Urban Outfitters gives me the heebie-jeebies in the same way that Au Bon Pain does: How and why is it possible to consume the exact same almond-covered croissant everywhere you go? And more importantly, why does one store insist on dressing college kids with the exact same “vintage” clothes in every single town? I am sick of seeing the same patterned, tattered shirts with holes in the same exact places.
So, my dearies, avoid Broadway, confront the unexpected gems of New Haven fashion scene. It may not be cutting edge — it may be mass-produced in China — but there are hidden treasures in these neighborhood shops.
Cooper’s Dress Shop at 210 College St. is a mess of glitter, sequins and beads — and posters with young girls covered in the same. The pictured dresses are advertised, “As Seen in TeenPROM” or “Pageantry Magazine.” The very same dresses hang on the racks.
Ellen Cooper, who has owned her store at its present location for 43 years, instantly interrogates me as I walk in. I am asked my age and major and whether or not I’d like to be set up with her galfriend’s grandson from California.
Downstairs are rows of ballgowns — and girls trying them on for a local high school’s dance — and a bulletin board with a few pictures and newspaper clippings, most notably of “Miss Teen New Haven,” whose competition dress came from Cooper’s. Miss CT Puerto Rico, I am told, will also be making a purchase in the near future from Cooper’s.
Although the dresses shipped in daily are made in China, Cooper travels to Georgia, Texas and New York to order them.
“That’s what we call a ‘sexy dress,'” she says, pointing to a pink dress with a belly-button-length v-neck.
If prom isn’t your style, Cooper’s main floor has dresses that don’t seem too frou-frou: cropped sailor dresses and evening gowns with Jackson Pollock-like sequin patterns.
The prices at Cooper’s are set on what seems like whims of preference: A slippy-type beige dress somehow costs $160, while a cropped black and white cocktail waitress-type dress is $29.99.
The key to Cooper’s is digging: Just keep digging.
A similar strategy can be applied to 2 Brothers Beauty Supply at 810 Chapel St., but this is no ordinary beauty supply store: As you walk in, take note of the preppy plaid cashmere (looks like cashmere, feels like cashmere, must be cashmere) scarves hanging out of a cardboard box on the floor. These cost $2. Amazing.
If you dodge the mannequin heads of wigs to the left and right (they look like creepy rows of people gazing at the hair products), you’ll first encounter animal purses. Remember back in second grade, when you (if you’re a little girly thing) actually wanted to carry around an extra bag and thought it was cool if it was fuzzy and looked like a mammal? I do. 2 Brothers sells animal bags — most notably a cuddly bear.
If you can bypass the typical beauty supply store chaos, the rear of 2 Brothers is the chez d’oeuvre: The entire back wall consists of those early ’90s hair ties with big plastic balls on the ends of the loops. The typical colored ones — i.e. magenta and bright yellow beads together — are far surpassed by the hair ties with beads that say “I love Jesus.” An entire pack of 12 costs only $2.99.
Other noteworthy purchases-to-be at 2 Brothers include the Hello Kitty hair clips or the Hello Kitty and Disney umbrellas with mini plastic figurine sculptures as the handles (imagine Minnie Mouse and Pikachu dancing on top of your umbrella handle).
If you’re really in the mood for fairy-tale whimsy, look for the sign that says Hatter on Elm Street. As in, mad? As in, less-than-stable tea party? As in, un-birthdays? Yes, that’s exactly it. Come to Del Monico Hatter at 47 Elm St. on any un-birthday for a room full of classy hats. There’s something about men’s dress hats and pimping fedoras with quality feathers that screams classy.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions at Del Monico’s. Indeed, because picking a hat is a lost art, an informal lesson in pricing, sizing and materials can be offered upon request. “Just decent” felt hats cost between $40 and $60; the extremely hot fedoras cost around $100, and the too-dashing-for-words Borsalino (made in Italy) felt hats that feel like bliss and look like God can cost up to $180.
The furry Kangol hats cost you-don’t-care-what. Please don’t buy them.
I leave you asking: Wouldn’t it feel so much better if the next time a closet-gazer admires an item from your wardrobe, it is the garment that made Cooper properly observe, “That is what we call a sexy top hat!” instead of the indie-patterned peasant blouse that the Urban Outfitters sales clerk also sold to the next two losers in line?