The Guild Shop
Perhaps you've always craved a sterling silver tea set, or a vintage rhinestone brooch or a velvet couch. From the sublimely beautiful to the ridiculously tacky, the Guild Shop has it all -- and at great prices. Because parishioners at the upscale St. John the Divine Church donate their often valuable castoffs to this church-sponsored resale shop, fancy but outdated designer clothes, jewelry and sterling abound. Watch prices fall with monthly markdowns, but beware: Antiques dealers regularly scout for bargains and swoop down when prices drop. The mostly elderly volunteers are sweet if a little slow; patience in the checkout line is a must.

The Way We Wore
Tucked just a few blocks away from the main vintage clothing drag on Westheimer is Houston's best-kept resale secret, The Way We Wore. Its locale, an old Montrose home, gives the place heaps of character. And inside you'll find a resale shopper's dream -- the place is chock-full of high-quality outfits from the days when your grandmother still liked to party. To help keep the decades straight, owner Pam Nunnally has sorted her goodies into the Martini Room, the Love Room and the '70s Disco Room, so you'll know where to go whether you're in search of that perfect cocktail dress or a pair of swinging bell-bottoms. If you're the type who wants to dress up old-school only once in a while, The Way We Wore also rents outfits, so you'll be a one-of-a-kind at any prom or costume party. But the best thing about The Way We Wore, and the thing that's lacking from those giants on Westheimer, is the personal attention you'll get from Nunnally, who has a great eye for picking out the perfect outfit for any figure.
There are two different types of shoppers. There are people who shop because there are things that they need; for instance, they need a pair of khaki pants to go with their boring white button-down shirt. Then there are people who shop for the thrill, the joy, the adventure, the hunt. If you're a can-you-get-this-in-my-size kind of shopper, this is not the store for you. But if you like Easter egg hunts, come on in for a huge selection of brand-new dirt-cheap shoes. Phil's is a big depressing warehouse-style space that looks like it might be filled with lots of depressing no-name shoes. But at this clearance store for Rack Room Shoes, there's buried treasure: stylish Nine West boots, wicked-cool BCBG heels and super-comfy Aerosoles. (Be careful, though. Some of the shoes are knock-offs with sneaky names; on first glance, Jammin' New York looks like Jones New York.) And it seems that Phil is always sweetening the pot: First the sale will be half off the lowest clearance price. Then, he'll add a third pair of shoes for a penny. On our most recent trip, the sign said 80 percent off the lowest price. God bless Phil, whoever he is.

Urban Outfitters
You can create a truly interesting wardrobe created without a huge expenditure -- if you have the time to sift through thrift stores, garage sales, discount shops like T.J. Maxx or Loehmann's and sales at fancy stores. But sometimes there's just no time to mess around -- for example, when you realize you hate every single item in your closet two hours before a date. Race to good old Urban Outfitters. That store does your thinking for you; just call it quirkiness in a bottle. You'll find funky accessories and clothes with a punk edge, but, of course, you'll have to pay a little more for them. And keep in mind that you might bump into someone wearing the exact same off-the-shoulder, black-and-white-striped top decorated with red sequins. In other words, dressed head to toe in Urban gear, you risk getting busted by the authenticity police. But chances are, you'll look damn cool.

Nordstrom Cafe Bistro
Just when you thought the days of helpful salesclerks and expansive racks of interesting goodies were gone to all but the very rich, Nordstrom department store moves into town to save the day. Not only do they have astonishingly kind clerks, great merchandise (some of which is actually "affordable," as one saleslady so delicately put it), and one of the best shoe selections in the city, but they've also got a live piano player calmly tickling the ivories during store hours (no raging rap or blaring boy bands, thank you very much). Shopping's never felt so good.
They have their own label of bottled water. Need we say more? This swanky shop sports Betsey Johnson frocks and darling sequined Ts along with retro Gigi dresses that work from day to evening and Charles Chang-Lima separates made of wonderful fabric. It's the perfect place to nab a little cocktail dress that you won't see yourself coming and going in.

Sloan-Hall
The only thread that connects the various and sundry goods at Sloan/Hall is taste. Very good taste. Owners Marcus Sloan and Shannon Hall seem to stock their store not with what they think their customers might want but with what they themselves like. The result is a smorgasbord of interesting (and expensive) items like Comme des Garçons fragrances, Mariage Frères teas, TASCHEN books, Marie-Papier stationery, Lomo cameras, Lucien Pellat-Finet cashmere Ts and, of course, Prada shoes. It's one-stop gift shopping for the people who already have everything.

This place is so mod, it could make Andy Warhol's blond-wigged head explode. Those with an eye for design, retro-chic and clean lines (and a mother of an expense account) will likely climax here. Fortunately there are plenty of groovy chairs to relax in afterward, like Gaetano Pesce's line of whimsical yet functional translucent rubbery molded plastic furniture. Lovers of minimalist Japanese designs will find all sorts of elegant wooden creations for the home. Even the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston approves of the furnishings here, having placed the totally clear plastic "ghost chair" from Kartell within its walls.

One of the largest family-owned and -run antiques stores in town, Brownstone has more than 14,000 square feet of floor space cram-packed with treasures. The expansive space is so full of wonderful finds, it's advisable to visit several times before making your final selection; you might overlook the perfect sideboard on the first trip. Whether it's a pair of distinguished sconces or an eccentric console adorned with trendsetting, curly-tailed monkeys, it's at Brownstone Gallery. After shopping, you can refortify at the next-door restaurant of the same name and ownership.
Book collector Jim Taylor opened this field of literary dreams in Rice Village 13 years ago with several thousand of his own books. In February, he moved to his current location, a quaint former fire station with stained concrete floors and a classy, minimalist decor. Taylor specializes in leather-bound books and modern first editions from heavy-hitters like Hemingway, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald. He's also got autographed copies for the serious investor -- A Farewell to Arms with Hemingway's John Hancock runs $24,000. You can get lost for hours amid the simple wooden shelves filled with vintage children's books, Civil War volumes, and even pop favorites like King and Ludlum. Taylor also prides himself on his collection of 4,000 toy soldiers. Chances are, you'll have more fun in this tiny space than in five billion square feet of Barnes & Noble.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of