If you haven’t heard about the months-old Fashion Outlets of Chicago (FOC), you might want to start saving up some cash, a personal day at work and some energy to check it out. It’s both different and identical to other outlet malls. My observations as a first-time visitor follow…
Like other malls in the category, the super-low prices of the old school outlets are no longer a given. There are non-outlet stores, like Forever 21, identical to the site nearest you. The “Factory” stores (J. Crew, Gap, Guess) feature their own made-for-outlet merchandise, often irregular or made in a different color or fabric from the original issue. Some companies (Hugo Boss Outlet, Neiman Marcus’ Last Call) sell discounted or late-season merchandise from the flagship stores.
FRACTIONISTA’S TIP Make sure you know what type of merchandise is being sold by politely asking the store staff. Everyone I asked was very candid with me, and it helped me judge how much of a “deal” was set before me. Don’t assume that the outlet items are accepted at the branch nearest you; try on items if possible and clarify the return policy before you buy.
That it is an enclosed, air-conditioned mall is a big positive for me, as Chicago’s weather extremes are nothing nice. Smart parking eliminates circling for open spots, although I did think I was going the wrong way in a lane more than once.The L-shape layout is easy to navigate, as the Food Court bisects the mall, and the upper level has all the luxury brands.
A concierge desk can help you deal with your truckloads of purchases. If the FOC is your last stop before leaving town, Guest Services can check your baggage, issue a boarding pass, and schedule a shuttle to the airport. There are currency exchange and translation services, as well as packing & shipping services. Take a look here to get the total picture.
…AND NOT SO HOT
If you’re looking for an extra special gift, or a luxurious item for your coffee table, you might be out of luck. Home & garden stores have blown a well-located opportunity to sell their outlet goods to Chicago residents and tourists. If Le Creuset is selling 20 lb. skillets to stash in carry-on luggage, I can imagine how international and domestic travelers would go even crazier for discounted home goods (and apparel) from The Company Store or Garnet Hill.
Double check your makeup bag before you visit, because there is no Sephora or MAC to help you replenish your staples. There’s only L’Occitane, The Body Shop and Bath & Body Works, so…sad face with no Viva Glam lipstick for this chick.
Unfortunately, the only dedicated plus-size boutique is Torrid. The department store outlets may have some less trendy leftovers, but the choices will be as limited as they are in the flagship stores, if not more so.
Campus favorites like Diesel, Mango, and Free People would be welcome for young adults seeking stylish options of quality. These brands have a global and local customer base, it seems like an excellent way to increase brand recognition with travelers from the US and beyond.
As for the notable omissions in children’s wear, color me surprised that retailers with international appeal like Hanna Andersson, Hatley, and Jacadi are not represented.
BTW, make sure your little ones love shopping, as there is no play area for them to amuse themselves while you indulge in some distraction-free browsing. No Marbles or Lego store, just a Disney Store strategically located with eyeshot of an insane candy shoppe. #justsayno
The lack of seating was a challenge when I had to hunt for a seat to sip my Tuesday afternoon latte. Several mall employees told me the weekends are exponentially busier, so this will ultimately affect the seating in the food court, which I felt was sorely lacking in appealing fare.
If I’m paying $5 for a coffee, I shouldn’t have to walk 100 yards to sit and enjoy it. I’m hoping my West Coast fave, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, or maybe Peet’s Coffee & Tea will get the memo and open a competing kiosk WITH dedicated seating!
Though I have re-focused this blog to cover clothing for children and teens, I have a few awards to bestow on the mall in general. I’m calling them as I saw them…
Something for Everyone-Shoes-a-plenty!
Incredibly diverse and numerous, the options in shoe stores and shoe departments offer truckloads from which to choose. My favorite is the Converse store, where everyone in the family can be comfortably shod for under $25.
Biggest Epiphany-Tory Burch
I know that chicks go loco for Tory Burch, and I was never really moved much by the clothing, which seemed like overpriced country club wear. I have now seen the light via the truly amazing outlet prices on the lovely-in-person leather goods, shoes and bags. They are classic styles in sumptuous materials at splurge-worthy, “real” outlet prices. Grrr…that was money I wasn’t spending!
Still Don’t Get It-Prada
Apparently, They have a VIP-style velvet rope situation at the Prada store on weekends, letting just 5 people shop at a time due to the crowds. Can I walk to the front to see if I’m on the list? What if I have a plus one? When I enter the store, is there a time machine to transport me back to 1992 when pre-knockoff-on-every-corner Prada was relevant? Because at one point, some of the fakes were cooler looking than the originals.
Coolest Kiosk-Infinity Lights
This pod has customizable kits starting at $19.99 including cord kit and easy-to-follow instructions. Choose from 15 different shapes and your unique palette to create a light fixture that matches your kids’ room with an element of creativity and color. This was a completely new thing to me, but maybe I haven’t actually been to a mall with kiosks in a while…
Most Likely to Earn Cool Points & Jealous Stares from your Increasingly Jaded College Student, and the Wench from Carpool-AllSaints
Don’t let the industrial façade of AllSaints intimidate you, a purely wonderful experience awaits you inside this British brand’s boutique. If you favor muted hues, fabrics with an exquisite hand, supple leathers, and hand-sewn details, this is your utopia. An accessory junkie like myself will be elated to find the extensive collection of shoes and jewelry. We are not talking about the dreaded fast fashion here, these are items of quality. The embellishments, the knits, I could swear I drooled!
Though more expensive than typical mall stores, this outlet has trend-setting pieces at 40-70% off the flagship store prices, so this is more of a value than a bargain. The sales associates are helpful and product-savvy, even though my head-to-toe treadmill gear made me stick out like Woody Woodpecker among a murder of crows. Very modern, chic crows, that is…
Several stores at the FOC are running Columbus Day promotions until Monday or longer. Will you be braving the long weekend crowds to get some goodies? Let me know if you score something scrumptious!