Think the only stylish thing you can buy for under $50 on Broadway between 8th and Houston streets is a $12.95 copy of Italian Vogue at Hudson News? We have news for you: We took an (imaginary) $50 with us on a journey that began at Claire’s Accessories and ended at a place called the Designer Warehouse and found any number of items that are not just wearable but downright lovable.
If you can ignore the glut of SpongeBob ephemera at Claire’s, there are plenty of things to liven up a summer wardrobe: leather cuff bracelets trimmed with conch shells that would not be out of place on the Hampton Jitney ($6); studded tartan belts with a neo-punk air ($12); dusty pink feather boas ready to celebrate Pride on June 29th ($16).
At Benetton, a lacy white cotton blouse with a scoop neck may represent the final salvo in last summer’s peasant uprising ($48). Though the merchandise here always exudes a vaguely European air (there used to be a Benetton every three feet in Italy) we fall for an item that is distinctly all-American: a tummy-baring, tie-dyed pink undershirt lavished with lace, beads, sequins, and that Haight-Ashbury relic, the flower patch ($48). Across the street, Mony has an Everlast skirt in sky blue that laces up the sides and is made of the stretchy, shiny stuff once employed exclusively for boxing shorts. It’s perfect for candlelight dinners at the gym, and, though it owes something to Yohji Yamamoto’s recent athletic collection (or maybe it’s the other way around), it is $58, or $8 over our limit.
The mini-scandal that attended those fake Vuitton and Prada flip-flops at Ricky’s a few seasons back (the Times Style section featured them; the next day they vanished from shelves) has not deterred the store from offering ersatz Burberry flip-flops for $14.99, though perhaps they are actually more Burberry-homage than Burberry-rip-off, since the beige plaid is liberally flecked with gold threads. (Alas, they lack the kitten heels so popular on rubber flip-flops this year.)
At Basic Basic, the plethora of Juicy Couture items pretty much exceeds our $50 budget, but there is one specimen, a tiny undershirt, available for $40. (This column has not been shy in decrying the Juicy Couture plague that has infected everyone from preschoolers to octogenarians—but, hey, if the twice married Judith Nathan can wear a white Cinderella gown and a tiara to celebrate her union with the thrice married Rudy, who says you can’t walk around town with your heinie crack peaking out of lavender velour sweatpants?)
If you’re ready to toss your hoodies in favor of a more refined aesthetic, Le Château, a Canadian-based knockoff house whose prices hover in H&M territory, has a slithery, glamorous black skirt with a flamenco feeling for $35. Le Château is nothing if not eclectic: There is also a slashed black T-shirt with the graffitied words gutter queens and a silkscreen of said queens over a gritty background that might be a block of council flats in Brixton ($22).
Our $50 stands us well at the open-air market between 3rd and 4th streets. Here, among a group of sad-faced dealers all seemingly desperate for a sale, are the staples of downtown hot weather dressing: Che Guevara T-shirts ($10), ankle-grazing Indian skirts ($28), and even a burlap shoulder bag printed with a Botticelli virgin ($20). The punk mood returns at Wet Seal (does anyone know what this means? Is it a wet mammal? Or an envelope?) where the tube tops read Rebel in gothic script; if you are rebellious enough to carry a $20 fake Murakami Vuitton purse, these are on display too. (The phonies on Canal Street are more accurate by far, but they cost five times as much. What a world, where the fake costs $100—but then again, the real ones are a thou.)
We promised ourselves we wouldn’t go below Houston, but the Designer Warehouse is only a few feet into Soho and they all but beg you to enter—there’s a barker outside singing “Ferragamo” to the tune of the “Hallelujah Chorus” and a guy who looks like a spaceman-bunny—he says he’s supposed to be the Grinch—handing out flyers. Inside, it is characteristically bare-bones, but, believe it or not, there are some genuine bargains. Those incredibly popular Ben Sherman men’s shirts are a mere $29; a wine-colored Trussardi cashmere V-neck shows up for a paltry $39. A sign in the shoe department advertises Hollywould shoes marked down from $395 to $69, which probably is not making Holly Dunlop, the Hollywould designer who is nominated for a CFDA award this year, particularly happy. But the biggest indignity hangs along the store’s back wall: rack upon rack of tweed coats and velvet-trimmed sweaters and filmy dresses, all with the English Voyage label, a line so pretentious you used to have show your ID at the London store to gain admittance. All things solid melt into air: These once coveted garments now reside on a bare metal rack on the second floor of a warehouse building on lower Broadway.