Soho Subverted

Shopping Downtown With $10

That wailing sound you hear down in Soho is actually coming from the Chanel boutique on Spring Street, where the staff just found out about an adorable if frankly fake double-C Chanel rhinestone ankle bracelet selling for a scant $9.99 up the block at the mammoth and deliciously cheap So Good Jewelry (496 Broadway). This wonderful item, at the exact price you want to pay for an ankle bracelet (they break; they fall off) is merely one of a slew of breathtakingly inexpensive things we found when we went shopping in Soho with a ridiculously small amount of imaginary money—a ludicrous $10—looking for summery bargains.

If the pricier stores are suffering this season, the cheaper places appear to be doing just fine. There is certainly no lack of customers at H&M, where the cash register line snakes through the store. (Note to whoever owns this place: Hire more staff at once!)

And what are all those customers buying? Alas, many have wimped out and selected the extremely mundane $7.50 short-sleeved tees, which is a shame, because a little searching turns up, for $1.50 more, a yellow gauze square-necked camisole top that is not only decorated with brown splotches for an outré tie-dye effect but sports smocking and a ruffle. The place may be understaffed, but no one can accuse it of being slow on the uptake: Along with those Matrix-inspired sunglasses ($5.50), the accessories counter already offers a newsboy cap just like the ones in this month's Vogue, but here rendered in pink straw-like polyester ($6.50).

Right on time for the fireworks, the red, white, and blue flip-flops at Old Navy have been marked down to $10. (One flip has stars, the other flop has stripes.) Old Navy also sticks Old Glory on a plethora of—guess what—boring $5 T-shirts, though on second thought these things have distinct possibilities: There's no law that says you can't personalize a flag shirt with a strategically placed peace symbol and a few slogans.

Though we explore Urban Outfitters for under-$10 items, we see virtually nothing, but their polka-dot ribbon choker marked $12.50 gets us thinking—why can't we make this thing ourselves? To that end, we visit K Trimming at 519 Broadway, a vast, creaking survivor from the days before this part of town was called Soho. K is so ancient that there are plaster gas fixtures above the neon lights hanging from the ceiling, and the prices are old-fashioned too: The seemingly endless stream of ribbons, printed with hearts, dots, flowers, gingham checks, etc., are all between $1 and $2 a yard; thinner silks in colors like lime and fuchsia are a paltry 35 cents a yard. True, your choker won't have a fake silver clasp like the one at Urban, but for these prices, you can just tie it around your neck and toss it when it gets dirty.

Those Chinese net-and-sequin slippers you see all over town (and don't let us hear you say they're so last year—they are in fact a new classic, like ballet flats and espadrilles) are only $5.50 downstairs at Pearl River (477 Broadway), which is less than most street vendors are selling them for. (But do go downstairs; the ones on the main floor are $13.50 for some reason.) Pearl River also has those nutty pinwheel collapsible sun hats—for $3.99, you might as well get the cantaloupe-colored one—and any number of beach-party-ready small silk purses, among them a dragonfly-embroidered pouch for $9.50 and a minuscule change purse that both zips and snaps for $1.25.

Lastly, we check out the always rollicking Ricky's, and are sorry to see that the roll-up beach mat—bandanna-printed fabric on one side, straw on the other—exceeds our $10 limit by $1.99. On the other hand, the shop does have a $9.99 muslin tote decorated with a silk screen of a vintage ad showing two gentlemen smoking cigars and the legend "The Friendly Gesture." And then there are those Ricky-specific items you just don't see anyplace else. A strange ring of fake hair by a company called Tressallure claims that it is in fact "a ponytail wrap on an elastic band that's ready when you are." If and when you are ready, there are quite a few variations at $9.99, including our personal favorite, a combination of straight and zigzagged hair called the Puzzle that is sick enough for a Galliano runway.

 
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