ShoppignMonkey Business Images/ShutterstockChicago, the third largest city in the United States, has been called “Paris on the Prairie” in reference to its wide boulevards, abundance of green space, and proximity to water. Lakeview, the area referred to as Boystown has been the heart of Chicago’s thriving LGBT community since the 1970s, and is contained within a triangle created by Broadway and Belmont Avenues, and Halsted Street. The Center on Halsted is one of the world’s best gay community centres with a wealth of information accessible to all. A second more subdued gay area is located a few miles from downtown in Andersonville, a district that stretches into Edgewater and includes many gay bars, restaurants, and funky shops.

The city has long been a premier shopping and fashion destination, with major department stores and chic designer boutiques. And, no trip to Chicago would not be complete without a stroll along the Magnificent Mile, the main shopping thoroughfare on Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Lake Shore Drive. Here is where you find all the big name department stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, as well as specialty shops, designer boutiques, and one-of-a-kind finds.

On nearby Oak Street in the Gold Coast neighbourhood, luxurious apparel from the fashion capitals of Paris, Milan, Chicago and New York, offer high quality names like Prada, Tory Burch, Kate Spade and Nicole Miller. State Street in the heart of the Loop is where Marshall Field’s began business more than 150 years ago, and this iconic National Historic Landmark building is now home to Macy’s, the second largest department store in the world with 12 floors of finds. The Bucktown and Wicker Park neighbourhoods, both off North Milwaukee Avenue, also have a pocket of exquisite boutiques.

Division Street and the Southport/Lakeview Corridor along Clark Street, Belmont Avenue and Broadway are home to specialty shops that carry the work of independent and Chicago-based designers. Lincoln Park is a contemporary urban neighbourhood with both local boutiques and well-known retailers.  Most shops are located along Lincoln Avenue, Clark Street, Armitage Avenue and Halsted Street. In recent years, cutting-edge national stores like Anthropologie, Marc Jacobs and Cynthia Rowley have opened shops in these neighbourhoods.

Beyond the mainstream and designer name shopping opportunities that exist, there’s also more affordable alternative type shops scattered throughout the city as well. With an exemplary array of collections from around the world, the Avalon Park boutique Essential Elements-Chicago, offers comfortable and hip accessories and clothing. They are passionate about fashion, and pride themselves on finding ways to make their items affordable for all.

The very gay Halsted Street area has its own unique collection of shopping haunts for those seeking anything from elaborate costumes or club clothes, to sex toys and leather gear. Beatnix carries a wide selection of leather chaps, wigs, masks, feather boas, body-length rhinestone accessories, and much more. Cupid’s is a sex-friendly boutique with a wide selection of leather, rubber, sex toys and love potions, while Egoist Underwear keeps things sexy down below. The cleverly named Gay Mart is a series of rooms offering all things pink and glittery, including rainbow gifts, cards, jewelry, t-shirts, calendars, music, comic book action figures and fun toys. For those needing an even greater leather fix, Leather Sport is an erotic treasure chest of bondage gear, fetish devices, kinky videos and enough accessories to stimulate more than your mind.

Fashion Focus ChicagoFurther uptown on Clark Street is where Brown Elephant Resale can be found, providing second-hand bargain hunters a treasure chest of goodies, with proceeds benefiting AIDS/HIV support organizations. As well Brownstone Antiques and Collectibles is another great shop for finding that one-of-a-kind item that completes your household requirements. His Stuff has a location on Clark as well as Broadway, with stylishly distinctive clothing and accessories for guys who want to impress. Leather 6410 or Mephisto Leathers is where you can grab your leather and fetish gear while in the area.

Broadway also has a few gems worth exploring, such as CRAM Fashion, with a large selection of men’s and women’s clothing and accessories from American and European designers. Universal Gear brings out the inner jock with a sleek selection of outdoor accessories, swimsuits and stylish active wear. Music lovers should plug into Borderline Music for all the latest dance remixes and indie rock tracks. Book aficionados can’t miss the gay-owned and operated Unabridged Books, where the extensive collection of popular and hard to find gay reads can be found.

Shopaholics should make note of Fashion Focus Chicago, a city-sponsored fashion week held in October that showcases more than 100 local designers through runway shows, shopping experiences and various public and industry-only events.

More info – www.bestgaychicago.com; www.choosechicago.org

SilksTAT5 More Hot Spots
• New York, USA: Designer and exclusive finds are found on 5th Ave and Madison Ave, while trendier and one-of-a-kind finds are throughout neighbourhoods like Soho, Chelsea, The Village and Hell’s Kitchen.
• Bangkok: It’s all about the outdoor markets, unless you make your way to one of the more Western shopping malls like MBK, Central World, or The Emporium. Silks are always a worthy purchase.
• Toronto: Yorkville is where designer labels and name-brand fashions can be found, Queen West is the home of hipsters, and unique cultural shopping can be found in Little India or Greektown.
• London: Each neighbourhood offers a smorgasbord of delights, found along such world-known names as Oxford, Regent and Carnaby Streets. As well, Piccadilly, Camden Town, King’s Road and Covent Garden offer truly alternative attire.

• Paris: The Champs Elysees is admired for its beauty and haute-couture at luxury specialty shops, with designers like Cartier and Vuitton.

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