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With its countless stores, boutiques, pop-up shops, vintage havens and designer showrooms, New York City lives up to its reputation as a shopping capital. With so many possibilities, there's just one problem—where to begin? The best bet is to start big, with the iconic department stores, where you can experience a grand bazaar's worth of offerings in one location. You can ogle high-priced designer wares, pick up more affordable gifts for loved ones (or yourself) and enjoy beautifully crafted and, at times, over-the-top window displays. These 11 stores—found all over Manhattan, from the Upper East Side to Midtown to SoHo, though many have outer borough outposts, too—are essential visits on anyone's New York City shopping itinerary.
Upper East Side
Barneys New York
Barneys set the standard for the cool, upscale department store, and it lives up to its reputation. Each floor feels like its own boutique, offering cutting-edge fashion, jewelry, cosmetics, home furnishings and, of course, clothes. Entire paychecks have been spent in the shoe department here, since the shoes, like everything else, are chosen with an impeccable and hip sense of style. Creative director Simon Doonan outdoes himself year after year with humorous and eye-popping holiday window displays—like 2009's giant papier-mâché caricatures of Saturday Night Live characters. In addition to its Upper East Side flagship store, Barneys has locations on the Upper West Side, in SoHo and on Altantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
After all these years, the little brown bag is still a girl's best friend. The shopping mecca at the intersection of 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, where it has been anchored since 1886, still makes even inveterate shoppers' pulses race. (They can also visit the smaller—but still impressive—Bloomingdale's SoHo outpost sandwiched between Broadway and the eminently fashionable Crosby Street.) Look for both trendy and luxury clothes, shoes, handbags and wedding gifts sure to delight the happy couple. And don't miss the makeup counter—surely, someone you know deserves something special.
With its location on bustling 34th Street and its million square feet of floor space on nine sprawling floors, Macy's can seem like a universe all its own. Cosmetics and colognes, prom gowns, ties, sofas, electronics and much more—shoppers would be hard-pressed to think of an item the store doesn't carry. Macy's also houses a respected cooking school, De Gustibus, and after class you can pick up a stockpot or a chef's knife to test out your newfound culinary skills. The store has locations in each of the outer boroughs.
Museum-quality display windows draw sophisticated shoppers inside this landmark department store. Its art deco building (once the site of a Vanderbilt family mansion) houses eight floors of elegant couture and high-end designer collections for men and women. A salon and day spa are situated on the penthouse level, in case you need to unwind after an afternoon (or morning) of power shopping.
Saks Fifth Avenue
The sweet smell of sophistication entrances shoppers right at the doors of Saks Fifth Avenue, as agile cosmetics and perfume salespeople beguile them with their wares. Ten floors of goods and apparel, in-store boutiques from the likes of Louis Vuitton and Chanel—this mammoth shopping experience can turn even the most inexperienced shopper into a pro. Shoe lovers, prepare for pump, heel and sandal nirvana when you reach the eighth floor. In a retailing and postal history first, the shoes-only floor is known by its custom zip code: 10022-SHOE.
Lord & Taylor
Located in a gorgeous 10-story Italian Renaissance Revival building that was named a landmark in 2007, Lord & Taylor carries an ever-changing medley of solid brands like BCBG Max Azria, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Milly, Nanette Lepore and Kate Spade, and it’s a great place to get high-quality items such as handbags, dresses and winter coats. The store also stocks casual and formal wear in addition to watches, jewelry and shoes. This specific location houses the curated concept shop Birdcage, which features jewelry, cosmetics, apparel and home goods from up-and-coming designers. There are also year-round trunk shows, pop-ups and events from NYC-based shops.
Specializing in well-made basics that rarely cost more than $100, this US flagship of the Japanese brand (which was founded in 1984) is sprawling, well-lit and immaculately organized. Leggings, sweaters, coats, tops, pants, vests, tights, skirts and T-shirts are everywhere you look, in bright colors and bold patterns. Look for inexpensive cashmere, signature fleece jackets and Uniqlo's popular denim line, which has tourists and local hipsters lining up at the cash register. Additional stores exist in Herald Square, on Fifth Avenue and in the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.
Few retail store openings were heralded with as much delight and frenzied anticipation as the arrival of Topshop in 2009—and another is being added in fall 2014 on Fifth Avenue. The British chain, much envied for its fashionable, reasonably priced clothing, is a staple for UK style icons like actress Sienna Miller and model Kate Moss (who even designed her own Topshop line). SoHo's 30,000-square-foot US flagship gives New Yorkers their fill of trendy trench coats, skinny jeans and boots.
When bargain hunters need their fix of thrills they head to Lower Manhattan's Century 21. Offering name-brand designers at steep discounts for nearly 50 years, the department store has been a favorite of Wall Street workers on their lunch break and a popular stop for tourists from abroad on shopping holiday. Be prepared for crowds and creative chaos among the racks. It's worth it, though: deals are plentiful for apparel, footwear, handbags, accessories and home fashions, and more than occasionally the careful shopper will find top-label treasures. There's another Century 21 Manhattan store near Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side, as well as outlets in Brooklyn's Bay Ride and Queens' Rego Park.
Tucked into an underground space that used to house the Union Square location of the Virgin Megastore, this Nordstrom Rack is the luxury retailer's only budget-friendly outlet in Manhattan (you can also find Brooklyn and Queens locations). The crowded space features a cacophony of circular racks crammed with discounted designer clothing from a constantly changing variety of brands: Theory, Hudson Jeans, Ben Sherman and John Varvatos among them. The store boasts plenty of reduced-price shoes (approximately 25,000 pairs) and handbags (2,400), meaning shoppers could spend hours exploring. Men shouldn't fret, as there’s an on-site tailor and men's department here as well.
You'd never know that H&M was founded in 1947, since this hip haven is always on the cutting edge. With clothes ranging from relaxed and rugged tees and jeans to chic dresses and suits for going to work or hitting the town, there's something for just about every sensibility. And the prices are just as appealing as the fashions.