By Ambar Espinoza and Shengul Bajrami, University HS
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Have you ever been to those stores where everything’s so pretty but you can’t afford anything? So you just try stuff on until you get kicked out?

(Ambar: That’s Shaggy, not me. I get out before they kick me out. )

Well, guess what. There’s an alternative to those "a little too rich for my blood" stores, the wannabe millionaire boutiques.
As they say in the song, "When you are down and your head’s spinning around, you can always go—DOWNTOWN!"

The downtown fashion district is a great place for accessories, clothes, even pets. You’ll find the same things you see in expensive stores, only this time you can actually buy it. But you have to be patient. You have to look. Carefully.

(Ambar: The first time I went, I couldn’t find anything. I saw clothes that looked nice on the mannequins, but once you got close, there was something about it that made me not want to buy it. I didn’t know if the quality was trustworthy. But the second time I went, my tour guide Shaggy (aka Shengul) took me to these great places where I found things that reminded me of Rampage and Contempo, all at affordable prices.)

Santee Alley is really crowded and loud and there’s music playing all the time. Some guy will be standing on the corner selling little bags of papaya strips, cucumbers, and Central-American fruits like jocotes and nances. It’s a melting pot of all races. The streets are filled with people selling fruits and icees under umbrellas, the streets are narrow and crowded with so many things to choose and buy from. You’ll hear a guy yelling, "Come inside! Take a look! And show me the money!" The whole scene is hectic, but that’s what makes it so much fun.

(Ambar: It’s just like El Salvador.)

Here are some of the clothes you’ll find: triangular tops that you tie in the back, knee-length skirts that have a triangular bottom, pants hemmed with pretty Islamic patterned cloth, clothes made of wrinkly cloth that looks like tissue paper.

(Shaggy: My favorite store was Shiba. I felt like I had stepped into the Middle East. They had beautiful beaded headdresses, something an Egyptian princess would wear. I bought a triangular shawl that I can wear as a top, a skirt, a headdress or a scarf. I can make 20 different outfits with a $35 shawl. It’s so pretty. I love it.

I bought an outfit at Julianna with a pink paisley design and cute ruffle trimming. Unfortunately, the store doesn’t allow customers to try things on, and I bought the wrong size, so I had to go back to exchange it. Also, it’s a little racier than I’d like—it ties in the back, which means I can’t wear a bra.

It looked so cute.

Well, I’m very shy and if I had seen the back I wouldn’t have bought it.)

Buying in bulk works to your advantage, especially if you and your friends want to match bracelets or something. For example, jewelry for guys is cheaper if you buy in bulk. We saw a store called Mika, across the street from Julianna, where everything was $4.99. Next to it was a store called Extra Trading with headscarves for $2 each or $12 for a dozen (like those scarves in Contempo). We saw bracelets and necklaces that sophomores at our school sell for $3 a piece and they were a $1 each and $4 for a dozen. Some people buy multiples and then sell them to friends. For example, you could buy 10 bracelets for $2, sell each one for $3 and make $28 profit.

If you’re looking for a prom dress, try looking into Julianna, Cinderella, and Vogue, near the intersection of Santee Street and Olympic. (Be careful—Santee Street is not the same as Santee Alley.) If you’re looking for a bathing suit for the summer, try looking at Ocean Blue, near the intersection of Santee St. and Main, where you can find hundreds of different styles of swimwear. If you’re looking for casual clothing, try Anil Apparel, on Olympic near the intersection of Santee St.

In the pet department (generally in the alley or along the streets under an umbrella) we saw turtles for $5, parakeets for $15 and a very cute puppy for $200.

But buyer beware, Santee Alley is also known as bootleg central. You can see strange brand names like Adiaas jackets and Air Nicky jackets and Timmy Hilfiger. Before you buy anything, make sure it’s really what you want. Make sure the quality is good.

If you go …

• Start your journey at the intersection of Olympic and Santee Street (next to Santee Alley). Parking fees range from $3 to $7.
• Check the stuff out before you buy—does it seem well-made? Is it a bootlegged brand? Is it the right size?
• You’re gonna have to walk a lot, so wear comfy shoes.
• Get ready to bargain, although some places have fixed prices.
• For more info, see the Web site at
• Take a free trolley ride around the fashion district on the last Saturday of each month. For info call (213) 488-1153.