November 2018

Life, Love, and Where I Shop: Confessions of a Boutique Freak

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

I often joke that I popped out of the womb playing dress-up. It’s in my genes; I was born to shop. But I really didn’t learn how to shop until my early 20s when I discovered boutiques. Prior to this, I scoured large department stores, discount stores, and whatever chain stores happened to pop up at the closest mall—and many times came away empty handed, which for those who know me would come as a complete surprise.

The truth is, I find department stores and malls overwhelming. They have plenty of merchandise that interests me, but it’s not always easy to find. The same applies to discount stores and outlet malls. While I envy people who can dig through racks and racks of sale items and come up with a steal or a deal, I simply don’t have the patience for the hunt.

Generally speaking, in a boutique, merchandise is organized in such a way that I can see it at a glance. I will gravitate towards racks and displays that speak to me without wasting time sorting through 100 items that don’t.

The same applies to Internet shopping. I admit that I shop online (hello, Amazon), and sometimes those pop-up ads in my Facebook feed lure me in. What I have learned the hard way is that clothing rarely looks like it looked on the model, primarily because I am not shaped exactly like the model and also because I am well past the age of 23, which I believe is the international age limit for models, but also because anything can be made to look good in a picture. After receiving disappointing or ill-fitting merchandise, all that time I supposedly saved by shopping online is consumed by the task of boxing it back up for return, making a trip to the appropriate shipping outlet, and waiting an eternity to see the money back in my bank account. Who needs that stress?

All the stores I’ve loved before
In the early 1980s, when I moved to Hilton Head Island, shopping was pretty sparse here, especially in the realm of ladies’ clothing. The closest mall was Oglethorpe Mall in Savannah (which didn’t seem so close and wasn’t all that great), and Internet shopping had not yet been invented. I sometimes traveled to Atlanta to get a “fix.”

But then a few boutiques popped up here on the island. The first one I discovered was Faces (now known as FACES DaySpa)—and what a find! Owner Patricia Owen started out at Heritage Plaza with a small store where she specialized in Estee Lauder cosmetics and carried a limited assortment of rather unique clothes. She had a wonderful eye for fashion and encouraged me to try on items that were slightly out of my comfort zone (I specifically remember a pair of silky pants and a sequined top that I never would have picked off the rack without a nudge. That outfit became a date night and holiday favorite.) She also took time to get to know me, understood my style, and helped me find clothes and accessories that were perfectly “me.” I don’t think I ever walked out of her store without a package. I followed her to the Village at Wexford when her business expanded. It was still primarily clothing with a small spa element. I bought the majority of my wardrobe there until the store ultimately evolved as a full day spa with emphasis on skincare and no more clothes.

Another favorite of old was a tiny boutique called Nancy’s, owned by the late Nancy Whitworth. She carried exquisite clothing as well as a high-end cosmetic line. I became friendly with her main sales associate, Ruth Giles, who could look me in the eye and, without fail, convince me that I “deserved to buy myself a present.” I purchased some unique dresses and accessories there and learned quite a bit about fine fabrics, quality construction, and “investment” pieces.

Enter The Porcupine. When I first met Avis Rollison, her store was located in the Gallery of Shops, next door to the original Reilley’s. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The merchandise rivaled what you would expect to find in a big city department store, but in a boutique environment where customer service ruled. Rollison later expanded and moved to the Village at Wexford, and I remained a faithful Porcupine customer until she closed the doors last year.

Other local boutiques I enjoyed included The Back Door and S.M. Bradford Company, both of which carried lovely merchandise and still do today, although they have expanded and relocated from the original little nooks where they got started.

One of my all-time favorite boutiques that still exists is Taffeta at Shelter Cove Harbour. Originally opened by the late Gianna Landwehr in 1984 and now operated by her daughter, Sonia Hunt, this is where I was introduced to European fashion. The clothing was and is unique and timeless. I still have dresses I bought there 10 years ago (including a classic floor-length, red, one-shoulder gown) that are not out of style and still look fabulous, thanks to the quality of the materials and workmanship. The same applies to the accessories, curated mostly from Italy and France. It’s not the same-old, same-old, that’s for sure. I probably get the most compliments on items I purchase there, because no one else has seen them. They buy almost exclusively in Europe and stay several steps ahead of American fashion, often bringing in only one item of a kind, or at the most, one in each size, making every outfit a prize.

Other stores have come and gone, and it’s possible a few of my memories have faded. But now we have an abundance of fabulous new boutiques to choose from on both Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton. Each has its own personality, and price points may vary, but you will find a thread of similarity in the shopping experience: It’s intimate. It’s personal. And it’s practical.

Four reasons I love boutique shopping:
1. Diversity and individuality. Boutiques usually have a limited selection, in a good way. I can buy something at a boutique and know that only a set number of people will own it. In other words, I can be fairly certain I won’t see myself across the room at a party. Fashion is one way I can express myself, stand out, and be different; boutiques allow me to do that by taking the time to select items I may not find elsewhere.

2. Personalized service. The customer service at boutiques is incomparable. They know me by name, and they know my style. They will put things aside for me, search the market for a special item I need or want, and call me when something comes in that “has my name all over it.” I don’t have to contend with an overly-eager sales associate breathing down my neck. I can browse leisurely, get help when I need it, or take an item out on approval to try at home. And sometimes they even offer me a special “friends and family” discount or send a holiday gift to reward my loyalty.

3. Instant gratification. When I find something I love at a local boutique, I can wear it immediately—no worries about shipping or returns. I’ve tried it on and know it fits. And yes, I do deserve to buy myself a present!

4. Support for the local economy. Boutiques are usually locally-owned, and I am a huge advocate of supporting such businesses. Many boutiques also carry items made by local designers and artists, thus supporting their dreams and further stimulating the economy. In return, these businesses and their proprietors often put a large share of their revenue back into the local economy, meaning they are helping our area prosper. I just love doing my part to make the Lowcountry great, don’t you?

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