The challenge: Buy a complete outfit from street vendors around New York City.
The budget: $100
Results: Not one, not two but three outfits (give or take a couple personal wardrobe items) and only $3 over budget.
When one thinks about buying items from a street vendor, what usually comes to mind are knock-off handbags, cheap jewelry and a variety of art pieces among other things. When I was presented with this challenge I definitely underestimated its difficulty level. (See a photo journal of Delisa’s adventure in Snapping Around).
While NY has found a way to make many things easier to navigate, there isn’t exactly a “Street Vendor Locator” system in effect. One usually just crosses paths with one of the approximately 10,000 street vendors in NY but when you set out looking for them, they become harder to find for some reason. It took two days of walking around Manhattan, from 68th Street on the Upper East Side to Green Street in the Village, to accumulate the six items in my three outfits.
The first item was acquired while walking through SoHo. There was a row of five vendors near Prince and Green Streets, most selling jewelry, but the one that caught my eye also sold fedoras. The Asian woman had an array of leather bracelets on her cart. She eagerly allowed me to try on a studded wraparound bracelet, explaining that they were very popular nowadays. She named her price at $15 dollars each. While I tried to feign interest to get her to lower the price, she urged that it was a good deal because these bracelets were genuine leather and I couldn’t argue with that.
I continued walking down streets and avenues until I came across a row of vendors on West Houston Street, between MacDougal and Thompson. These three blocks of vendors have a mini street fair every Friday through Sunday selling interesting trinkets and clothing items.
My first stop was a woman who was selling bohemian skirts, dresses, shirts and even sandals. Her prices were already displayed so there was no need to bargain, especially at $10 and $12 an item. While looking through everything I spotted a short skirt with gold trimming and decided to grab a light purple one for $10. I figured all I had to do now was get a shirt and accessorize to complete the outfit.
Moving down the row of vendors there were a couple selling the most adorable T-shirts, baby bodysuits and bibs with vegetable caricatures on them. I wanted something a little nicer for the skirt, though. What I did end up purchasing was a grey clutch purse from Mr. and Mrs. Chen.
Mrs. Chen said that she had heard about the little street fair from a friend after their stores closed. “We had three stores, one in Times Square, one over in the Village, and another one across town, but it was too much money. Too much rent and taxes,” said Mrs. Chen. They were selling what was left of their stock at discounted prices so I got a $20 clutch for $8.
After leaving that street fair I wasn’t sure where to go next. I tried to think of where there might be a cluster of street vendors and my first thought was to check out the Times Square area because vendors set up where they know people will be. However, I could not find a vendor that didn’t sell handbags, pashmina scarves or I <3 NY memorabilia to save my life. It unfortunately started to rain so I decided to call it a day since most vendors had probably packed up.
The next day I went in with a game plan. I headed straight for St. Mark’s Place (also known as the block of 8th Street between Second and Third Avenues). I knew it would be cheating since they were technically storefronts and not vendors but I justified to myself that as long as I bought what was on the sidewalk, then it was ok. I found some interesting floral shirts and tie-dyed dresses but I had my heart set on just a nice shirt to go with the purple skirt from yesterday. I guess the cosmos knew that I was cheating so I didn’t have any luck there.
My next destination was the Upper East Side. I remembered seeing a few vendors selling dresses the last time I was over there so I went in search of them. I found a vendor selling pretty summer dresses near 68th Street and Lexington Avenue. He said to call him S.A. While he didn’t have any shirts, he did have some one-color summer dresses and I immediately got an idea. I bought a white cotton baby doll dress for $20 and decided that I would jazz it up with accessories.
Before I left though, I asked S.A. if he knew of any vendors who sold shoes. “It’s hard to sell shoes out here but there’s Payless so you can get cheap shoes there,” said S.A. I thanked him and set off walking around again in search of jewelry. At this point I had given up on our purple skirt but I was still determined to use the acquired bracelet and clutch.
After walking for a while and having no luck, I decided to head back down to the Village since I had had luck there the previous day. I stopped off at Union Square and I hit a vendor jackpot! Quite a few people were selling T-shirts but it was a simple grey tank with a flower print that caught my eye. With $47 left, I started thinking that I could pull off two outfits for $100.
The vendor/designer was Jaquie McArdle and she explained that she sells her shirts, tank tops, cap sleeved tees and ¾ sleeved shirts, all over. I received a business card with my $25 tank and continued searching for accessories for my white dress.
Across the street from Union Square Park, Noga, an African woman, was selling her handmade jewelry and feather hair accessories. While I’m sure I could’ve found cheaper jewelry elsewhere, I fell in love with a necklace of light purple stones. Noga said that it was $35 but she was kind enough to sell it to me for $25. I asked her how often she sold there and she too gave me a business card and said she that she’s there almost every day.
With that final purchase I was $3 over budget and decided to bring this challenge to a close. Unfortunately once I got home I discovered that the grey tank top didn’t exactly look that great with our purple skirt. McArdle had mentioned that the tank was a little long and that I could wear it with leggings if I wanted to so I grabbed my black leggings and added the studded wraparound bracelet and the grey clutch for a casual, rocker chic, look.
Despite having only seen shoes at one place, I think the outfits were a great find for “vendor shopping.” Plus I’m sure most women could find shoes in their collection to go with any of these outfits and let’s be real; do you really need more shoes?
While searching for vendors posed a bit of a challenge, the next time you’re out walking around the city, don’t overlook your local vendors. They just might have some fabulous finds that will have your friends wondering where you bought it.