If you had a week in New York, you could spend this entire time shopping. Works likewise with two weeks, or a month. Popping into a store in NYC is simply dangerous – that’s how it all starts! Here’s a little guide to help you navigate in the sea of the city’s best shops.
Three months ago at a Moscow airport I met a Russian girl who was going to spend a summer in the States as a work and travel student. Of course, we started talking about things to see and do, and the discussion came to shopping. It was my what – sixth or seventh time in the US, and I was already kind of a local shopping expert. Minding that the clothes&shoes prices in Moscow don’t just bite – they tear you to shreds, each time I came to New York I considered it my duty to fill my suitcase with good deals.
I shopped with a list of stuff I needed, added some that I just wanted, and made sure that I wouldn’t have to shop in Moscow for at least another year. Unlike many tourists that are dazed by the prices on luxury brands and rush to various boutiques, I do my best to never spend more than $70-$80 per item, be it shoes or a fancy dress, and preferably stay under $30. Of course, there may be exclusions; but as far as I recall, my most expensive purchase of all time was a dress for $170.
Myself, I pretty much was in a “poor student” category, with a few part-time and freelance jobs, so I never chased after all the AMQ, Gucci and D&G stuff. Nevertheless, I’m not wearing rugs either. The secret to successful shopping in the States is the vast variety of local outlets. So before moving on to the big stores I’m going to give you a glimpse of where to head to.
For those who never had a chance to shop at an outlet – you’ve missed a lot! Although European outlets are nice, nothing compares to the US discounts. The outlets buy off remainings of past collections, unpopular sizes and slightly damaged items. And, as mostly no one cares which collection that shirt came from, you’re more than likely to find some great bargains. And even these bargains can be found on clearance at the end of each season!
One of my all-time favorites is Marshalls. They mostly offer mid-range brands with awesome discounts, and it’s always easy to find clothes made of natural materials. I usually go there for casual clothing, though you can sometimes find good dresses too. I used to be able to find some great shoes there as well, but not since last year. But it really depends on what you’re looking for.
TJ Maxx, which is now a sister brand to Marshalls, is just a bit different. There you can easily fish out a nice dress, but I never saw any good shoes there. And never actually bought anything there. Shame on me.
Nordstrom Rack is more high-end. Nordstrom is a fancy store selling luxury (and some hipster mid-range) brands. It’s also the only big store that sells Toms shoes, so a rare chance may bring you a discounted pair at Nordstrom Rack, like, 30-50% off. It’s also not that difficult to find a Cloe dress with 70% discount (it still will cost around $500, oh well) and things alike. And yes, I did buy a DVF dress there with a 70% discount. This one is good for buying business and evening clothes.
A true gem of NYC is, no doubt, Century 21. The biggest one is located downtown next to the 9/11 Memorial, and it’s huge. The ground floor offers cosmetics, bags, accessories, below is home goods, and above – contemporary and luxury female and male clothing and shoes.
I usually shop there for shoes ($40-90), watches ($20-100), outerwear ($50-150), underwear ($10-50), dresses (depends), and just everything, to be honest. Think a $1500 bra with a 90% discount (the only reason I haven’t bought was because of its, um, invisibility).
The shoe selection is really good, compared to other outlets, though mostly focused on sandals and heels. At Century 21 you can often see well-groomed ladies shopping with personal stylists, and actually, many stylists buy clothing there for their important clients. Yet mostly you will see the crowds of tourists, wiping everything off the shelves. That’s why I prefer to go there on weekdays and if possible, in the morning.
DSW is the ultimate shoe outlet. It also offers bags, belts and stuff alike, but their selection is huge. Yet you have to be ready for disappointment – common sizes go like hot pies, and all the awesome stuff is usually sized under 7 (EU36) or over 9 (EU40). But it doesn’t mean that you can’t find anything! I know people who walk out with five to ten boxes per visit. Prices usually range between $20 and $150. That’s where you can find some nice shoes from Ecco, Clarks, Cole Haan, Vince Camuto and others.
There’s a bunch of other outlets, like Burlington – man are there many! – but I’d stick with these ones, because I’ve actually bought good stuff there.
You can buy some seriously cheap clothes shopping at Walmart or Target or Kmart. But, though these stores offer tons of useful stuff for little money, I wouldn’t shop there for clothing. Unless it’s children’s clothing, because they tend to grow out of it super fast!
Macy’s is the first thing I heard about when my mom returned from her first trip the States. She was really impressed by their Christmas windows (they’re also famous for their spring flower show). And she brought bags of Macy’s stuff back home. My relationship with this store is simple: 10% discount for people with a foreign passport? Awesome. Seasonal and holiday discounts? Even better. But shopping there for everyday stuff? Better not. It’s just that I’m buying all that at the outlets. What I usually bring from Macy’s is shoes, bags and cosmetics. I would order a lot from their grand online store, only my bank really hates it for some reason and blocks all transactions from them. Anyways, before going to the store it makes sense to check their website for some new deals or special discount coupons.
One of these stores where I just like to go is Bloomingdales. This one is more high-end, and most of the stuff there is expensive. But Bloomingdales, for example, has a great selection of Free People clothes, about which I’ll talk later. The reason I like this store is because no matter what season, you would always find racks with up to 70% discounts in the sections of different brands. And their seasonal sales are simply fabulous. It’s also pretty easy to stumble upon some event, as they’re happening all the time. Just like that, I once got an unplanned makeover from an YSL national makeup artist. And they also have a 10% discount for foreigners.
