on my [blank],”aspiring designer Jac was greeted with a chorus of couture suggestions from his Mississippi friends like putting Conrad Twitty˙s face on a T-shirt.
1:45pm I’m a sucker for advertising. If you’re an ad executive and you make a commercial and I don’t want to buy what you’re selling, you’re a failure. Currently, I’m lusting after Boston Terriers because ‘Baxter’ looks so cutely annoyed with his sneezing owner in that Zyrtec ad. So it should come as no surprise that I hustled into the pale pink frosting fairyland that is Rebecca Taylor after I saw a white lace bolero in the window over a flouncy peasant dress. It should come as no surprise as well that about 50 other women had the exact same idea. That day. “Omigod we totally got these in last night and they were, like, gone by noon,” pronounced the salesgirl. Slightly relieved to walk out without dropping the $295 for the bolero (though they’ll probably re-stock), I felt even better as I passed two women lamenting having taken a day to think about a dress, only to find it gone. “You were a fool!” said one. Indeed, Taylor’s managed to create the “it” spring look by pairing cropped, fitted jackets with flowing peasant tops and skirts, not to mention the $315 peasant dress that’s been featured in every fashion spread this month.
2:02pm I can’t ever walk past Only Hearts without stopping in to grab one of their lace-trimmed tanks or Ts. At about $70, they’re expensive, but delicate without being too sheer, and perfect for layering under a light sweater for cool spring evenings. I picked up two long cream-colored bead necklaces and a longer bronze beaded strand ($15 - $50).
2:25pm Passed a well-dressed woman walking a small dog sporting a hot pink sweater with a black skull and crossbones on the back. This to me is the essence of this neighborhood.
2:40pm I’ve now seen three vintage Vespas in the last three blocks. I don’t think I’ve seen even one Vespa in the last three weeks. Is this a fundamental part of the Nolita dress code, along with riding boots over jeans and shag haircuts?
2:43pm, Prince St. If you’d seen the pair of Marc Jacobs shoes they had in their window, you would’ve stopped too. The beauty is, it’s a consignment shop. Ina houses every chic label you can imagine and at prices that are truly unbelievable. I was in there for 15 minutes and I found a Chanel military jacket for $330, last year’s Prada roman sandals for $135, and a bright red Foley+Corinna corset top for $125 that I guarantee you is still selling for retail less than 20 blocks away. You know the merchandise is good when you’re trying on one of a dozen exceptional pairs of Marc Jacobs shoes and a girl nearby is choking up while handing the woman behind the counter a pair of shoes to sell.
3:02pm, Prince St. At this point, I was starving, and smelled Café Habana’s melting cheese from the sidewalk. It may be totally typical of the Nolita “scenesters,” but it’s quick and cheap (a ham and cheese torta with fries set me back less than $10) and I grabbed a seat at the window to watch the other shopping characters walk by. It might have been three o’clock, but the crowd looked like lunchtime. That’s what happens when you wake up at one.
3:26pm Granted, the first thing that grabbed my attention was some guy trying way too hard to complete what seemed to be a fairly simple skateboarding trick. Then I saw the store he was standing in front of. Eleven turned out to be a great store for vintage because it’s small, somewhat unassuming, and actually has old Def Leppard Ts and Nike hightops that don’t smell. They had some pretty hideous bohemian dresses, but that’s forgivable given their great selection of $45 cowboy boots and $15 college Ts and their Hindi hip-hop soundtrack. Plus, the Vespa in their window certainly gives them Nolita street cred.
3:41pm There are still some bewildered old Italians roaming this neighborhood and a sweet old man in a dapper hat crossed my path on Mulberry trying to look for a name on an apartment buzzer. Adorable.
3:47pm Crossing Bowery, I realize that nearly every store I’ve been in has played Blondie. Is Debbie Harry really that cool?
3:50pm, Orchard St. Swallowed the lump in my throat and braved Apollo Braun again, a store that I find genuinely frightening. Maybe it conjures memories of that girl I sat next to in high school who used to spend free period going medieval on T-shirts with scissors and a Bedazzler. That girl — on coke — could have put this store up in a weekend. It’s a punk wonderland of brash colors, kitsch slogans, and anything shredded. That said, I spotted this great green trucker hat that I would have thrown down cash for if it weren’t so last year. It said, “You I Love: The Heart Wants What it Wants.” Deep.
