Friday, May 23, 2008

Favorite Stores for Inspiration*

With the Internet, it's easier than ever to browse online to find ready-to-wear that can inspire new sewing and knitting projects. I do that too, but there's something about the serendipitous discovery of seeing something in a window display at a local boutique or even a chain store that can spur creativity in a way that a web link doesn't. It's kind of like buying a vintage pattern at a local thrift store versus doing the same on eBay. I find I'm much more likely to use the Vogue, McCall or Simplicity pattern if it was this amazing discovery...for one thing, I'm more prone to remember that I even have it. When I buy lots of patterns online they jumble together like spoons, knives, forks and twisties in a kitchen drawer. But if the pattern's sufficiently unique with this way-cool story behind it, I'll recall it first before the dozens of others in my collection.

So when I see a dress, skirt or sweater at a store, I'm just more jazzed to recreate it on my own for far less money (isn't that nearly always the goal even if it's not achieved?) than when I see it on my MacBook. Enough of the observations, here are some favorite stores for inspiration:

1. Presence. This is actually quite a large store located here in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood. It rivals, I think, Forever 21. It even has similar clothes - lightweight dresses, tops, jackets, and tons of sunglasses, hats, and jewelry. Since I don't live far from this store, I'm quite afraid that if I actually buy something here I will see on someone who lives nearby. As someone who thrives on being unique, I don't like this idea at all. But I do like being to browse in Presence to seek out inspiration. It's interesting, but I don't even see a web site for this shop, which makes it even more unique than the competition. I'm going through all the drawers in my brain, but I don't think I've ever bought anything here. But I still like to look, and then go to Hopleaf for a beer or Ann Sather's for a sweet roll. Nothing like celebrating all your newfound ideas with something to eat and drink in that order. I don't think I could shop for clothes on a full stomach. Better to work up an appetite clacking through all the hangers, picking up dresses and tops that manage to fall to the floor. Final observation: You could probably skip this store and still dress quite nicely.

2. Active Endeavors. This store actually closed its Evanston outpost recently, much to my dismay. Great stuff: Anna Sui, Tibi, Tory Burch, and many, many others. Apparently they're going to focus on their online business, which is fantastic for Europeans looking for a good deal, but bad for locals like me who enjoy the whole business of browsing, clucking at the high prices, and then scooting out the door empty-handed but determined to recreate these pants on her own at some point in time. Final Observation: I miss the actual store badly.

3. American Apparel. I've never ever in my short life have bought anything here, but I can build on sewing confidence just walking past this place. "Oh, I can't believe the price of (that top/piece of fabric/too tiny brief/scarf/hoodie). I could make it so better for a lot less." Yeah, right. I'm still working on recreating the neon green skirt tube that I saw on a American Apparel mannequin in December. Final observation: Is it my imagination but do the fabrics used seem fragile, like they might not last more than one season?

4. Francesca's Collections. This chain is probably along the same lines of Presence, but with a lot more picture frames, hand cremes, and palm-sized how-to books than the latter. But I still like the eye candy. Somehow, when I see something I might like to try on inside, the smaller sizes are gone. Oh, well. Less temptation to add to my wardrobe that way. Final observation: There's a definitive emphasis on tops and dresses that show cleavage.

5. Nordstrom's. This is probably my hands-down favorite place to come up with new ideas. The sheer selection of clothes is other-worldly and so much of seems to have cute details and fabric that the lower-priced shops don't. For example, there are the CC California, Three Dots (Textile Studios actually carries Three Dots fabrics), Seven jeans (which I don't think I'll fit into anytime soon, but I still like to look). Final observation: a trip to this magnificent store is not complete without at least looking at the shoes. All of 'em, even if it's a quick, once-over before you head to Starbucks.

6. Anthropologie. I'll admit I'm often on this company's web site, ogling the store's latest and dantiest creations. I like the zoom feature, so I can examine every little corner, stitch, and misplaced thread. As much as the on-line store is well-organized with any easy interface, it's so much better to see all the products in the store. You see stuff you wouldn't see otherwise, and all the soaps, the vintage memorabilia, the wallpaper, everything that makes this chain so widely and the topic of discussion on Craftster, Ravelry and Patternreview. Everyone wants to recreate the Anthropologie for less greenbacks, better fabric and stitching. It seems to be the clarion call of how much you look making clothes if you strive to make at least Anthropologie-inspired outfit in your life. I haven't specifically done that yet, but I wouldn't put that pass my circa. 2009 self. Final Observation: Even if you don't ever make something with an Anthropologie 'look,' that doesn't make you any less creative.
* I'd review Urban Outfitters, but I feel lazy. If you can make it past the really loud music and the tables of books suitable for college students only, then this store can be a great source of ideas. Also, the top you see above? Another Santa Monica Tee shirt made from a knit from Vogue Fabrics while I was living in Des Moines, Iowa.

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