Nordstrom is a big thing all around the US, but there’s none on Manhattan or in Brooklyn, just the Nordstrom Rack. However, it can be easily located a bit outside of the city. They’re very much like Bloomingdales, and I’d drop by sometimes to check out their discounts. They usually have more shoes than Bloomingdales, and they sell Toms, which is not so common. Other, even more high-end stores, are Saks Fifth Avenue and Nieman Marcus, but I’ve actually never been inside one, because they’re always out of my way. Their websites are pretty similar to Nordstrom and Bloomingdales, both in price range and content, but they got more luxury stuff.
Assuming that you can find all the shoes in the world in the stores that I’ve mentioned above, this section is devoted not to some shoes, but to comfortable ones, which aren’t always easy to find. Easy Spirit, Aerosoles, Clarks, and Ecco would be my top picks. I own two pairs from Easy Spirit, which is either a total success or a total failure, depending on their collection. My mom got a lot of stuff from Aerosoles, though I never found anything I liked there in terms of design. Clarks and Ecco are my favorites, Clarks more so because they have great sales from time to time. That would be my top travel shoe brands, aside from Toms for the summer. Toms are great, but they’re mostly flat, so I would give my feet a break from them sometimes. Toms can be purchased on their official website, and a few stores like Urban Outfitters and Wholefoods sell them as well.
Speaking of which:
May I just call Urban Outfitters a hipster superstore and be done with it? It has all kinds of bohemian, funky, torn, spotted, baggy, artsy clothing. The prices aren’t as friendly as one would’ve dreamt, but they indeed have a lot of products. They also sell different creative presents, books and shoes. Anthropologie has similar ideas, but it focuses on cozy lifestyle. There, along with clothing, you can find lots of pretty things to surround yourself with, from pillows to candles to doorknobs. I found my favorite perfume there, from a bunch of uncommon brands that they sell. That and handcrafted headbands would be the only things I buy from Anthropologie, just because it’s pricey. But they have sales too.
Free People is my personal favorite. They have some stores around the city, and they’re sold in different big stores. They are awesome. I would’ve bought most of their collections straight away, because they have some truly great pieces, but that would surely empty my pocket. Their website also has shoes and accessories, though the stores mostly offer clothes. Check them out and you’ll see why I’m so fond of them.
Lucky Brand and American Eagle Outfitters offer plenty of Bohemian-style items, AEO being cheaper. It’s also the only store where I can find perfect jeans for my shape, thin waist but not without a bottom. I’ve tried pretty much every other brand, and I failed. So AEO is my ultimate jeans hunting place, whereas LB has great shirts and jewelry.
There’s also Abercrombie&Fitch and Hollister, co-brands for
spoilt kids people with more money than sense. Their fabrics are nice, but all the stuff that they have in store is overpriced, for the quality. Super-soft t-shirts are the only exclusion I’d make, and only when they are on sale.
Can I please skip Victoria’s Secret? Ple-ease? It’s such a massive obsession, and I rarely like their stuff. They’re all over the place, they’re huge, and they never have my sizes. Sometimes it seems like they barely have anything smaller than a C cup, though I know it’s not always true. But of course you have to visit at least one store once you’re in the States. It’s a tradition.
I really like Aerie, a co-brand of AEO. Firstly, for their ongoing deals (bras for $20, 7 panties for $26, etc), and secondly, for quality. Great everyday underwear.
Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY and Calvin Klein go in the same category of nice everyday lingerie, only a bit more adult-style. These are usually present in all big stores.
Finally, a word to say about La Perla and Agent Provocateur: these are no everyday lingerie, and expensive as hell, though of superb quality. A set of underwear can set you back $300-400. But AP has mind-blowing seasonal sales (up to 80% off), and LP has an outlet on their website. They’re also sold at Century 21, which guarantees a good deal.
EtcSephora. An ultimate cosmetics store. Has everything from perfume to makeup to skincare. They also offer you free flash makeovers in their stores, and are a great place to get ready for an unplanned going-out event. Or get some sunscreen on an overly hot day. Or… Well, you name it.
Duane Reade, CVS Pharmacy, and Walgreens are actually drugstores. But there’s no such thing as just a drugstore in the US. So these ones have food, cosmetics, home supplies and what not. And actual drugs too, for sure. I stock there for Advil (almost a currency here in Moscow – a very good painkiller), Airborne (immune booster), Day and Night-Quill (cold and flue treatment). And travel supplies. I just don’t understand why travel-sized stuff is not a thing in Russia. It’s like saying “there’s no sex in the Soviet Union” (famous saying from those times), saying that “no one travels/needs travel supplies”. So I always grab some extra ones. Oh, and hand sanitizer! No joking, in Ghana or Cuba it actually was a currency, people exchanged it for goods and food. And such a small thing, right? I think we have it somewhere here, but I just always forget that we do.
Wholefoods, Fairway Market and Trader Joe’s specialize in organic foods, some more organic than the others. WF is the priciest, but has the best selection of products. They also have food-to-go, and their vegetable stands are just pieces of art. I keep returning there for organic blueberries, my favorite ginger ale (not some Canada Dry crap), and organic cosmetics. FM keeps my favorite Australian olive oil. TJ has lots of different things, none of them too important for me, but it’s still good.
Phew! That was quite some work, I dare say! I’ll update this post if I remember/discover some more. More shopping tips, only for musical instruments and supplies, can be found here.