As a young girl, I assumed that boutique shopping was a high-brow experience that required deep pockets. Boutiques were for a particular type of woman; a confident shopper that was self-assured of her own style and who enjoyed the intimacy that comes with shopping in boutiques.
I remember shadowing my mother as she slogged through her favourite shops; pushing out elbows and dodging buggies on her way to the dressing room, me in-toe close behind her. On more than one occasion I remember throwing tantrums because of tired legs and hot, close environments. Truthfully, it often happens to me today, too.
As a teen, I was a high-street devotee. My wardrobe regularly paid homage to Topshop, Mango and Zara. Now that I’m (slightly) older and have developed and refined my personal taste somewhat (not to mention I have more disposable income), I wanted a shopping experience that reflects that.
I’ve come to realise that what I had assumed about boutique shopping isn’t necessarily true, and this was obvious to me during my first boutique experience just last year. I was welcomed, invited in and even offered a glass of champagne while I browsed.
The attention to detail was evident in every nook and cranny of the busy city centre boutique; dainty ornaments hung delicately from shelves. I could see all the garb hanging clearly on rails and there was no panic or mad rush for changing rooms. It was perfectly calm and cool.
The staff seemed familiar, though I put this down to their friendly manner. The store owner – a fabulously stylish and colourful woman – was chatting and laughing with me and other customers, as though we were friends, not strangers. Yes, it’s cliché, but they made me feel extra special for the entire time I was there.
Today’s boutiques offer a shopping 'journey', not just the end prize. Shop owners, buyers and staff take the full experience into consideration so that women like me feel welcomed and wanted, but never pressured to buy.
For me, the quality and craftsmanship of the garments are what sets boutiques apart from high-street stores. Though the cost of boutique buys is sometimes higher than high-street, I’m investing in something that will withstand fast-fashion trends. And, often, each piece is bespoke to me; which is important to me.
I enjoy the luxury of meeting designers face-to-face; talking about their processes and thoughts behind the piece. And it truly is a luxury to be able to do that with the incredible pool of talented designers here.
Some of my most precious boutique buys include a vintage silk scarf from a dainty little boutique out west somewhere, vintage-inspired clasp earrings I spotted in a sparkling boutique window in Dublin and, most recently, the latest must-have pair of Nike trainers (in a beautiful blush pink) from a newer, street-savvy boutique.
The thing is, bricks-and-mortar boutiques will continue to downsize as e-commerce gains even more momentum and popularity; this is a given. When an animal becomes extinct, the whole food chain is affected. Similarly, when an independent boutique closes, cities and towns across the country will lose more than just a retail space.
Neither our high streets nor our wardrobes would be as beautiful or as interesting if it wasn't for the kind of independent boutiques we're championing with the IMAGE Boutique Awards. If you’re tired of shoulder-bashing, sifting through someone’s leftovers to find your size and can’t hack the anxiety of standing in a queue inside an overly heated shop, then try some of these independent boutiques on for size.