The Shops (& People) That Make the District
I have a deep and long love affair with D.C., but years ago (I think like many who grew up in this area) I wanted desperately to leave. What did D.C. have to offer compared to the skyscrapers and opportunities of New York? Or the glitz and beaches of L.A.? Or the allure of the unknown of everywhere else? And when it came to fashion and shopping, before the days you could shop online, D.C. was a dud. It was an uninspiring place to be.
Throughout the years, I’ve traveled and I’ve dreamed, but I’ve always come back to D.C. For all its deserved ill repute, D.C. and the people within it have a charm and their own steez that give the city away from the Hill a distinct and captivating style. The suburbs have their massive shopping malls, New York has Fifth Avenue designer names and D.C. used to have just Georgetown, which used to be lined with independent boutiques instead of the brand name chains we see there today. So when it comes to fashion in the District, Georgetown doesn’t really cut it. To get the real flavor of the city, you need to explore the city’s many independent local boutiques — and the city is brimming with them!
I’ve put together a list of a few of my recent favorite independent shops within D.C. that have come to define how I see D.C. More than just the merchandise within their shops, the owners themselves are incredible and interesting people. The individuals behind the carefully-eyed and selected items within these shops have impeccable taste and a commitment to quality from which I think anyone can benefit from and appreciate. If these shops diverge for your style set, they are still replete with inspiration. Even if just from their window display or wall decor, they provide endless eye-candy for the style hungry.
Redeem recently celebrated the re-opening of its store after moving into a new location on 14th Street. With a vertical garden outside and massive wooden doors and an angled pine floor detail inside, the physical store itself is beautiful. I’ve been an admirer of Redeem clothing for a long time. The owner, Lori Parkerson, consistently chooses items that are at once edgy and modern. Her selection is classy with a minimalist and rebellious feel. You will find signature items and incredible jewelry here.
And for men, I would highly recommend Redeem! Most boutiques specialize in women’s clothing, but here, I’m envious of how cool the men’s clothing is. The pieces are current, but not trendy. They maintain the masculinity that today’s men’s fashion has since forgotten.
Inside Redeem is a curated Mutiny installation called “The Outpost.” If you’re into old school manliness with new school enlightenment, you will love Mutiny’s rustic and well-crafted utilitarian items.
Their bio is perfect. “We revel in the hard to find and well made. We are aesthetes and our stuff is damn good.” Their items are simple. Pens, paper, bags, scents — nothing complicated, but the quality and design is amazing. I was speaking to a Mutiny man at Redeem’s launch party and he explained some of the Mutiny philosophy with me. He said owner Gert Barkovic aims to share objects that have a narrative behind it. Many are fascinated with the daily habits of famous men-folk like Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Steve McQueen. What did they write with? From what mug did they drink their coffee? How did they shave? Mutiny items embody this enigma and story. It’s a salute to masculinity with style, to the man with an eye for beauty and the well-made.
Blue’s Hard Goods
Blue’s Hard Goods is another D.C. staple specializing in vintage clothes and Japanese denim. I’ve heard this store’s name thrown around for a long time but finally went in to take a look and I wish I had come sooner!
Walking into this shop is like walking into a wonderful time-warp of America’s best fashion eras. Old western, motorcycle memorabilia, rock and roll and military garb fill the shop. You’ll find ’70s, ’80s and ’90s pieces curated by Dafna Steinberg with I Found That Vintage.
Again, the men’s selection here is almost even better than the women’s. But one of the best parts of the store is in the back, where you’ll find Los Gitanos Vintage, a women’s vintage collection from the 18th century through the late 1960’s run by Tara Papanicolas. Think Victorian era lace and gothic motifs — basically brilliant.
When I was browsing through the selection, I mentioned to the store owner that I often admire vintage pieces, but have a hard time wearing them and making them work. He gave great advice. The secret to shopping vintage is that you’ll often need to take an old item and it give it a modern fit. Tailoring, in one word. My thoughts went to Ginger Root Design, a local shop specializing in basic tailoring, creative repairs and revamping those vintage/delicate items. Between the leather fringe jackets, ripped and studded jean shorts and awesome army jackets, I was sold. The owner joked that customers often call his shop a museum, but that’s exactly what it is! A gallery of the incredible history of style picked by expert eyes.
Dr. K’s Vintage
Similar in feel to Blue’s Hard Goods, but altogether different is Dr. K’s Vintage on the U. St. Corridor. This crammed little shop is run by Somkiet Umkerb, possibly the most knowledgeable man about vintage fashion in D.C. You can’t think of Dr. K’s without thinking of Somkiet; he is his store, or the store is him. His hours are all over the place but, honestly, it’s worth picking up the phone and calling to see if anyone’s in. If he is, you’ll want to go. He is a character worth getting to know. Ask him about any item in his store, and he’ll give you the story behind it. Or just ask him for a story.
The first thing that greets you when you walk in is a wall of vintage and tattered denim and a sea of men’s vintage leather boots and shoes. Turn to your right and you find racks crowded with clothes. My favorite has unexpectedly been the little jewelry display by the cash register counter. It’s not a large selection, but it’s always great. And if you take a look at Somkiet’s fingers when you’re there, you’ll see the coolest vintage skull rings, bracelets and leather cuffs. My other favorite finds here include leather bags and vintage sweatshirts. He offers great vintage picks for both men and women. His shop is a D.C. treasure.
Tabletop is a really cute shop in Dupont Circle. It’s not a clothing store, but it has lots of style. It’s like a gift shop of all the items I would actually want to receive as gifts. Like Redeem, Tabletop always has a collection that consistent to its style. It’s a mix of the modern and contemporary with the quirky and cute for everyday home and work items. Rugs, candlesticks, wall decorations, mugs, candles, calendars, handbags, wallets, ice trays, business card holders — it has everything.
What I have come to love about this shop most are its subtle-scented candles, unique luggage and handbags, coffee accessories and unique gifts for children. They also have cute jewelry and great home decor items. When I used to work in Dupont Circle, I would often stop by in this store on my way to the metro when I was having a bad day. Walking into the bright little shop is a great pick-me-up. The shop provides beautifully functional objects for everyday life, and why not surround yourself with beauty?
Upstairs on 7th
Upstairs on 7th is a wacky and wonderful upscale boutique run by Ricki Peltzman. Her clothes and accessories take quirky to a couture level. Imagine high-end fashion runway wear made accessible — but you have to have personality to pull it off! Petlzman is as wonderfully wacky as the clothes she sells. It’s weird and it’s magnificent. Big baubles, billowy skirts, asymmetrical and flouncy jackets, it’s Alice’s fashion wonderland and Peltzman is the rabbit.
Her boutique caters more to the older and professional women, but it is worth just stepping in and admiring the totally unique character of her store. “I don’t want to be the most exclusive store in D.C., I just want to be the best,” she says on her website. No one else offers what this boutique does and, in that sense, this, too, is a secret D.C. treasure.