Best Splurge-Worthy Vintage Clothing 2012 | Fashion by Robert Black | Shopping & Services | Phoenix

With the frequency that designers use the word "couture" to describe their work, you'd think the stuff magically grew on mannequins. The term actually is short for haute couture, a French descriptor for handmade, custom high fashion that is really, really expensive. And if you're in the market for it, there's one Valley standby that always has it stocked: Fashion by Robert Black. If your aim is to look red-carpet ready, make a stop at the beautiful store, located in downtown Scottsdale's landmark White Hogan building. You'll find one-of-a-kind elegant pieces from decades past and designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, and Versace. Drooling yet? Yeah, just don't get it on the clothes.

Label lovers who get giddy over good deals on quality products, we're about to let you in on a little shopping secret of ours. Instead of getting bogged down by aimless shoppers and too much filler at places like T.J. Maxx, head to discount department store alternative Poor Little Rich Girl. It’s an upscale resale and consignment boutique chock-full of familiar brands, including Kate Spade, Michael Kors, and Coach. But they land some high-end loot, too, and finding labels like Christian Louboutin, Tom Ford, and Manolo Blahnik is a semi-common occurrence. Between its two locations — one in Arcadia and the other uptown — it’ll be easy to stock your closet with next-to-new pieces that’ll hang around for the foreseeable future.

The only thing more adorable than a little girl's party dress is a little girl's party dress at a screaming bargain. And that's what you'll find — rack after rack of 'em, in fact — at Love Child. We'll be honest: We don't know how this cute little consignment store stays in business. The prices on clothing, shoes, and a limited selection of toys, games, and home furnishings for both boys and girls are that low. And we don't care, as long as Love Child keeps supplying us with Nick & Nora nighties, Gap sundresses, and teeny-tiny wool blazers for a 5-year-old nephew who insists on a suit-and-tie approach to kindergarten. The quality is high, the service is friendly, and we can wardrobe our kids cheap and teach them about recycling as well as good fashion taste. That's what we call style!

Nobody pulls off the hippie-chic look quite like Butter Toast owners Traci Nelson and Jasmine Jarrett do. At once effortless and thoughtfully put together, theirs is a look that is easy to attempt but can be tough to pull off. Those looking to cultivate a Woodstock-worthy wardrobe have a leg up by way of the twosome's boutique, though. It's full of reasonably priced, eclectic vintage clothing and accessories that already have Nelson and Jarrett's style-conscious seal of approval. On their racks you'll find a bounty of bohemian dresses, crocheted shawls, worn-in denim, and floral prints that will look right at home in a field of sunflowers.

On the flipside of Mucho Gusto, on University Drive, sits Sunset, a boutique thrift shop where, after a few of those hibiscus margs, we tend to go a little berserk. Not that it's unwarranted. It's quite the opposite. Shopping here is almost too easy to do because the store's racks are packed with designer clothing on the cheap (sometimes with tags still attached, only upping that glorious "I'm saving so much!" feeling) including DKNY, French Connection, and Michael Kors. Overstock from American Apparel and Urban Outfitters also hits the hangers at discounted prices, making it oh-so-easy to tap into youthful, seasonal trends while supporting a local biz. Sign us up.

The ever-chic Angelica Gonzalez bridges two stylish worlds, mixing vintage wear with new pieces from small, upcoming labels at her boutique, Nostra Style House. When the shop joined GrowOp and Butter Toast on Sixth Street off Roosevelt, it completed a trifecta of independently owned stores on a quest to keep downtowners looking good. And, boy, does it succeed. With a stellar throwback selection from Annie Boomer Vintage, a great reputation with local designers, including Tiffe Fermaint, and a keen eye for picking out comfortable, beautiful items from brands like Gentle Fawn and BB Dakota, Nostra is poised to impress shoppers with its curated selection that is largely inspired by Gonzalez's own taste and moods.

We never met Georganne Bryant's beloved grandmother — the namesake for her vintage-inspired CenPho boutique — but frankly, we feel like we knew the woman well; that's how much time we've spent with Frances over the years, poking at "her" gorgeous, creative collection of jewelry and super-cute kitchenware. And we are pretty sure we're sending Bryant's kid to college with our splurges on Orla Kiely bags over the years. At Frances, you truly do feel like family — the staff knows your name and your shoe size, and they're just as excited as you are when you find that perfect dress on the 50 percent off rack during one of their amazing sales. Bryant quickly is becoming the godmother of the hip, indie retail scene in Phoenix — a scene she had a hand in creating. Frances' blog is a must-read, and the store's offspring (Frances Studio and Smeeks candy store) complete our favorite shopping experience. Bryant's "Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix" mantra is catching on as copycats come along, and she welcomes them with open arms. Look for a second location of Frances to open soon at Biltmore Fashion Park as part of an experiment called Union.

Anchored by Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue, open-air shopping center Biltmore Fashion Park makes for some of the best people-watching we've ever enjoyed. Unlike most malls that are overrun with hapless high-schoolers trying to look cool, Biltmore's crowd is made up of shoppers who tend to fall into one of two groups. The first has money to burn at Escada and a penchant for conspicuous consumption. Behind door number two are the folks at the shopping center for Cheesecake Factory and a toppings-heavy serving of Mojo. We're guessing that you're somewhere between the two, and that means you're in for a fun time, provided you have a pair of sunglasses (to maintain an air of mystery, of course), a label-ambiguous but fashionable outfit, and a few hours to kill.

Believe it or not, the Phoenix arts district known as Roosevelt Row has been around long enough to have some actual history. And when people tell the story of how the whole thing started, they love to talk about Modified Arts, the music/arts venue that popped up many years ago in a nest of twinkly white lights that eventually put the spotlight on downtown. With all due respect to Modified's Kimber Lanning, there's another pioneer in the field (and one that's still going strong, while Modified has adopted a lower profile): MADE. Cindy Dach opened her little boutique in 2005 and — in a city where shops come and go with the seasons — she kept it going during one of the toughest economic times in history. That's because MADE isn't just a store (although that would be enough — we'd go there just for the refrigerator magnets!); it's a community gathering spot, both literally and figuratively. Dach hosts workshops and classes (full disclosure: New Times' Deborah Sussman and Laura Gill currently lead workshops there) and themed art exhibits (among our favorites, the artist-made salt-and-pepper show several years ago). The merchandise (much of it made by local artists) is constantly changing, and we find ourselves stopping by on a regular basis for inspiration – or any time we need an original gift. A bonus: In the years MADE's been there, an entire community of coffee shops, boutiques, salons and other businesses has sprung up near the corner of Fifth and Roosevelt streets, with Dach's little shop as its centerpiece. Thank you, Cindy.

We were ecstatic upon hearing that Cole and Dana Reed would fill Roosevelt Row's long-empty, shoebox-shape building that formerly housed drag bar 307 Lounge. High expectations for a quirky, interesting, and, most important, fun place to shop on RoRo were happily met with the pair's GreenHaus Gallery + Boutique. Its offerings include reupholstered and refinished furniture, vintage interior décor finds, and paintings from local artists. The shop's artsy leanings are no surprise. Preserved behind removable drywall at the back of GreenHaus is one of Phoenix's oldest murals by Ted DeGrazia.

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