"It’s hard to park. What if I get towed?” “It’s too much walking.”
“What’s there to do besides go to bars and restaurants anyway?”
As a local we’ve all talked ourselves out of going to the French Quarter on more than one occasion. This is a shame really, especially during the spring when the weather is so nice that it should be a crime not to take advantage of strolling around outdoors before the sticky summer months. So soak up some sun and culture now in one of the best tourist destinations in the country and rediscover why so many visitors flock to the French Quarter from a local’s perspective: your own.
Downtown is quite a different experience during the day, one that really allows you to feel the sense of neighborhood and history as opposed to a raucous nightlife experience. On many occasions I’ve taken a detour down Royal Street window shopping at night while en route to a late night frozen Irish Coffee at Molly’s at the Market, wishing I was able to do more than peer through the windows. Visitors from all over the globe come downtown annually and those of us lucky enough to live here should take advantage of this treasured 13-by-6 block sliver of our city.
If you are looking for upscale shopping, there’s no better place to go than The Shops at Canal Place. The biggest and best addition to this mall is the 9,000-square-foot Anthropologie that opened last summer in the old Pottery Barn location. The New Orleans store is special in that it stocks local designers’ ware and employed the help of several local artists to provide the ambiance in the form or art installations, including an ode to the Mississippi River mural from artist Rebecca Rebouche. Tired from trying on clothes? In a shopping slump? There is also a food court and a Starbucks to help perk you up. With a newly remodeled upscale movie theater, Southern Repertory theater, a Paris Parker Spa and a validated parking garage, this makes for the ultimate mall shopping experience in Orleans Parish. Oh yes, did I mention the rest of the great shops? Saks Fifth Avenue, Jean Therapy, BCBG, Brooks Brothers, Banana Republic and Francesca’s are just some of the stores that you can browse here.
No big tax return this year? No worries, there are other options with less zeros behind the dollar sign. If you want designer labels but don’t want to pay designer prices, United Apparel Liquidators, affectionately known as UAL, is the best place in the city to fake it until you make it. With ultra high- end brands such as Rodarte, Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs and Lanvin as well as pricier brands such as Sanctuary, Steven Alan and Common Thread slashed to 50 to 70 percent off retail, this is a bargain lover’s dream. Bargains can also be found at Langford Market and Wish, two women’s stores that offer affordable, trendy clothes that won’t break the bank.
Men’s stores can be a bit more challenging to find, but not impossible. The venerable Rubensteins is the granddaddy of dandy downtown shopping. Having served the New Orleans’ gentleman since 1924, this St. Charles Avenue mainstay is the end-all-be-all in men’s luxury brands. Brioni, Ralph Lauren, Robert Graham and Ermenegildo Zegna are a just a sample of the fine brands you will discover in addition to Rubensteins custom suits, cologne and ties. Make sure to check out the memorabilia on the walls while you are shopping for a little NOLA retail history lesson while you’re here. If you’re into sportier street wear there are still a slew of options including hip-hop heavy re:fresh, the popular Urban Outfitters chain and Gnome, a hip small Decatur Street corner shop that packs a lot style into one tiny space. Gnome also carries a nice selection of Tom’s, a popular shoe brand that donates one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. Want to accessorize but want to stick to the classics? (OK, this place is on the other side of Canal Street from the French Quarter, but worth the walk.) No outfit is complete without a topper from Meyer the Hatter, who has been fashionably covering heads since 1894. From berets, NFL caps and even safari-style helmets every southern gentleman needs to top off his look with a stylish head covering.
Even if Mardi Gras is long gone there’s always a reason to don a costume in this city – or just some glitter and a wig for the night. Fifi Mahony’s is the epitome of eccentricity and will satisfy all of your costuming needs. In addition to creative hair pieces, they stock makeup and more rhinestone jewelry than you’ll know what to do with. Of course fun hair needs a fun outfit and Ragin’ Daisy is another shop where the kitsch factor runs high. Vintage westerns, Day of the Dead knick knacks, petticoats and retro 1970s flair are just a few of the fun finds in store here.
Are you in the mood for something a little more utilitarian? There is no shortage of vintage army surplus at Le Garage on Decatur Street, the best shop hidden in plain view. With no signage it might be tricky to track down. You will know you’re there when you find loads of vintage military surplus, costumes, vintage clothing, art and random housewares. Just look for the open space on the corner of Decatur and Barracks streets and you’ll find it. What if you want the vintage look but don’t want to scour through racks of old stuff? Trashy Diva has a beautiful selection of classic, reproduced looks inspired by the 1940s and ’50s. Owner Candace Gwinn also has a shoe store of the same name that complements her original designs just a few doors down.
Of course the ultimate pick-me-up comes in the form of the ultimate retail therapy- shopping for jewelry. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or a special someone, jewelry always makes for a strong personal style statement.
Wellington & Co. offers a lot of sparkle for every lady, no matter if you are you’re looking to spend $200 or $20,000. From creations in sterling silver to over-the-top rocks set in platinum, this is a definite must visit. For a more ethnic flair Sabai stocks a beautiful array of highly detailed necklaces, rings and bracelets that are artfully crafted from Balinese silversmiths. Their pieces are very recognizable and the quality can’t be beat for the price. If handcrafted Italian baubles is what you’re after, Maurima’s is a must-stop. Specializing in Swarvoski crystals and and semi-precious stones, Maurima’s is great for a special treat to keep for yourself or to give as a gift.
Shopping in the French Quarter can be just as fruitful as going to the mall and way more fun. Just think of it as a large outdoor shopping center with plenty of variety. Set yourself up for the utmost enjoyment by wearing comfortable shoes, dress appropriately for the season and a slathering of sunscreen wouldn’t hurt. Coming up with a solid shopping strategy is a good way to avoid parking frustrations and get the most out of your leisurely day. A better solution to four wheels is taking a quick bike ride downtown or enjoy a relaxing ride on the streetcar. Have to drive? Go midweek during the day; there’s a surprisingly luxuriant amount of parking spaces. So no matter what your taste or budget, make downtown your destination.
Christy Lorio is a freelance writer and the founder of SlowSouthernStyle.com, which she describes as “A love letter to southern style, written by a native New Orleanian.” In addition to her writing she also runs the Southern Fashion Bloggers, a new group with the goal of instilling a sense of community in fashion bloggers throughout the southern states both online and through events. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.