When I moved to Boston’s North End seven years ago, the neighborhood was known primarily for its history and Italian heritage. Here, Paul Revere’s House abuts authentic trattorias, the Old North Church lies near Italian social clubs, and the aromas of garlic, tomatoes, and rich espresso drift from both restaurants and residences alike, continuously perfuming the air.
In recent years, however, visitors to the North End come not just for the food. Boutiques—from antiques to designer jeans—have been cropping up across the neighborhood, sharing space with the mouth-watering restaurants, historic churches, and specialty food stores.
Thanks to the North End, trendsetters don’t have to be jetsetters too. I’ll snub Rome or Milan anyday (okay, most days!) for a quick trip to the North End (or “Little Italy” to out-of-towners) where I can find the best clothing from Italy and the States within a few historic blocks. Here are a few of the stores you’ll find me rooting around in:
If you’re like me, shopping for jeans can inspire nightmares—either the cut, fit, or color never seems to work with any given pair. But a visit to in-jean-ius , the brainchild of owner Alison Barnard, takes the mystery out of this wardrobe staple. In business since July 2005, Barnard and her friendly, approachable staff excel at helping each woman find the perfect fitting pair of jeans. The prices are a bit more expensive than a standard department store, but Barnard provides personalized service and a thorough knowledge of body types (and corresponding brands) so anyone can feel confident with a purchase. Available designers include Citizens of Humanity, Chip & Pepper, and Kasil, among many others. The store also stocks t-shirts, shoes, sweaters, and accessories.
On a recent visit, the sales clerks carefully listened to what I was looking for, helped me find a few jeans to try, then continually brought new options to my dressing room until I found the ideal pair. It was like shopping with a bunch of girlfriends—who just happened to be jeans experts.
Start shopping: 441 Hanover St., Boston MA 02113; 617-523-JEAN
in-jean-ius’s Barnard opened her newest store, Twilight, in March 2007. “My main concern was having a boutique that provided dressier clothing than in-jean-ius,” she recently told me. “This means party dresses, sun dresses, work-appropriate clothing. At Twilight, I’m looking to highlight the feminine and beautiful. I wanted to help bring out the girl in all of us.”
Like in-jean-ius, Barnard focuses on fit, and stocks a variety of cuts and sizes flattering to all body types. Designers such as Adam and Eve, Betsey Johnson, and Solas may be found among the racks of dresses, jewelry, and handbags. And keeping with the “night out” feel, the store feels like an upscale lounge, with exposed brick walls, elegant chandeliers, and romantic drapes throughout.
While Barnard currently has a broad client base, she’s hoping to lure more older women to both stores. “A lot of times I hear, ‘oh, if only I were young again,’” she says. “I hate this statement because the clothing I buy has nothing to do with age. It is really about finding the right pieces for your body type and feeling good when you wear them.”
Start shopping: 12 Fleet St., Boston MA 02113; 617-523-8008
Christina DeFalco  opened her boutique in 2003, and quickly made headlines with her signature t-shirts, screened with photo prints and sparkly baubles. “Inspiration for my t-shirts comes from my travels and quirky view of life,” DeFalco told me. “My current passion is using the superb Italian drawings of George Collier, a famous young Scottish artist, on sexy sheer t-shirts and dresses. I’m also having a lot of fun with flirty dresses in bright prints with purl edging.” The store’s website offers an interactive demo of current collections; it’s a great way to get a sense of what’s available before stopping by to browse in person. And, DeFalco and her sales team add little extras to keep customers coming back. Upon finding a near-perfect fitting pair of pants at the boutique, I hemmed (no pun intended) over buying. DeFalco measured my cuffs on the spot and offered to alter the pants for just an additional $10. A lifelong procrastinator when it comes to going to the tailor, I agreed; the pants were ready for pick up just two days later.
Start shopping: 383 Hanover St., Boston MA 02113; 617-523-8870
Twin sisters, Joy and Judy Catuogno, run Karma Designer Consignments, which stocks vintage high-end clothing and accessories. Many go to Karma to find a Dolce & Gabbana piece, a Fendi fur, or a Gucci bag. Joy and Judy especially enjoy helping customers find the perfect attire for formal events, such as proms, black-tie parties, and other special occasions. They also carry lingerie from a variety of top designers.
Expect to find pieces tagged at about half of their original prices. I like to come here and daydream about the history of the vintage pieces, and also picture myself in some of them at a fancy gala. Should I ever have such an event to go to, Karma will be the first stop on my list to find the perfect outfit.
Start shopping: 26 Prince St., Boston MA 02113; 617-723-8338
Tucked in a small storefront on Salem Street lies Cadia Vintage , a “grandma’s attic” boutique offering one-of-a-kind finds. “My goal is to keep [the store] affordable and fun,” says owner Carole Springhetti. “Boston has plenty of museums already! Cadia Vintage is a place where you can touch and browse and ask questions—and then walk out with a purchase for less than $20. Hopefully that purchase will inspire a lifetime of collecting.” When choosing pieces for her store, Springhetti looks for “anything that has visual appeal in shape and color, some comedy about it, a uniqueness to its time period, and of course, a reasonable price tag. Vintage clothing and jewelry must evoke a memory. Those memories can be of the Brady Bunch girls, my sister and I shopping for new school clothes and toys in the Sears catalog, my grandmother’s costume jewelry, or an old classic film.”
Beyond vintage clothing and furnishings, Cadia Vintage offers a treasure trove of handbags, accessories, and jewelry, among other lovely antiques. Visitors take note, however: the store is open only on weekends or by appointment.
Start shopping: 148 Salem St., Boston MA 02113; 617-742-1203
Whether it’s a perfect new ensemble for a night out on the town, a great pair of jeans, or a unique accessory to spice up a tried-and-true outfit, chances are the North End will have it. A word for the wise, though: plan to shop before dinner. I know I have a much better time shopping for jeans and dresses if I don’t fill up on the neighborhood’s irresistible pasta and cannoli first.
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