Boutiques on a Budget

Find fashion that doesn't have to cost a fortune.

Not everyone can drop $200 for a filmy gossamer top that has a one-season life span. For some of us, plunking down $415 for a pair of leopard-print calf-leather Stuart Weitzman boots isn’t an option—it’s a car payment. Thanks to certain local shops, it’s possible to get the boutique experience and find fashionable but affordable clothes and accessories. Add a few shopping strategies—the Powder Room’s owner Cindy Steare recommends putting money into purses and shoes rather than a whole outfit—and you’ll have a fall wardrobe you’ll love without blowing the rent money.

TBC (To Be Continued)

1623 Second Ave., 206-728-7778

“It pains me to see how much we’ve lowered the prices on some of that merchandise,” laments Tamara Donaghy, owner of TBC. At the same time, Donaghy wants girls to be able to shop at her store and come away feeling like they got a real deal. Most merchandise is past and last season, and comes from Donaghy’s ultratrendy boutique, Sway & Cake. Those spendy labels sell for 50 percent to 60 percent off the original price—and sometimes more. For example, for fall you can pick up last year’s Edward An coats for $200 (originally $400) and denim by Blue Cult, Chip & Pepper and Seven (originally $170, now $80). They also carry loads of fun T-shirts with graphics and lots of fall pants and skirts.


1622-A N. 45th St., 206-632-4999

“It doesn’t matter if it’s cheap as long as it fits well,” says Jennifer Wen, owner of Reputation in Wallingford. “You can spend $10 or $80 on a shirt, just as long as you feel comfortable in it.” Wen’s shop is casual and affordable, but it still has the boutique-y vibe that appeals to the nearby college crowd and young professionals in the fashion and music industries. Generally, pants and skirts range from $30 to $75, tops are $25–$65, shoes are $20–$65, handbags are $15–$65, and jewelry is $10–$90. Wen makes several trips a year to Los Angeles seeking the newest looks, but she also carries local designs by Soy Clothing and Jeepney Clothing, and Tumbleweed Bead Company jewelry by Jessica Russell. Her picks for fall include tweed jackets; long duster earrings; colored pants; and ’80s-style clothing and accessories, such as big plastic hoop earrings and bangles, net shirts, and neon colors.


2205 N.W. Market St., 206-788-0330

Tes de Luna’s Ballard boutique is awash in pretty pastels and filled with one-of-a-kind clothes, small independent designers, and her own feminine silk-screened T-shirts. “I’m trying to sell unique things—but you won’t have a heart attack when you see the price,” says de Luna. Tops are generally $30–$40, blazers $60–$80, wool skirts $50–$80. De Luna’s advice: “Find a few basics and splurge on a couple of fabulous one-of-a-kind extras that will stand out.” For fall she’s focusing on knits and sweaters as well as transitional clothing such as capelets over T-shirts and crocheted sweaters over tank tops. She also suggests investing in a good pair of jeans, then topping them with blazers, especially those by local designer Suzanne Jaberg under her Suzabelle label. De Luna just introduced knee-length cotton sateen and wool skirts under her own Zuzupop label, featuring subtle A-line silhouettes, front pockets, and slits ($48–$88). She also carries sterling silver jewelry by local designer Amy Tavern ($24–$90).

Nordstrom Brass Plum

500 Pine St., 206-628-2111

It’s not unusual to go to Nordstrom’s Brass Plum department and find items similar to those in other departments for about half the price; it takes more than a glance to notice there’s any difference in cut or quality. Certain brands in particular turn up the quality without upping the price: Tweed jackets by DMBM are $40–$50; BP camisoles come in 20 colors and are just $12; and Frenchi sweaters look way more expensive than they are. You could spend $170 on jeans, or you could go to Brass Plum for a huge selection of denim in styles, fits, and washes for $25–$50. Jeans by It are $48 and have a fit and wash that’s suspiciously similar to top-dollar labels. Ask the sales girls for help—they know their stuff.

Trendy Wendy

211 Broadway Ave. E., 206-322-6642

Trendy Wendy owner Lisa Chang is a rabid fashion fan and champion of dressing girls in “a complete outfit” for $50–$80. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything in her shop that costs more than $45; the average price is $24–$39. Chang’s inventory is all about up-to-the-second trends, and she searches for quality within that economical price range. For fall, she’s picked up stylish trench coats and suits by Doki-geki in fabric that looks surprisingly expensive for $34–$45, $20 fringed ponchos, stretch jacquard blazers for $39, zip cardigans for $29, and chandelier earrings for just $8–$13. For curvier gals, Chang carries a better-than-average selection of plus sizes.

Moda Xpress

2224 First Ave., 206-728-9491

“Our mission is to find the best product at an affordable price,” says Marc Simon, owner of Moda Xpress and Nuvo Moda. Shoes are especially well priced at Moda Xpress, and Simon says customers frequently pick up five or six pairs at a time. “Cheaper is not always the better deal,” he maintains. “If you buy a cheap shoe for $39.95, you’ve wasted your money. You could have had a good shoe for $58.95.”

Agent X

1510 E. Olive Way, 206-322-3638

“I love to create interesting and unique designs for girls on a budget—things that no one else will have but aren’t overpriced,” says local designer Jamie Stratton, whose personal style is fashionably outrageous. Stratton makes one-of-a-kind or limited design lines that are young at heart but can be worn by any age. She uses vintage and new fabric and “anything I like that I get my hands on.” Her skirts and tops average $35, and dresses, pants, and jackets range from $40 to $120. For fall she believes that “every woman should have a blazer you can wear a hoody underneath—something fitted but not too thick.” Her popular stretchy hoodies embellished with appliqués and top-stitching are just $38.

The Powder Room

101 Stewart St., Suite 101, 206-374-0060;

4536 University Ave., 206-632-8886

“Everything here is under $50,” says owner Cindy Steare. She encourages girls to buy multiples of tops and skirts to stretch dollars and expand wardrobes. She’s also proud of her selection that easily spans decades, and frequently has mothers and daughters who come in and buy the same wardrobe. Hey, if it’s good enough for Fox network’s Ambush Makeover (the Powder Room was recently selected to participate), it’s good enough for the locals.

Retail Therapy

905 E. Pike St., 206-324-4092

Owner Wazhma Samizay focuses on versatile pieces that can be worn in different ways and accessories that change the whole look of an outfit. “That way you get more bang with your buck,” she says. Her fall favorites include: reversible jeans with light and dark finishes by Jeans Bar ($98); Tulle jeans jackets with great detail ($50); and one-of-a-kind Suzabelle skirts by local designer Suzanne Jaberg ($40–$70). “They’re a nice weight, and the fit is great,” she says of the skirts made with everything from vintage sweatshirts to suit jackets. Accessorize with vibrant striped Moroccan scarves ($38), Baked Bead earrings ($18–$20), and striking resin-coated seashell necklaces by Origins ($38). Reasonably priced Mary Green lingerie ($8–$38) can be worn under clothes, or the silk camis can be layered over tank tops with jeans.