On a recent trip to Las Vegas I fell in love with a pair of shoes that are to die for! Now the shoes were bad (Michael Jackson bad of course) because Nicholas Kirkwood created a phenomenal shoe. But it was the creativity of the visual merchandising team at In-Step that made me lust after those gorgeous creations. I promised myself that if I won big on a card table I would drop the $895 asking price on the shoes.

Yikes, that’s about the same price as the much-needed head gasket repair for my car, but we can unpack my priorities another day. Today it’s all about visual merchandising that makes you want to blow all your tuition money on the latest It-Bag (Tod’s G Bag) or on a pretty cocktail dress. So I’d like to give it up to some of the visual merchandising in the Mission District that’s interesting, creative and innovative.

Schauplatz on Valencia Street near 19th (window pictured above) is always a favorite. On my way to practically anywhere I stop and gaze into the store window. There’s always a gorgeous vintage dress, or funky jacket, or ohhh … something with sequins. The latter, by the way, have been getting a bad rep lately as done and done, but ask me if I care. Back to Schauplatz: the window makes me want to sneak inside.

Once there I find a mod dress in a hard-to-find emerald, or a poodle skirt I’d been searching for since 2005. The store window makes me spend money.

Not far from Schauplatz on Valencia near 23rd is Buffalo Exchange. I haven’t always been a fan, due to a bad experience in Berkeley, but its window in the Mission deserves an applause. They always pair the right items.


I went in to sell some clothes one day and although they bought nothing from me, I still asked the salesman to pull down a pink dress even after he warned me it was a large. It didn’t fit, but it looked so good on the mannequin, with a cropped jacket and pocketbook, I just had to try it.


Let’s not forget Mission Street itself, which tends to get overlooked when fashion comes up. If you’ve been with Dress Code from inception then you remember my quest to find skinny jeans. Well, I found a store that solved my skinny-girl-with-a-not-so-skinny booty “problem” — note the quotations.

I absolutely love all the stores on Mission Street with the mannequins with slim waists and big butts. They look like me, except with nicer legs. I see men looking at them when they walk by. Of course I shake my head in shame at them — their dummies! But then I remember, if they can make me buy something perhaps they can make a man overlook the nonhuman part. One of the best: Factory on Mission near 24th Street.

My absolute favorite store to peer into, even when I have no money to spend, is Bell Jar on 16th Street near Guerrero. Any store that does it so good they make me walk by three times, and still end up buying a $190 dress for a wedding I already had a dress for … takes the cake. Walking past Bell Jar makes me happy. Amid the drug abusers, panhandlers and drunkards there are some pretty nice boutiques for women in that 16th Street corridor.


Bell Jar always has a prominent display of vintage furniture pieces and little trinkets to accompany the clothes. But of course for me it’s the clothes. There’s always a dress on the form that makes me salivate immediately upon sight. Sasha Wingate, the owner and creator behind Bell Jar’s displays, said she usually just goes by whatever mood she’s in, or what new pieces they get that need to be seen.

“There are times when we come up with concepts, like around Christmastime,” she said. Other than that she makes it up.

For Wingate, it’s natural talent, though she recognizes that people go to school to study the craft of visual merchandising (you don’t think Macy’s at Herald Square is done by random amateurs, do you?). I’m holding out from buying what Wingate said women call the signature Bell Jar ring (a wooden heart encased in a thin frame of gold). I’m waiting for the day that I walk by and don’t find myself moved enough by the display to rush inside asking for my size. That’s likely to take a while.

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