Step aside, New York City and Los Angeles, there are some new kids on the block. Next time you’re heading to a big city to do your shopping, you might want to stop in one of these underrated stylish neighborhoods across the USA to find clever street style, a unique art scene, and innovative boutiques.
Des Moines is like that one effortlessly cool kid in your middle school who was beloved by the popular group for his weird humor and appreciated by the geeks for his kindness to all. Des Moines is unconcerned with hipness and lofty ambitions; it’s perfectly content with it’s quietly impressive art museum, quaint as hell turn-of-the-century homes, and robust offering of quirky locally-owned shops. Because it’s not a transient city, Des Moines has developed a distinct vibe that you’ll feel all over downtown, particularly in the East Village area. It feels warm and inviting, but also like everyone’s in on a secret that you have yet to fully discover. Get to the bottom of it at the t-shirt store Raygun, thrift emporium Hill Vintage & Knits, and the oldest gay bar in the state, Blazing Saddle.
All cities have their upscale neighborhoods, but not all cities have one as historic and full of character as Old West Austin, which is as stylish as its hipper surroundings. Even Old West Austin’s wealthy inhabitants, who live in the majestic lakeside mansions, are doing their part to keep Austin weird by supporting local independent boutiques like By George and Stella Says Go. Half lakeside, half downtown, Old West Austin is like a naturally gorgeous hippie who’s as cultured as she is conscious.
They shop at Double Dutch and 16 Tons in Hampden, but Baltimore’s creative class eats, drinks, and lives in Station North. The Windup Space (venue/gallery/bar, natch) and Club Charles have good music and killer cocktails, and Graffiti Alley is a hidden outdoor gallery featuring the city’s best street artists. Individual style rules over couture, and weird is always welcomed.
Because of the proximity to Howard University (which consistently ranks high on lists of most fashionable colleges), rich cultural history, and relatively low rent, Shaw has become the creative cornerstone for Washington DC. Shaw was the pre-Harlem center for African-American artistic and intellectual life, and there are monuments to the great talents who emerged from that era among the colorful rowhouses adorned with murals and graffiti. The street style reflects Shaw’s funky vibe. Nowhere else in DC are you as likely to see neon crop tops, Jodhpurs, and printed jumpsuits.
When it comes to menswear, no other neighborhood can compete with The Castro. Outfit Castro is a friendly boutique that has an eclectic mix of men’s trends from dress shoes to shiny tank tops, Sui Generis offers designer consignment with one-of-a-kind high fashion suits, and Unionmade is a paradise for menswear enthusiasts who know their Omnigod from their Orslow.
Street style in Old City ranges from extra vintage (Ben Franklin impersonators rocking three-cornered hats), to regular vintage (Briar has vintage for men) to super new (boutiques pop up all the time), and it’s always guaranteed to be on point. Old City is an international destination for its history and a local destination for its couture, designer, and vintage stores. The 3rd Street Corridor is particularly stylish—check out Vagabond and Third Street Habit to assure you’re the flyest tourist at the Liberty Bell. It’s one of the most pleasant clusters of commerce, with cobblestone streets and posh renovated homes that surely once housed the scullery maids.
Artists began migrating to South Main in the 80s when they discovered a wealth of elegant vacant buildings that could be used as cheap work spaces and could double as homes. And, tale as old as time: the artists were the ones who dictated the style of the area from that moment on. 30 years later, spotting up-and-coming painters, performers, and designers in the area is a given. Rent a bike at Midtown Bike Company and tour the public art in the neighborhood, as well as the many galleries and boutiques that constitute South Main Street. The style is laid back, but you’ll want to bring all your swag to impress the artists and musicians the rest of the country will hear about in ten years.
When I was growing up in Seattle, I knew Ballard as the blue-collar home of the Norwegian Constitution Day Parade and a Scandinavian souvenir shop. In the past 10 years, Ballard has undergone a makeover, plastic surgery, and wardrobe overhaul to become a vibrant and sophisticated set of historic tree-lined streets in the Pacific Northwest’s style scene. There are gastropubs, all-organic cafes, and bustling bars as far as the eye can see, while boutiques like Horseshoe, Re Soul and Ketch dress its youthful, creative inhabitants (lots of graphic designers roaming the streets). Bonus: The Norwegian parade is going strong!
There are plenty of fresh kids all over Chicago, but the highest freshness-per-capita percentage can be found West of the Loop. There are dozens of boutiques, including Penelope’s and Study Hall, streetwear hubs like Vivid Braille, and even more restaurants and bars. By day, get a street taco and spiked lemonade at Big Star where the unofficial dress code is Music Festival Chic, then spruce up for Prohibition-era cocktails at the sexy speakeasy across the street, The Violet Hour.
Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University both have the stylish outerwear game on lock in this energetic neighborhood populated by students, artists, and professors from both the Ivy League and art school. No other city boasts such a wide and fashionable variety of cold weather gear during the school year, as seen on the lively and eclectic Thayer Street. New and Vintage Apparel keeps students looking fresh on campus, and Marc Allen Clothiers dresses them for job interviews when they graduate.