Cheap cheap, not cheep cheep

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April 28, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: Stephanie Watson
Stephanie Watson

The first sign of spring is about shopping, not fluffy bird babies

Every year, I seem to get the same urge. When the air turns warm and soft after a long winter, the material girl in me whines, "I want some new spring clothes. I need cute sandals. I want a little straw purse."

She piped up early this year, during the spell of mild weather a couple of weeks ago. I didn't have a lot of money to spend, but figuring I had enough to satisfy my urge, I headed out the door towards Nicollet Mall. I hit all of my regular places: Marshall's, Gap, Banana Republic, TJ Maxx, and Target, and a couple new ones too. I flipped through racks and scanned until my eyes crossed, and I saw the good, the bad, and the fluorescent mesh bras. After four hours of scouring, I had a pretty good haul--three dresses, two shirts, and two pairs of shoes--all for under 80 bucks.

Just follow my tips below, and you'll be able to breathe some of spring's best into your wardrobe and still have some cash in your new straw purse at the end of the day.

Get in on a trend through the backdoor. Embroidered Indian-style blouses are very chic this season, apparently. If you walk past the Nordstrom and Gaviidae windows, you'll see more than a few mannequins wearing the delicate cotton blouses. There aren't any price tags; a bad sign. Go toward the river on Nicollet Mall a couple of blocks, though, and you can buy the real thing, straight from India and perfumed with Nag Champa incense, at India Bazaar. I got two beautiful, hand-embroidered cotton blouses, one pink and one purple, for--please sit down--$4 each. It's easy to miss this store, as it's far down the Mall (near 4th Street), and next to that unsightly ex-McDonald's-turned-nightclub. I beg you: go soon. When I bought my shirts they had a "Total Liquidation" sale sign teetering above the door, which -- if it's not a ploy -- means they may soon be out of business. At these prices, you could see why.

Buy shoes at Target. They have a lot of the same styles as the more expensive stores. Sure, your $15 Target sandals will only last you the summer, but that's all the time you'll really want them for. Target has really cute straw sandals right now, a lot of them platforms, and those Mary Jane-type shoes that I love. I bought a red pair with little eyelet cutouts during my marathon shopping romp, and I love them. While we're on the subject of shoes: Please, don't buy those $20 gourmet flip-flops from J. Crew or wherever. Target has the same flip flops made out of the same quality rubber, for around five bucks.

Purse hunting? Head to Marshall's and TJ Maxx. Whether you're looking for straw or sleek, both stores have a nice selection, and most everything's under $30. If you like designer stuff, they often have big names at half the price you'd pay in department stores. The Cutest Spring Purse award goes to a beige leather one I saw at Marshall's, made in Italy and stamped with pink butterflies. It was $70, which was too much for this budget shopper, but since the original price was double that, someone might find it a good buy. TJ Maxx and Marshall's are also fabulous places to pick up a new billfold, as they have a ton of cute ones for cheap.

If you are small, shop in the kids' section. I kid you not. Being small got me stuck kneeling in the front of every class picture, and called 'shortie,' but being able to fit into kid's clothing has made up for all of that. All three dresses I bought were from the girls' section at Target, and my new sandals were kiddie, too. Get ready for a big secret that no store seems to want you to know: The smallest adult sizes are the same as the biggest kid sizes, but the kid stuff is cheaper. My dresses were just thirteen bucks, compared to the womanly version at $19.99. And shopping in the children's area doesn't mean being limited to pink Hello Kitty shirts, either. Have you noticed that kid clothes these days are just miniatures of the adult versions? Target's girls' dresses are really cute this spring, too--my favorites are fashioned of sheer crinkly polyester printed with flowers.

Stephanie Watson is a freelance writer and Downtown renter. Write to her at