3:59pm I’d heard about Forward, a kind of new designer “share,” from some freethinkers in the fashion world that I considered reliable, so I was delighted to strike up a conversation with a former participant in the experiment, Dainne, who designs under the label “Suxi N. Rice.” As Dainne put it, Forward is an “LES socialist experiment,” putting a group of designers chosen by a panel made up of mostly fashion editors into a communal store, since a co-op is decidedly cheaper than any one designer coughing up $1,800-$3,500 a month in rent. When I asked her about the geographical movement of ‘what’s hip’ eastward from SoHo to Nolita and now to the Lower East Side, she agreed that there was something special, something “communal” about the neighborhood. Perhaps it’s somehow more European. She was quick to lament the fact that Forward has to fight to keep its support from the state, while in Europe this sort of thing is not at all uncommon. This was why she felt such a connection to one of the older designers featured at Forward, Selma Karaca, who is Turkish. As Dainne put it, “She drinks wine.” As for me, I loved the store. I loved Dainne’s Pucci-inspired wispy resort dress (though she admitted that her funky gray suit jackets were what really seemed to sell), I loved Voleuse’s colorful ballet shoes painted with slogans like “all that glitters is gold,” and I loved Selma Karaca’s skirt made from strips of painted canvas. Dainne even invited me for dinner because, according to her, her astrologist had told her to be open to new social experiences. While this could have cast her previous analysis about the world of the designer into shadow, I chose to let it stand.
4:28pm, Ludlow St. I think I audibly gasped when I saw the storefront — Foley + Corinna Men. MY Foley? As in that bustier I’d just bought? For dudes?! Walking in, it’s what Ralph Lauren wishes it could be. Ranch-style wood floors, an old motorcycle in the window, suede jackets, old Lacoste Ts for $30, and a fantastic old Wilson leather satchel for $110. The store’s only been open five months and it’s already an LES outlet for Indiana Jones. Hot.
4:45pm, Stanton St. For my next stop, the name pretty much says it all: “Shop” in hot pink neon lights. Two steps in and I’d found a pair of Juicy pinstripe Bermuda shorts for $70 and a Bianca Branaman strapless and cropped jumpsuit that my mother would hate for $90. Drooled over the wall of jeans (mostly Chip & Pepper and Rock & Roll Republic), the brightly colored Eberjey undies hanging in the window, and deftly sidestepped the delicate Jenny Sharrif hoops and necklaces at the cashier.
5:11pm Why do all these stores play Blondie?
5:12pm, Rivington St. Vintage stores scare me because for one, they smell like dead people, and for two, they make you believe you’re capable of great fashion feats that you are NOT. I, too fell victim to a slouchy hobo bag, slouchy boots, and a floppy hat only to discover that, no, I am not Sienna Miller. A friend once confided to me over coffee that she’d been dragged out of a vintage store by her boyfriend after insisting a pair of white leather shorts she’d tried on would look great with heels on a Saturday night. By her boyfriend, people. But I do have a friend who can pair candy necklaces with Converse and still look glamorous and she suggested Edith & Daha. Much to my glee, it was remarkably painless. They even make some of their own clothes! I found myself lusting after a perfectly wearable pair of brown leather riding boots that looked practically unworn for $75 and a red straw clutch with ivory beading for $48.
5:30pm My sugar running low, I stopped in Economy Candy for some Nerds and the World’s Largest Candy Necklace for $1.99. I resisted the urge to skip around the store yelling, “I got a golden ticket!”
5:43pm After a bit of a hike and more than a few thoughts like, “Clinton can’t be this far — can it?” I hit Lola Y Maria, named for the owner and her husband’s respective mothers, which sticks out like a silk-clad thumb on its block. The owners of the store have strong relations with Latin American designers, which is why they have things you won’t find anywhere else. One entire side of the room was a series of skirts, dresses, and shirts in cotton and silk with the same striking silk screen on them of what looked like birch trees ($150-$260). The rest of the store was more of a hodgepodge — I found a cream DKNY spring coat from two years ago and some great Alicea sheer blouses in bright colors for about $90. I was also quick to sign up for their mailing list, since they have parties some Saturdays!
6:08pm Weary and now a bit chilled, I faced the trek back home with the soft rustle of my myriad shopping bags to keep me warm. I had my heavy bangles, my long beaded necklaces, my low-cut Ts and bustier, my sheer blouse and my cropped white jacket. Everyone feels a bit more daring in the spring, which is what makes the season so wonderful. So what if you look back at photos and wonder why you thought looking bohemian was so great since you worked as a paralegal and frankly preferred Banana Republic? Spring is the season of possibilities. Maybe you’ll love Cardio Striptease and maybe the new jackass will make your rational friend happier, if only for the warm months. Who knows? Maybe orange is even your color.