There's no need to resort to cookie-cutter chain stores to put together a good look in Pittsburgh. More power to ya if that's your thing, but what follows is a guide to a few of our favorite spots to find that just-the-thing, eye-catching piece that you won't see anywhere else.
Some neighborhoods have more to offer than others: Great design spots feed off one another and create little pockets of awesome. But no matter what neighborhood you're in, this is Pittsburgh, OK? Act like ya know.
What happens in LawrenceVegas doesn't have to stay there, especially if it's a minor shopping bender along Butler Street. This burgeoning boutique district sits smack in the middle of a neighborhood that's straddling gritty and trendy.
A cornerstone in that transformation is SUGAR (3703 Butler St., 412-681-5100), the place to find clothes that start conversations in Millvale or Miami. Owner Katie Bulger curates an eclectic mix of local and national designers, with most pieces leaning toward the wilder side of sophistication. Among the offerings, you'll find dresses by local design phenom Kelly Lane and cheeky Neighborhood Teaze (T-shirts featuring Pittsburgh's many neighborhoods).
Pavement (3629 Butler St., 412-621-6400) is likely to induce delirium in women with serious shoe cravings. There are some great options for boys, but it's the ladies who make out. The emphasis is on unpredictable, original fabulousness: Jeffrey Campbell, Fluevog and Irregular Choice. If you aren't after shoes, pop in for a singular selection of jewelry, hosiery and other wares, chosen by the owners, sisters Alissa and Jessica Martin.
What good is a great dress if your earrings are drab, your neck is bare and your makeup is just rattling around your handbag? Well, probably still pretty good, but at Accezzorize (3613 Butler St., 412-621-3803), you can find jewelry that looks like it came from the dressing table of a starlet.
Divertido (3701 Butler St., 412-687-3701) translates as "fun," and this shop doesn't disappoint. Find little gifties that are cute without being cloying, and jewelry from Julep, a locally collected line of designers from across the country.
If you're killing time on South Side while waiting for the night life to fire up, why not prowl Carson Street's boutiques in search of the perfect outfit for later?
For a fresh take on the South Side's rock 'n' roll ethos, stop by Decade (1407 E. Carson St., 412-720-1677). Local designer Jet Boy Jet Girl's punk-infused takes on screenprinted handbags and T-shirts share space with People's Cartel, a collaborative effort between a Pittsburgh and Chicago designer. For the much younger set, try a Punkster onesie -- baby clothes emblazoned with slogans like "iPood," made by store owner Steve Ford's sister, Leanne.
Searching for the perfect Little Black (or Yellow, or Metallic) Dress isn't always easy. Co-owners Cara Moody and Amanda Hall of Jupe Boutique (2306 E. Carson St., 412-432-7933) seem to have an uncanny eye for putting a customer in just the right party dress. The boutique carries fashion-forward sporty and casual choices, too. Most prices are quite reasonable, especially the jewelry.
Tucked between Carson Street's funky trinket shops and the mall glitz of SouthSide Works, Geraldine's Boutique (2508 E. Carson St. 412-894-8128) is a hidden gem for vintage lovers and would-be pinup babes. The shop prominently features Stop Staring, a Los Angeles-based line of throwback-y dresses that would look at home on any rockabilly chick at Dee's Café down Carson. And do ask owner Sandra Miller about Geraldine -- she sounds like a force of fashion.
Much of this student-heavy neighborhood has been turned over to chains, but a few exceptions remain.
An amazing assortment of Tibetan and Nepalese-made jewelry, bags and clothes are crammed into Snow Lion Imports, a tiny, incense-perfumed shop below street level at 201 Craig Street (412-687-580). The clothes are right if you want to inject some Age of Aquarius into your look. Much of the jewelry would be equally at home next to couture or thrift-store finds.
Half the fun of dressing well is checking yourself out, and if you don't have fighter-pilot vision, the fellas at Oakland Fashion Optical (311 Craig Street, 412-621-2523) will outfit you in frames that complement your face, your style and your personality.
Cruise the decades in Crimes of Fashion (4628 Forbes Avenue, 412-682-7010), a crammed yet well-curated vintage shop tucked between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University campuses. Sometimes the best wares are hung outside to pull in passers-by.
Work up an appetite for retail after eating at one of Squirrel Hill's fabulous restaurants? Decide you need a new look after catching a flick? Never fear, you'll find what you seek.
Both Charles Spiegel for Men and the younger, hipper Garage (5841 Forbes Ave., 412-421-9311) are the spot to find more edgy, progressive clothes for men. Find super-premium denim and European tailoring with a prepster, dude-fashionista edge.
Avalon Exchange (5858 Forbes Ave., 412-421-2911) began life as an Oakland boutique with high-end designer clothes alongside select vintage pieces. Now in Squirrel Hill, the store is strictly secondhand, but there are still plenty of gems here, new and not-so-new.
You can spend thousands of dollars on a dress in this tony neighborhood, if you're so inclined. There are too many chain stores, and small boutiques, along the Walnut Street and Ellsworth Avenue corridors to list. But among our favorites is Bondstreet Shoes (5842 Ellsworth Ave., 412-661-0450). The brainchild of German import Karsten Chorus, this is no shoe-barn, but offers a small, graceful selection of European leather collections mostly for men, but women as well.
At vintage stores Eons (5850 Ellsworth Ave., 412-361-3368) and Hey Betty! (5892 Ellsworth Ave., 412-363-0999) enjoy the cozy feel of rummaging through your hip great-aunt's closet and unearthing all sorts of treasures, from smoking jackets to pillbox hats to spectator pumps. Kitschy souvenirs and jewelry abound.