Thrifty District: Cheap, but Chic


"French Flappers, Parisian Cafe 1920's" by Vintage Lulu on Flickr

In one of my many other lives, I’m a theater costume designer. However, I’m not really a costumer (someone who actually makes clothes), though I sew on occasion, I’m always disappointing my friends by not making them exquisite clothes from scratch. But what I can do is shop with them! Costume designers have to realize a director’s expansive and expensive vision on a sometimes depressingly tight budget in a small amount of time. So in our continuing series on the Thrifty District and how to maximize your fast-depleting funds, I thought I’d give you a little taste of my favorite shops to get cheap yet chic fashion.

Let’s start with the basic rules (getting them out of the way fast so we can have fun with shops!):

Know Yourself and Support Yourself
No, this isn’t some New Age mantra. It means don’t buy anything that doesn’t fit. If it’s too tight or too loose just don’t do it. Don’t get distracted by sizes, they don’t mean anything anyway. If you knew your actual dressmaker size you’d freak out the number is so high – even you superskinny misses! Every woman should know her bust, waist, hip measurements and every man should know his neck width and arm length. Men, wear undergarments that properly fit and do not interfere with your pants. I’ll say no more. Women, for the love of Venus, support the bust. I can’t stress this enough, most women have no idea what their true bra size is and are usually wearing the wrong one. Get fitted asap – Coup de Foudre, Nordstrom’s. You will be shocked at the difference, but everything will fit better.

Never Pay Full Price.
Especially in this economy, if a shop won’t discount, don’t bother with them. Look for special sales, print out coupons from online. Come on, this is a recession, no one cares. I just got a stunning red BCBG dress from Bloomingdales for over 50% off this way. Deals are insane right now, take advantage of them, don’t let them take advantage of you.

Quality is Key
Get in the habit of looking inside clothes. Look at the seams, look for lining. My god, do not buy an expensive pair of pants that aren’t lined! Feel the fabric. Learn to differentiate between natural and synthetic. If you are going for super-trendy, knock yourself out, but remember – it may not be in style for long so always buy trends cheap.

Focus Focus Focus
Do not scatter-shop! Have a goal (like, “today is ‘brown boots with an ankle’ buckle day!”), have a timeframe, and zero-in on what you want and how much you are willing to pay for it. Do your research first, then go. If you don’t – you will panic, you will overpay, you will regret it.

Phew! Now, on to my top shops for cheap but chic clothes shopping:

Current Boutique in Clarendon is hands down the best consignment shop in the area. Exquisite taste for obscene value. Special dresses, sweaters, camisoles, and designer jeans at insane value. My latest finds? Demure yet sexy silk velvet camisole : $15.95, sleek pencil skirt with adorable button detail: $16.95. The latter was never worn, tags still on it. I think I squealed when I saw that. And of course, you can consign your own stylish cast-offs and actually make money if they’re in good condition, chic and current.

Current Boutique
2529 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22201

The many Filene’s Basements in the area are another great source. You have to dig through some trash but you will hit gold eventually. The downtown location at the National Shops is the best for shoes, with racks of deep discounts. The men’s business selection is also not bad, and it’s one of the few places to get grandpapa a suave Italian tweed hat. Last snag was a Calvin Klein bronze top with fabulous ruching detail for $19.99. Bonus, it matches the pencil skirt!

The Shops at National Place
529 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20004

TJ Maxx in Friendship Heights is an antiseptic bargain basement with harsh lighting and lots of wretched stuff to push aside as you hone in on the prize. The last time I was there a gaggle of well-heeled Italian donnas were clucking over the large handbag selection. I snagged a green sweater dress that matched my eyes and had delicate lattice work down the arms: $29.99; and a brown wool cloche: $19.99. I now look like a flapper at 1920’s prices (ok, maybe not that good a deal but you get the idea!).

TJ Maxx
5252 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington, DC 20015

H&M is best for seasonal trends, but every once and a while I gasp as I find a nice lined wool skirt or silk dress with french seams. It happens. But mostly it’s best for the cheap wardrobe spruce-up. My summer black camisole with rope detailing: $9.95, a ridiculous steal pronounced “criminal” every time I wore it. They are always on point with what’s hot in color and shape for the season, so even just a quick walk-through keeps you informed. I’m a big fan of the downtown location. But never go at lunchtime.

1025 F St NW,
Washington, DC 20005

So, I hope this was helpful and inspires you to do some shopping, saving your wardrobe, your wallet and our economy all at once. Think of yourself objectively, as a design project. But don’t forget to have fun! And help out others by leaving your favorite cheap but chic shops in the comments…

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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5 thoughts on “Thrifty District: Cheap, but Chic

  1. Actually I haven’t been to that Loehmann’s in a while, mainly because I can’t stand the dressing room. That being said, you can get insanely deep discounts there. But, the experience is pretty chaotic, from what I recall.

  2. I have friends who swear by Target, although I’ve not yet gone on a clothes-shopping foray to Columbia Heights.

  3. Oh, Jenn! Delicious article. I live within walking distance of Current Boutique and have been meaning to actually go IN for months. You may have just pushed me over the edge! :)

  4. There is a second hand clothing store across from the Eastern Market, on Capitol Hill, that is wonderful. Also, I have found the weekend vendors at the Eastern Market a great place to buy accessories. You can bargain and get some good deals.