The Hi-Lo Shopper & Clothes for the Office

Date April 15, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Author Leslie Clark

Publication SantaFe.com

Categories Shopping

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Spring has nearly sprung, and along with it comes thoughts of breathing life back into the office wardrobe. By now we're ready to burst out of the tired winter cocoon of sweaters, coats and tights and spread our wings in something lighter and brighter. It was time to check in with the Hi-Lo Shopper and see what she had been thinking about lately.

A true fashionista, the Hi-Lo Shopper is a career woman who manages to look glossy and groomed at all times. She loves to shop, but with her schedule has to streamline where to go in Santa Fe for what she wants in business-appropriate clothes. For pre-planning, she browses fashion magazines like Lucky, Marie Claire and Real Simple to get ideas, because "they feature how to put together outfits that real people can wear, both in terms of price tag and appeal."€

The Hi-Lo Shopper agreed to let us tag along the next time she went looking for something new to wear to work. Recently she invited us to rendezvous at the Sanbusco Center. Her wardrobe philosophy leans towards pragmatic chic. "For me the magic is in the mix,"€ she said over coffee. "I'll spend $1,000 for cowboy boots from Natalie [the Canyon Road boutique] and combine it with a twenty-dollar skirt from Target. You could call it bohemian luxe: mixing uptown with downtown, like a lace dress with motorcycle boots, or a long beaded ballgown skirt with a little tee-shirt on top."€

At the moment she's wearing a pair of tan brown 1940s handmade cowboy boots she found at Double Take; Citizens of Humanity dark denim jeans ("dark denim rocks; it's slimming and looks like a trouser"€) from Bodhi Bazaar; a Michael Stars shirt from Wearabouts; and a two-hundred dollar Velvet suede jacket that she scored for $20 from the consignment shop Act II. Chandelier earrings and a fake-topaz cocktail ring add a fling of bling. She looks hip and comfortable.

According to the Hi-Lo Shopper, finding great job clothes in Santa Fe is tough. "Shopping for business clothes here has gotten worse,"€ she said flatly. "Ten years ago, Dillard's was terrific, but now they don't carry the same high-end labels that they used to. Ann Taylor was another biggie, and so was Banana Republic, but they've both left town."€ She still checks out Talbots: "Their winter clothes look dowdy, but their spring and summer lines have gotten better; they're a little trendier and not so matronly."€

On this expedition, the Hi-Lo Shopper wants to find a dress. "Dresses are hot,"€ she said. "As a mid-career level professional, I'm in a position where I can choose pieces to wear that reflect more of my own personality."€ Still, she's contemplating a change. "I'm thinking of approaching more of a job uniform, like a basic classic white shirt and black pants. You want to have to make as few decisions as possible in the morning when you're getting ready for work."€ She would still mix it up with accessories, like jewelry or great shoes, that define her own taste and style.

We first drop into Bodhi Bazaar, in Sanbusco at 500 Montezuma Street, where she's shopped for years: "They carry fresh, fabulous clothes that are new and current, along with one of my favorite designers, Robert Rodriguez."€ Bodhi is not for the faint of credit card; it's the place to go for expensive name designers like Nanette Lepore, Diane von Furstenberg, and Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. They also, according to Hi-Lo, carry the best-fitting jeans in town, and alterations are available in store for $15. She tries on a couple of dresses in sizzling retro-graphics prints, but they're more cocktail than corporate and she can't them use for work.

Surprisingly, the Hi-Lo Shopper heads next to Allure, at 328 South Guadalupe Street. She reveals that, although Allure is widely known for swanky lingerie like Wolford, "what most people don't know is that they also carry a well-edited selection of great separates that are perfect for work."€ Unfortunately, the dresses they've ordered have not arrived yet, so Hi-Lo browses some cashmere sweaters. Before we leave, she raves about a line called Equestrian, which also happens to be on half-off sale. The pants in particular are made in washable and breathable all-season fabrics that don't wrinkle easily, and the cut is flattering.

We breeze up the block to Cupcake Clothing, at 328 Montezuma Avenue. It's full of the latest spring styles in bold shades of orange, green and yellow, as well as lots of whites, but the Hi-Lo Shopper concentrates on neutrals and abstract prints in deeper colors. She likes the store for its super reasonable price point (hovering around $100) a good sales rack, and because it carries Kenzie, a line of jackets, tops and pants that are fashionable yet suitable for work. She swoops down on an eye-catching Kenzie silvery cream-colored crop jacket with puff sleeves, but they don't have it in her size. Although the dress selection is pretty and feminine, she thinks they're too summery for the office.

We return to Sanbusco and Block Mercantile, at 418 Montezuma Avenue, across from Borders. The store carries the latest from French-born designer Christiane Celle's label, Calypso. Calypso takes risks with interesting colors, like a rosy-gray lycra blend or a brilliant kelly-green silk, spiced with slightly ethnic accents and fluid lines. There are several layering pieces to dress up or down. Not everyone can feel comfortable in the body-conscious fit of the dresses, but they look unexpectedly decorous on and have a flair that the Hi-Lo Shopper likes. She tries a couple but isn't smitten with anything.

Driving over to the De Vargas mall, our next stop comes out of curiosity. Surrender Dorothy, at 556 North Guadalupe, aims for a youthful, rock "€˜n' roll crowd, and prices run the gamut. "Normally I wouldn't think of it for work at all because it's more for fun, casual clothes,"€ the Hi-Lo Shopper said. But she's noticed that the store carries Donna Morgan dresses, which have a reputation for combining cool runway-inspired trends with a classic silhouette. So many clothes are stuffed onto the racks that it's hard to see anything, but a helpful sales clerk cuts a trail through the congestion to the Donna Morgans, which fortunately are grouped together. The variety in patterns and styling is impressive, though there are a lot of synthetic fabrics.

Undaunted, the Hi-Lo Shopper grabs an armful of what looks promising and disappears into a dressing room. She emerges in what she calls a "Jackie O outfit,"€ a dark-navy knit sheath dress and matching cropped jacket with three-quarter length, gathered-puff sleeves. It looks fantastic on her, sober enough for work but cool and sophisticated. The $175 cost doesn't break the bank, especially because the outfit is versatile enough to wear for both day and evening.

Though she's pleased with her results, Hi-Lo makes a last stop by one of her favorite boutiques. Unity, at 604 North Guadalupe (across the parking lot from Albertson's), is a sunny, relaxed place that carries both men's and women's clothes for office and play. Owners Beth and Joseph Walkos buy lines nobody else carries, like Tocca, Trina Turk and Nougat, from London. Beth Walkos knows her stuff, too: she points out that a jeans jacket is made from Japanese denim, known for a better grade of cotton and weave construction. She also mentions the phenomenon we've been noticing all day, that clothing sizes are all over the place. What used to be a standard size eight or ten in the clothing industry has gone bye-bye, because so much is now manufactured overseas and marketed globally.

The Hi-Lo Shopper nods in agreement-if you find a label or designer that you like and that fits well (never mind the size), it pays to invest in it. But now she's thinking about accessories. Anybody know where to find a diamond skull-and-crossbones pin?

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We're conducting a poll, looking for winners for the Five Best Sales Racks in Santa Fe. Let us know who you think has got a great sales rack and why. Email shopsantafe@gmail.com. Stay tuned for more exciting developments.

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