By Christen Kinard
As far back as I can remember, I have wanted to dress differently.
Wait. I take that back. For a brief period between the ages of ten and thirteen I wanted desperately to disappear. (Didn’t we all?)
But that anomaly aside, I have strived to set myself apart…sartorially speaking. As a child, I wanted nothing to do with a garment if it wasn’t pink and/or sparkly. My preference being “and,” of course. I wore heels in high school when everyone else wore sneakers. In college, I went through a monochromatic phase wherein I had a closetful of literal head-to-toe outfits in the exact same shade of red. I’m glad to say that phase has passed.
What hasn’t passed is my love of dressing. Not just of clothes. Anyone can love beautifully made clothes. Hell, one can even love poorly made clothes. My passion is dressing. The process by which I translate how I feel and who I want to be on any given day. And it does change. Frequently, in fact. A creative process of self-discovery and self-expression. Cheesy? Perhaps. But nonetheless true.
It is difficult, however, to truly set oneself apart when you purchase the same Gap dress, Banana Republic heels, and Nine West shoes as every other woman your age. You know you’re stuck in a rut when your colleague excitedly exclaims that she has that same cardigan and the same espadrilles!
Just out of college and new to the area, my shopping excursions were limited to malls and department stores. While I always found clothing to buy, I rarely found clothing to love. Since then, I have discovered the abundance of locally owned boutiques in this area.
I began swapping out my cotton cardigans for brocade tuxedo jackets. Pointed kitten heels and ballet flats for patent flatforms and asymmetrical booties. The little black dress for the not-so-little black dress. Granted, my style was bound to change as I aged. And of course, my closet is peppered with the occasional Nordstrom find. I’m pretty sure I even have a few Forever21 leftovers. But the heart of my wardrobe…the part that really says “me”…comes from these small businesses with carefully curated selections and invested owners. The same small businesses that helped me regain my vision, my inspiration, and my love of dressing. (So much so that I made it my career too.)
While the bulk of my shopping is done in the two-mile radius in which I live (also known as Old Town Alexandria), I have found a wealth of worthy boutiques everywhere from Middleburg to St. Michaels. We all get stuck in fashion ruts, and they can be difficult to climb out of. But consider paying a visit to the shop around the corner, even if parking is a little more difficult than at the mall. Your wardrobe will thank you.
Christen, also known as @LaRueNeuve, is the brains behind Alexandria Stylebook, a website which promotes local design, beauty and fashion. And as of April 1, she will be joining The Shoe Hive, a locally-owned shoes and accessories boutique, as manager and buyer.