17 In Series/ Shopping Tips

The Where I Shop Series: Boutiques

Welcome back to the Where I Shop Series where I take you into my closet, show you pieces of my wardrobe, tell you where they came from and offer you shopping tips for a variety of shopping experiences. If you missed the first installment, you can catch up right here: shopping tips when you’re shopping at TJ Maxx.

Today we’re going to talk about boutique shopping. There’s a lot to love about boutiques but they can be tricky too. Let’s explore!

My early experience shopping boutiques

Shopping boutiques used to be the only way I shopped. But that was way back in the day.

What day? It was back when I was married and the kids were young.

Two things changed everything.

One: One of the pre-school moms talked me into having my colors done.

Two: A long distance friend came to visit and eagerly shared all the things she’d been learning about fashion and style from an image consultant in her hometown 500 miles away. I was fascinated.

This was between 1983 and 1988. I was a young, stay at home mom, about ten years into a marriage with three little kids and not a lot of time.

There were two boutiques in San Anselmo, my hometown, and two in downtown Mill Valley that suited my new found style perfectly.

Brenda wearing clothes from boutiques in 1984 on Brenda Kinsel website

Brenda the boutique shopper in the mid-80s wearing a coat bought in San Anselmo

I’d say I was a good boutique shopper. I shopped carefully. I added pieces to my wardrobe slowly. Store personnel had great product knowledge of their stock. (I LOVE product knowledge!)

I started growing my wardrobe with pieces I loved. It didn’t take many items to feel totally satiated. I loved having clothes that were high quality and sophisticated. I looked in the mirror and loved and respected the woman looking back at me. This was great for me it but marked the beginning of the end of my marriage.

Jackets from boutiques

Boutique shopping tips for unique clothes on Brenda Kinsel website

Scoring a great jacket from J.James in Sonoma


Tips for shopping boutiques on Brenda Kinsel website

This long crinkled jacket came from Specialtees in Layfayette

Why boutique shopping became less appealing

I chased my dream to become an image consultant and started my business in 1985. One thing I did not want my clients to experience was a panic attack about shopping for a fashion season versus picking things up here and there all season long like they used to do. What if after we shopped together they woke up the next morning wondering, “What the heck have I done?”

I wanted my clients to feel 100% confident that if they got scared they could take everything back the next day and get their money back. I started to look at boutique shopping differently.

The big glitch in shopping boutiques is their unfriendly return policy. If you purchase an item, it’s yours. Some boutiques will allow returns within a few days but only for store credit, not cash back. If you’re paying attention to a budget, it can be a big blow if you buy things in haste and then have regrets.

Tips for shopping boutiques

While boutique shopping may work well for certain people and their lifestyle, it may be prudent to lean on it as a source and not the only source. So here are some tips I have for shopping boutiques.

  1. Go in expecting no return options. Figure out in the store how this item can work into your wardrobe.
  2. Be very careful about boutique shopping with friends if you’re easily influenced by others. They can talk you into things they love on you but when you get home, you look at them and realize you’ve made a mistake. I have one client who has put a stop to making purchases while shopping with her friends because those items seldom worked out. It’s easy to get pressured in to do things you wouldn’t normally do on your own.
  3. If you’re unsure about an item, go home and sleep on it. If you wake up still thinking about it, chances are it’s safe to go and buy it knowing you’ll be happy. You could also wake up feeling totally relieved that you didn’t spend the money because you realize it really wasn’t what you needed.
  4. Boutiques can be great places to find signature pieces. I’m so very happy with the Calleen Cordero leather cuffs and handbags that I’ve purchased at Robindra Unsworth in Petaluma. I like the look and know that I wear them a lot. I can trust myself to add another piece to my wardrobe and have it work with ease.
  5. Boutiques can be good sources of novelty pieces. I’m talking unique items you don’t find on department store racks. I purchased the long blue crinkled jacket and the yellow asymmetrical one (above) at two different boutiques and get compliments on them all the time.

Jewelry from boutiques

I love bracelets, bangles and cuffs and look for them everywhere. I told you last week about the ones I found at TJ Maxx, but I am willing to buy one now and then at a boutique (and pay more) because I know it  will fit into my mix.

Unique jewelry in boutiques on Brenda Kinsel website

My passion for bracelets led me to Hutchinson Jewelry in Larkspur Landing

The source for this fringed Italian bracelet above is Hutchinson Jewelry in Larkspur Landing.


Tips for shopping jewelry boutiques on Brenda Kinsel website

I purchased my blond leather/silver cuff from Robindra Unsworth, a Petaluma boutique

In the pictures above you’ll see the two leather cuffs I mentioned by Calleen Cordero. I wear the metallic blond one a lot in the summer and the black one gets used a lot in both winter and summer.

Handbags from Boutiques

Boutique handbag shopping tips on Brenda Kinsel website

This Calleen Cordero handbag came from Robindra Unsworth Boutique in Petaluma


Boutique shopping tips on Brenda Kinsel website

This interesting woven leather bag came from Robindra Unsworth Boutique in Petaluma

Showing handbags discovered in boutiques on Brenda Kinsel website

This unique handbag was purchased in a tiny boutique in Ross, CA which no longer exists.

I’m not big on buying handbags with designer labels on them. They don’t suit my wine country living and my more relaxed style. My favorites have come from boutiques.

In closing

When I first started wearing clothes that were right for my coloring and my style, I shopped at boutiques. It was easier to shop in a small store that wasn’t packed with merchandise that distracted me. These small boutiques were well edited for my taste. Another important note is that my boutique shopping was being sponsored by my husband’s income.

