I’m in Chicago this week and that means a lot of visits with family and friends....and a trip or two to the mall. Confession: I sometimes like shopping in malls. Don’t get me wrong. Nothing beats New York for pure shopping adrenaline and magic. But New York shopping takes planning and stamina. A trip to the mall can be spontaneous.
Mall shopping naturally has its disadvantages. The variety of stores is disappointing--how many Gaps and Victoria’s Secrets does any community need?
The exponential increase in e-commerce and availability of previously hard-to-find brands may eventually bring the death of the mall. For example, I just bought Pamela Love earrings and a Bodkin dress on sale from Bona Drag online. I could never walk into a mall and find these treasures.
However, malls offer some comforting advantages: 1) I still love the tactile experience of shopping, and of carrying an armload of clothes to try on. 2)There is the assurance that all the stores will be open until a designated time, unlike some boutiques, which can be unreliable. 3)You can browse online, and then go to the mall to try on what you like, thus removing the annoying delivery wait. Immediate gratification is a positive thing sometimes.
In the name of research, I went to a mall in suburban Chicago and found some things that may make a trip worth your while. Just stay away from the food court.
Gilly Hicks I have my 16-year-old niece (Hi, little C!) to thank for bringing this to my attention. Gilly Hicks is one of the latest ventures from Abercrombie & Fitch, and it launched in 2008. It sells bras, underwear, loungewear and the requisite bath and body products.
The backstory that CEO Michael Jeffries has spun is that Gilly Hicks was an Englishwoman ex-pat relocated to Sydney, Australia in the 1930s. All the pieces are labeled “Gilly Hicks: Sydney,” but of course this is a mere retail illusion. It’s a well-executed illusion, though.
The store is beautiful. Much like A&;F, it looks like a posh residence. The inside is dimly-lit, with cherry wood shelving, potted palms, and faux antique portraits. If you didn’t know it was an A&F brand, the loud music (cutesier than A&F), overwhelming perfumey scent, and huge mural of naked boys behind the counter would surely tip you off.
But the merch is great. Bras and “down undies” hang on pegs and come in zillions of colors. There was an entire room of madras and checked sundresses, skirts, and loungewear. The swimsuits were adorable, colorful, and on the teeny side. I picked up a great fuchsia lace bra for a mere $9.
The place was full of teens and twenty-somethings. GH is trying to pick up some of Pink’s market, and they definitely have a classier look. Gilly Hicks currently only has brick and mortar stores in 15 locations. The website is up and running, but doesn’t have nearly the selection of stock that the store does. I suspect more stores will start popping up soon, thus ensuring A&F’s total domination of the mall.
Nordstrom There isn’t a proper Nordstrom in Manhattan, only a Rack, and I wish they would remedy this. Not only do they have one of the best shoe departments, but the staff is among the friendliest and most knowledgeable of any department store I’ve been in. I’ve visited Nordstroms all over the country, and the service level is consistent.
While the shoe department usually gets all the accolades, I want to give a shout-out to the jewelry. And specifically the jewelry in BP, which is the juniors department. While I lust after Fenton/Fallon, Tom Binns, and that Solange Azagury-Partridge necklace worn by SJP in SATC2 (arguably the only redeeming part of the movie), my reality is that I wear cheap baubles.
And boy are they cheap in BP. I mean that in the best possible way. Stacks and stacks of bracelets and bangles, piles of '80s-inspired stud earrings, and the cheekiest owl pendant were all under $20, and some pieces were as low as $4. It’s a great place to get trendy pieces without regret. You just have to ignore the Twilight: Eclipse displays everywhere.
Lucy Lucy is an activewear store that originated on the West Coast. The biggest concentration of stores is in California, but they’ve slowly been creeping across the country. Illinois was infiltrated several years ago, and I became a fan. Lululemon is the hipper brand and its exercise pants are more flattering, but Lucy is still a favorite of mine.
One of the biggest reasons is its socks. Don’t laugh. I’m a runner and socks make a world of difference. They are really well-constructed and come in a variety of styles for different running conditions. Every time I make a trip home I run to Lucy to buy more.
Their yoga and loungewear is special, too. It transitions easily from the studio to the street, and I’ve run many errands in OMgirl pants that I bought at Lucy. Plus there’s a really lovely pro-girl vibe there that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
Bath & Body Works I’ll probably catch some flak for this one. But B&BW has come a long way, in my humble opinion. Yes, the cloyingly sweet lotions and bubble bath are still there. But as a beauty potion junkie, there is some serious chemistry there as well.
Patricia Wexler, the well-regarded Manhattan dermatologist, launched a skincare line a few years ago exclusively carried by Bath & Body Works. It’s really reasonably priced compared to products with similar ingredients, like Dr. Brandt’s line. And it works. I swear by the De-puff Eye Gel.
B&BW also carries other upscale brands like Fekkai hair products and CO Bigelow. And if you’re a germaphobe, the wall of pretty smelling anti-bacterial products should make you swoon.