Previously dubbed the bargain district, the old center of the rag trade used to be lined with discount stores. But today, you’ll find some of the best shops in NYC for new designers and vintage on the Lower East Side. From antique jewelry stores to eco-friendly shoe shops, you won’t have any trouble finding one-off items for your wardrobe. Be sure to check out the seasonal Hester Street Fair, which is among the city’s top flea markets.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the Lower East Side
The best shops on the Lower East Side
It’s easy to miss this small but well-appointed unmarked shop, which has been dishing out street-inspired menswear since 2001. Ring the buzzer for access to solid, long-sleeved button-ups ($110) with a small, embroidered red heart and yellow lightning bolt on the front collar, and classic cardigans ($118) with front pockets and the brand name running vertically down the left-front side. Immediately next door with a separate entrance is Alife’s footwear shop, which is modeled after a retro gentlemen’s club and carries Alife-brand kicks, alongside other labels like Nike and Adidas.
Although owner Greg Armas is only moving his store a few doors down Ludlow Street, shoppers should get ready for a completely different scene. Armas is keeping his merchandise model (hip, hard-to-find luxury labels for men and women, with vintage items and pieces from his own line sprinkled in), but he’s bidding adieu to a dark, narrow and opting for a new locale that’s bright, open and airy. Expect to see white wooden floors, diffused lighting and rustic details like wooden blocks and potted plants as you shop for goodies such as Ian R.N. sheer, silky V-neck tees ($178); adorable Mandy Coon leather bunny bags with chain straps ($438); and men’s V::room charcoal-gray sweatpants ($178).
This self-proclaimed “radical” bookstore and café hosts readings and discussions on health, race, class and sexuality, featuring stellar writers such as graphic novelist Alison Bechdel and Christian-right watchdog Michelle Goldberg.
If you’ve heard of Claw Money, it’s because she’s an iconic NYC graffiti artist, fashion designer and author. Last month, the urban funk artist has added “LES boutique owner” to her repertoire. Inside the hip-hop–inspired shop, expect to find items from her current fashion line, plus racks of rare vintage finds that have been on ice for the past two decades. Claw Money Starter jackets ($200), graphic tees ($30–$40), and Nike Blazer and Vandal sneakers ($195–$250) are displayed against graffiti-inspired wall art. And the wide selection of throwback Gucci sunglasses ($250) only confirms that the vintage stock is just as dope as the owner.
Owner Chuck Guarino traded his (literally) underground location for a weathered sliver of a storefront on Orchard Street, but the new shop maintains the neogothic vibe. At the core of the unabashedly masculine collection is the trinity of well-cut denim, superior leather jackets based on classic motorcycle styles, and the artful T-shirts that launched the label in 2004. This spring the ladies get their own line, Aloha from Hell, covering similar ground.
It’s hard not to love a spot that combines our two favorite pastimes—drinking and shopping—and that’s exactly what this Lower East Side bar-boutique does. On the street level of the two-floor emporium (which stays open late to encourage boozing and browsing), you’ll find a co-op boutique for emerging local designers. The top floor is where you’ll also find the charming dark oak bar, where a hip, young crowd orders bottled Brooklyn Lager ($5), wine by the glass ($8–$9) and specialty cocktails ($10–$12).
We were bummed to see local fave Pixie Market (trendy clothes! übercheap prices!) close up shop. But before we could settle into a deep depression, the owners reemerged with Frankie. Think of it as the mature and ultra-chic version of Pixie Market. The shop caters to the career-minded woman, so instead of cocktail dresses or crop tops, you’ll find more sophisticated items like cocoon tops ($66), alpaca boyfriend coats ($289) and more from international indie labels.
Fed up with the dearth of stores that matched their aesthetic, 24-year-old founders Emily Conley and Veronica Cano set up their own boutique with a real American rock & roll feel. The likes of Aerosmith, Pantera and ZZ Top inspired the shop, as did the women's own experiences growing up in NYC clad in mohawks and leopard-print pants. Rockers can deck out their pads with colorful I Am Home chalkboard skulls ($55), Buzz Planet natural soaps ($8 each) and Octopus brass vintage-style cigarette cases ($55), and fill their closets with Death/Traitors unisex tank tops ($26), One Teaspoon Najavo-print ponchos ($200) and Reason "go (heart) your own city" T-shirts ($30). The industrial space also features a coffeeshop (complete with board games like Monopoly and Jenga) serving Stumptown joe ($3–$5).
Cruelty-free footwear is no longer a crime against fashion. Moo stocks a variety of brands for men and women, such as Vegetarian Shoes and NOVACAS, plus styles from independent designers such as Elizabeth Olsen, whose arty line of high heels and handbags is anything but hippyish.
Ever since Hyman Moscot started selling specs from a pushcart on Orchard Street in 1899, this family-run institution has been the most recognizable name in New York eyewear. Now run by fourth-generation brothers, the three sleek shops sell well-known labels, as well as their own two collections: vintage-inspired Originals and Spirit, the more modern line ($225—$255).