Things changed: divorce, relocation, fear of turning into a bag lady, learning how to earn my own living, taking care of my family and all that. As I got into my career I got more and more style savvy.

Fashion also changed. People aren’t as loyal to single designers. We’re mixing things up much more. I like creating high-low looks: some items in an outfit may be on the expensive side while others are from discount sources. By staying true to my style, I can make things look great no matter what the price tag. I’ll shop at boutiques but with great discretion.

How do you shop these days? Do you buy things from several resources? Have you had luck at boutiques? What don’t you like about boutiques? Please share!

My current “Where I Shop” boutique sources

Calleen Cordero’s West Hollywood location on the Sunset Strip (been there, big fun!)

Robindra Unsworth in Petaluma where I’ve purchased handbags and cuffs

Hutchinson Jewelry in the Country Mart in Larkspur Landing (tiny space with lots of mouth watering jewelry pieces)

J.James in Sonoma for clothes, jewelry, scarves, bags, and small gifts

Studio Collections Jewelry in Sonoma, CA (great jewelry which has worked well for several clients and me too!)

Specialtees Boutique in Lafayette (Interesting separates, some designer jean labels, Eileen Fisher, well edited lifestyle store)

Junction Shoes in San Anselmo (European designs and great belts)



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  • Reply
    September 29, 2016 at 4:50 am

    I never shop at a place with a no cash back or store credit policy, I need to be able to take something home and see how it works with what I have.

    so a boutique purchase is very rare unless I LOVE it or it’s a great price, have always been a dept store shopper

    • Reply
      September 29, 2016 at 9:40 am

      That is the tough part: we do want to take things home and play with them to see if they’re really right. I did have one boutique let me do that–take something on approval. Unfortunately, they are no longer in business.

    • Reply
      Linda Dietzel
      March 17, 2019 at 8:52 pm

      I love scarves. Great for a pop of color, hide neck challenges , warmth or just darn pretty. I get mine at Charming Charlie’s, so economical.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2016 at 8:47 am

    I have just recently started to follow your wonderful blog. This shopping series is very enlightening. Love your style!

    • Reply
      September 29, 2016 at 9:39 am

      Thanks, Irene, and welcome!!! Glad you found the blog. There will be another installment of the shopping series next week. Again, so glad you’re here!

  • Reply
    jodie filogomo
    September 29, 2016 at 9:27 am

    I love supporting the small businesses since I was one once!
    Besides many boutiques have more unique items that no one else is wearing!!
    But just like everything in life, there are always pros & cons to each version!!
    These are some great finds you’re showing!!

    • Reply
      September 29, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Yes, Jodie, I really do like to support them as well. It seems enormously tough to be in retail! I understand why they can’t do the returns like the box stores. If a boutique really has items that support your style and lifestyle, they can be a great choice!

  • Reply
    September 30, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Brenda, I really enjoy your posts. I have been completely rebuilding my wardrobe after weight loss and finding shopping outside of the plus size section very overwhelming. For the past two years, I have been doing the bulk of my buying at thrift shops. Now that my weight has stablized, I’m ready to start investing more to build a good foundation. I’ve been finding your “Where I Shop” series very helpful!


    • Reply
      September 30, 2016 at 7:48 pm

      Love your comments. It’s always a challenge for my clients who have had weight loss to figure out how to shop for their new shape. It’s such a shift! Some of them have body dismorphia and it can take a wile to sort out. I hope you create a great foundation for yourself! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    November 29, 2016 at 1:34 am

    Just a over 70 something woman who still likes to look good.
    I really don’t need to but it feels so good to look nice. I was recently visiting South Pasadena,California and found a lovely boutique named Rue de Mimo. I felt wonderful for the first time in ages. Kind of gently sexy.
    Having wonderful things to choose from really makes a difference and you know you won’t see these things everywhere.

    • Reply
      November 29, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      This sounds like a place I’d like to visit when I’m in Southern California. I love your description of how the clothes made you feel: gently sexy. YES! Who couldn’t use some of that! Thanks for sharing your boutique success. I agree with you-it always feels good to look nice!

  • Reply
    Betty b
    September 11, 2017 at 4:24 am

    What are the shoes you’re wearing in the picture with the woven hand bag?

    • Reply
      September 11, 2017 at 6:47 pm

      They’re by Gabor.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2019 at 7:46 am

    Hi Brenda. It looks like your colouring was a warm Autumn in your earlier days. I myself am a warm strawberry blond but have blue eyes and a cool skin tone. Now your colouring is cooler with silver and grey. Could you please do a post about transitioning from our younger warm colouring to our later cool colouring as our hair greys? That would be really helpful to me and others, I think. Love your work! Lizette

    • Reply
      April 26, 2019 at 5:23 pm

      Lizette, that’s a great idea. When it started happening to me–the color change with my hair–nothing was quite right. But when I realized what was going on it was a thrill to discover a whole new color palette. You’re inspiring me, truly. I can’t wait to get started! I spent most of my life dressing in those warm colors. Okay, I’m going to stop this flood of thoughts that are coming into my head and save them for the blog post on this subject. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Reply
    August 15, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Hi Brenda. I’ve started a different type of transitioning. Now, I find myself going from speciality boutiques and department stores to vintage and consignment boutiques. While I appreciate a bargain, there’s nothing like finding a one of a kind item, especially when it fits perfectly after tailoring. When traveling I always search out these small specialty shops, especially in Europe!

  • Reply
    July 6, 2020 at 7:47 am

    I always shop at Total Look when in Sonoma visiting family. I love their look, the prices are good and really nice owner and salespeople.

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