Due to the city’s small size, shopping in Boston is a pleasure. You can easily cover several prime areas in a day—Newbury Street in the Back Bay and Charles Street on Beacon Hill, for example, before ending up in the chic South End, which also happens to have some of the city’s best bars for a post-shopping pick-me-up. In addition to these retail-rich areas, you’ll find standout stores all over the city—Louis, one of the best clothing stores in Boston, is out on a limb in the Waterfront district. A university town at heart, Boston is also home to many street fashion, vintage and thrift stores and, of course, legions of bookstores.
Fashion and clothing stores
Boston’s premier concept store migrated to the still-developing Waterfront in 2010. The open-plan, warehouse-like space has sweeping harbor views, and clothing is hung on rolling racks for maximum flexibility. Louis started life as a menswear store, which is reflected in its impeccable Italian tailoring, but there are also young labels such as Greg Lauren (yes, the nephew of a certain other American designer), Belgian-born Tim Coppens and NYC duo Public School. Womenswear features such au courant names as Thomas Tait, Simone Rocha, Jonathan Saunders, Jason Wu and Suno. You’ll also find carefully selected beauty products, scents and candles, home items, shoes and accessories. An outpost of celebrated snipper Mario Russo’s salon is on site, as well as an excellent restaurant, Sam’s.
A one-stop shop for the fashion-conscious male, with a good selection of smart shirts, casual jackets, shoes and cheeky belt buckles. Uniform also stocks a line of Freitag messenger bags and wallets, made from recycled truck tires, and selected shaving products (from the Art of Shaving and Jack Black).
At first glance, it looks like any other convenience store, the window lined with faded bleach bottles and paper towels. Something's odd though—the kid behind the counter is a little too stylish, the water stains on the ceiling are too perfect, the horse race on the TV seems to be caught in a loop and none of the bottles of detergent seems to have moved in months. Step in front of the faux Snapple vending machine, to activate the hidden sliding door and reveal the secret store within a store. Inside is the ultra-modern interior of Boston's flyest sneaker shop—carrying rare kicks from Nike Tier Zero and Adidas Consortium, as well as deluxe streetwear and books on art and design.
Opened by a mother-daughter duo, this South End boutique is the perfect place for ladies of all ages to try on girly wares from hard-to-find designers, with an emphasis on proprietor favorite Lauren Moffatt. Tucked away just off the main drag of Tremont Street, the shop's rustic, whimsical decor is positively enthralling.
A highly browsable combination of casual clothing from the likes of Ella Moss and Velvet, jewelry and accessories, unusual toiletries, stationery and decorative homewares such as picture frames and ceramics. Some of the items, such as hip jewelry by Flauxy and Wardmaps' mousepads, printed with 19th- and early 20th-century maps of Boston (including the North End), are locally made.
Looking for the perfect little retro-styled dress? This jam-packed boutique is a good bet, with an almost overwhelming array of frocks in various prints and cuts by Milly, Nanette Lepore, Rebecca Taylor and Tibi, as well as separates, jeans and T-shirts from Vince, Velvet and Splendid. The house style is somewhere between well-groomed preppy and urban sophisticate.
The first branch of this women's boutique was launched by two Harvard graduates in Brookline in 2004, swiftly followed by a larger Harvard Square shop. Mint Julep offers an appealing melange of labels (both European and American), styles, prints and prices—the only unifying factor is an underlying postmodern country-club aura. You'll find lots of retro-influenced dresses, cool T-shirts and colorful accessories by the likes of Tibi, Milly, Orla Kiely and Kenzie, as well as less expensive brands.
Vintage clothing and thrift stores
After acquiring a new owner and a revamped interior a few years back, Oona’s went on to regain its former place as one of the best vintage stores in Boston. The unfortunate (and inaccurate) label of a “costume shop” has hurt Oona’s in the past, but another visit will show former nonbelievers that this is no longer the case. The feel is more Victorian dressing room than Halloween party store. The update is most evident in the men’s section, which has traded in its printed cowboy hats and fake mustaches for vintage Western shirts and Levis 501s. As far as the women’s section goes, the clothes are both affordable (starting at $30 for dresses and $20 for blouses) and beautiful. Everything in the store is thoughtfully handpicked—so you won’t be wasting time rifling through extra-large polyester shift dresses and little league T-shirts.
Bobby Garnett's fabulous vintage emporium in the SoWa warehouse gallery complex is well known to Japanese denim aficionados, movie wardrobe professionals and local rockers. The pristine stock spans the 1930s to the '70s and, although women's clothes are sold, the focus is menswear. Here you'll find both $25 501s and three-figure vintage versions, American sportswear and lots of cool suits, including English labels from the 1960s.
The most varied and laid-back of Boston’s local thrift stores is 40 South Street (née Gumshoe). Run by local rock legend Hilken Mancini, it walks the line between vintage and thrift so adeptly, you’d be hard pressed to know there was ever a line there to begin with. You can find clothing-era representation from the ‘50s to the ‘90s, and all of it is high quality, clean, and moderately priced. If you’re looking for a plaid shirt or a pair of jeans, then you have definitely come to the right place—their selection is almost overwhelming, but in the best way possible.
Accessories and jewelry stores
It takes restraint to leave here without an armful of bangles. Newbury Street’s newest addition has three floors of eco-friendly bracelets made in every metal imaginable. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, just head downstairs to the bangle bar and customize your own bracelet with charms and beads.
Local milliner Marie Galvin designs a quirky array of handmade headpieces for Boston’s ladies who lunch. Whether you’re looking for an understated bridal hairpiece or a Kentucky Derby-style topper, this shop won’t disappoint. Hats range from ornate to outlandish, but all are sure to make a statement.
A stroll down a brick-lined courtyard brings you to this quirky shop that specializes in handmade jewelry and home accessories. Patch is brimming with original artwork and the scent of aromatic candles. Here, you’ll find everything from antique-looking pendant necklaces done in oxidized sterling silver to Ikat scarves made of sensuous silks.
Entered from the Pru mall or Ring Road, the formerly staid (and much smaller) branch of the famous New York store recently got a slick revamp. The ground floor designer accessories department is arranged in mini "boutiques," while cosmetics is similarly divided up into individually labeled stands. It's a good place to snap up popular young sportswear labels such as Vince, but service can be patchy.
In a sea of chains, Trident remains a tried-and-true standby for the more indie-minded of Boston’s over-caffeinated literary nerds. The magazine selection is peerless—art zines, obscure trade publications… and is that a Spanish edition of Foreign Affairs? The city has plenty of spots that brew a better cup of joe, and Trident does get a tad too packed on weekends, but there's still something about lounging with a latte and a Lethem novel that makes us feel so flippin' smart.
North of the Charles River and in need of a paddling? Hubba Hubba has got the wrist action you're looking for. The shop is best known for its independently designed S&M gear and fetishwear (with more than a pinch of punk). Shop owner Suzan Phelps has been helping locals spice up their wardrobes for over 25 years.
While it’s located on the reputably posh Newbury Street, this basement-level shop caters to those looking for a good time of the non-classy variety. Pledging “to protect and serve,” Condom World retails an array of adult party favors, novelty items and games, making it the default destination to stock up on bachelor/bachelorette party supplies. Feel free to giggle out loud; they’re used to it.