Here’s a sign of the times: type ‘Why is Argentina so…’ into Google and one of the auto-complete options it offers is ‘expensive’.
It’s the question on everyone’s lips, and one we can’t really answer in a short blog post, so let’s just stick to the basic facts: soaring inflation has left the prices of 2002 far behind.
Combine this with heavy-handed import restrictions and you’re left with a situation where run-of-the mill, high-street stores now charge hundreds upon hundreds of pesos for a shirt of dubious quality.
Perhaps a more testing question for Google could be: “With average wages in Argentina not allowing for this sort of extravagance, how come people in BA still look so good?”
The answer is that Argentinians – who have lived through economic crisis before – know how to adapt and somehow always manages to get around the sort of barriers that flummox foreigners.
Photo courtesy of Portobello Vintage Boutique.
Here are The Real Argentina’s tips for following in their trend-setting footsteps when shopping in Buenos Aires.
Hunting for Bargains
Try a pop-up shop or feria
Inflated rental costs are prompting many designers to open short-term shops to show off their wares, thus passing the savings on to customers. The whereabouts of pop-ups are shared through word of mouth, so keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter, or simply look out for signs pointing down side streets. The key words are ‘feria americana’, which is a rough translation of garage sale, although goods are not necessarily second-hand. Clothes swaps among friends are also increasingly popular. If you live in BA, why not kick one off in your own circle?
Get the lowdown on a Buenos Aires shopping tour
If you’re new to the city, the shortcut to shopping success is to hit the street alongside someone with insider knowledge. Getting a personal shopper in other parts of the world is a luxury few can afford, but in BA it is still a possibility. Designer Elizabeth Gleeson, who runs her own label Ursa and is launching her own pop-up next month, offers bespoke tours. Or try Anglo-Argentine fashion lover Vanessa Bell, who specialises in the luxury market but can also help those on tighter budgets gain access to some little-known hot spots.
The vintage shopping scene in Buenos Aires isn’t as developed as in some other countries, but this can be seen as a huge advantage. There are a wealth of great pieces floating around the city, which date back to the country’s richer years and often turn up at street fairs with little fanfare. “The vintage scene in Buenos Aires is dreamworthy, you just have to know where to go,” says Bell. “In London, every stone has been unturned already, but here you can still pick up Pucci from the 60s and 70s at a market, or find someone walking into a vintage shop to sell their grandmother’s Dior coat.” Among the best-loved treasure troves are Portobello Vintage and Juan Perez. See also Bimba Ropa Vintage, which isn’t cheap but, for the quality, it’s better value than US or European equivalents.
Photo courtesy of Bimba Ropa Vintage.
Buy direct from a designer’s showroom or studio
Going straight to the source: this is BA’s fastest growing trend. Dotted around town, these workshops and showrooms are often accessed by appointment only or have limited opening hours, so your trip requires more planning than usual. “But your efforts will be rewarded,” says Gleeson. “Studio openings allow designers to keep their prices reasonable and their designs in limited editions, or handmade, which isn’t normally possible in the mass market. Plus it’s a far more interesting consumer experience.” Note that this isn’t a dirt-cheap way to shop (for that, try Flores).
If you don’t mind treating yourself, or fancy a stylish souvenir from your time in Buenos Aires, then these are some great places to find original outfits and accessories:
Get your clothes fixed or customised
When something breaks in Argentina, it doesn’t head straight to the bin. Everything – from computers to clothes – gets a repair job. You don’t have to be a dab hand with a sewing machine yourself; just seek out your local costurera or modista (dressmaker). Think about getting vintage clothes or cheap off-the-peg items customised here too. As an added bonus, you are also supporting a small, local business.
Costurera; photo courtesy of Osvaldo Gon.
Shopping Deals in Buenos Aires
“Buying fashion online is fairly new in Buenos Aires, and perhaps destined for failure due to unreliable postal service and convoluted online payment systems,” says Gleeson. Yet it is certainly an area to watch. Some vendors will get round these difficulties by allowing you to come round to their premises to pay in cash. Etsy has an Argentinian arm, which can be a good way to come across new names and very small-scale operations.
Skip the Villa Crespo outlets
The Villa Crespo neighbourhood is marketed for its outlet stores, but these days it seems to be where high-street chains off load their end-of-season ranges with very little reduction and the streets are mainly filled with Brazilians relieving their overflowing wallets. You’ll also end up spending more than you bargained for because of all the tempting pit stops: Malvón, Café Crespin etc. Don’t skip Villa Crespo or its lovely cafes altogether, but don’t go expecting to save a fortune at its shopping outlets. You might, however, want to try Calle Murillo for leathers.
Do you have any other insider tips for shopping on a budget in Buenos Aires? Where else do you go hunting for bargains in Argentina? Let us know in the comments below.
(Cover photo courtesy of Portobello Vintage Boutique.)
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