Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go: Buenos Aires, Take 2

Walking around Buenos Aires

Last weekend was a holiday weekend here in Chile, and needing a bit of a break from the unforgiving sun and barren desert landscape, two friends and I hopped on a plane and travelled across the continent to beautiful Buenos Aires.

We landed in a somber, late-autumn climate – with temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s F (18-20 C) – periodic rain, mist, and a few leaves changing color and falling to the ground.

We stayed in an apartment, an experience I’d highly recommend over a hotel to anyone visiting any city for more than a few nights. For one thing, it puts you in a more residential setting and gives you a taste of what it would be like to actually live in the city. There are also better restaurants, cafes and cheaper transportation options around residential areas than there are near hotels. Our apartment was a fabulous building from the 1940s, with incredible parquet wood floors, super high ceilings, chandeliers and white wood cabinets. In other words, it had tons of character.

Cafe culture in Palermo Soho

On our first morning, we beelined to a coffee place. it was a newer cafe on one of the city’s endless historical street corners. The coffee was great (my first real cup since leaving the U.S. in March) and the cafe had a lot of character, too: they sold fresh bunches of flowers and great pastries and cookies.

So why did I go back to Buenos Aires so soon after being there only about 6 months ago? Well, to put it simply, I can’t imagine growing tired of exploring its many historic streets, cafes, and browsing its eclectic boutiques. Plus, I had a great excuse to go back: in a little over a month, I’ll be starting a master’s degree program and writing a thesis centered on a topic that has to do with Argentina. This past weekend was a great way for me to start some research and I got more done than I ever imagined. I made some amazing contacts and picked up some fantastic information.

The city is huge: it’s the second largest city in South America after São Paulo and has endless streets and neighbourhoods to explore. Although shopping was not my main focus of this trip, I took a little time on Saturday morning to visit the quaint leather district, where you can buy leather goods and furs all made in Argentina, some designed right in the shops themselves.

An antiques store in San Telmo

What I like about shopping in Argentina is that I’ve found I get very personalized attention in the little shops. I got nearly as much attention from the sales ladies selling me a leather jacket in Argentina as I did back in the U.S. buying a wedding dress a few years ago. The women helped me find the right size and then choose the right colour, and the right fit and cut. They then instructed me about how to zip it up so it would look the best, and how to tie the belt neatly and arrange the collar so it fell the right way on my shoulders. Essentially, they taught me how to put on a jacket, which you would think I might know how to do by now, but I actually felt like I was learning for the first time.

I find that so many Argentinean women have a way of putting themselves together and value style and beauty in a way that many women in the U.S. and Canada seem to have forgotten. No matter what they are wearing, they look beautiful, neat, tidy and stylish. They are not a group of women who seem to fall victim to trends; instead, they carefully choose styles that suit their own body types. They also seem to be resourceful and use what they have in their own closets: although you can find a number of shopping malls and browse the same designers you’d find on 5th Avenue in New York in Buenos Aires, I never saw men or women flashing designer labels – they weren’t even wearing designers, as far as I could tell – but they still look spectacular.

San Telmo’s Sunday morning antiques market in Plaza Dorrego

While one of my travelling companions was shopping for her leather goods, she had overheard an Argentinean woman being told by a clerk that a certain style of coat is in fashion right now. “But I make my own fashions!” The shopper had replied to the sales lady.

I was also on a mission to pick up some Rhodochrosite. This beautiful pale-pink stone, often found swirled in with other minerals in patterns reminscent of marble, is only found a few places on earth, most notably, in Argentina. It is the country’s national stone. The stone is becoming more difficult to find, as most quality pieces are being exported and made into jewelry on the international markets by companies such as Tiffany. Nonetheless, we found a wonderful and very informative seller in the San Telmo Sunday morning market. It was a delight to stare at all of the cotton candy pink stones he had on display, and we picked up a couple of the pieces as gifts for friends and family back home.

Rhodochrosite

San Telmo is known for its opulent antique shops, especially its antiques market on Sunday morning. We drooled over a few of the many icy crystal sparkling chandeliers hung in endless display in these shops, lamenting the fact that they probably wouldn’t travel well in a suitcase. I prefer shopping in the little antiques shops on the side streets near Plaza Dorrego, as I have found that most of the picturesque stands in the central plaza itself are just that: mostly for show. The crowds are less dense in the shops and markets on the side streets, and that seemed to be where most Argentineans were doing their shopping as well.

There is one thing I’d also recommend seeing in San Telmo on Sundays: some very talented painters can be found displaying their works just off of the central plaza. One of my friends picked up two small still life oil paintings, and I was mesmerized by one artists’ work in particular. Argentinean painter Juan Daniel Habegger had a display of breathtaking landscapes of the Argentinean countryside at different times of day. The vibrant reds and oranges in one picture of a sunset over the pampas caught my eye. I couldn’t think of a better souvenir than one of his landscape paintings of the lovely Argentinean countryside.

Painting by Juan Daniel Habegger, c. 2012 Buenos Aires

We finished our weekend shopping in the trendy Palermo Soho district. On the weekends in Plaza Serrano, artisans set up stands with funky jewelry and artwork. The friendly vendors sipped mate tea (the subject of a future blog post) while we browsed the bohemian wares. We enjoyed walking up and down Honduras street and oogling at the colourful and totally creative window displays of the shops. Many Argentinean designers and small designers’ co-ops set up shop in this area, so if you want to buy real, made-in-Argentina fashions, this  is the best place I’ve found so far. We could have spent a whole day or two just in this area, but unfortunately only had about three hours, not nearly enough time to see everything! We also ate two great meals in this area, which I will blog about soon.

I’ve shopped in Paris, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto and Montreal, and by far my absolute favourite city to shop is Buenos Aires. I was telling this to a woman about my age working at a shop in Palermo Soho who had never visited Paris or New York. She couldn’t believe me when I told her this. I think I enjoy it so much because of the diversity and creativity of the items that can be found: handcrafted, handmade, original and unique apparel, housewares, accessories and other goods are in more plentiful supply and more accessible to the average shopper in Buenos Aires, compared to the mass-produced goods slapped with a designer label and a high price tag in the U.S. or Europe. Not to mention, the fabulously-dressed Argentinean men and women are inspiring, to say the least, to watch while you’re contemplating how to improve your wardrobe.

The streets of San Telmo

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