Eighteenth-century residents of the Virginia colony might have traveled to commercial ports like Georgetown or Alexandria to pick up powdered wigs and silks for the dressmaker. But these days, the fashion-minded find everything from haute eveningwear to riding gear in the bustling exurbs of Northern Virginia.
Today Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties claim retail bragging rights that would make the founding fathers—or at least their fashionable wives—proud. Oakton and Great Falls (both in Fairfax County) rank among the top 10 cities for per-capita spending in the country. Two of the area’s malls are among the largest in the U.S.: McLean’s Tysons Corner Center (with 2.2 million square feet and featuring stores like Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Banana Republic) and Woodbridge’s bargain bazaar Potomac Mills (with outlets of big names like Neiman Marcus).
“Virginia used to be about the hunt-country, preppy look, but now it’s as sophisticated here as it is in New York or D.C.,” says Marilyn Bigelow of Tully Rector, a boutique (with Milly frocks, J Brand jeans and yep, a race-day hat or two) that for nearly 25 years has drawn well-heeled—or, sometimes, well-booted—women to Middleburg.
Rolling hills, thriving vineyards and charming historic towns (Leesburg, Middleburg, Purcellville) make this farmland-meets-the-future county ripe for both shopping and adventuring.
Boutiques range from Tully Rector, with its savvy mix of sportswear (skinny jeans, fitted Rag & Bone jackets), to Leesburg’s girly Madisonbelle, which fills an old plank-floored house with Michael Stars tees and boho Free People dresses. Leesburg’s brick sidewalks also lead to other women’s clothing sources: Lilly Pulitzer dealer Persnickety Palm, jewelry and dress haven Sugar Magnolia and accessory and clothing souk Lou Lou, where merch includes printed scarves and bold turquoise rings.
For the most part, however, “In this area, women like classic, simple looks for weekends,” says Northern Virginia personal shopper Cathy Phillips (stylespeaks.com). She identifies the county’s retail/bargain powerhouse Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets as one of her favorite stops. “They’ve got outlets for Theory, which is great for basics like pants and shirts, while the Barneys New York Warehouse and Saks Off Fifth also have nice finds.” The mall, with its open-air colonnades, holds the discount dens for J. Crew, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Elie Tahari.
Prince William County
“When Virginia women go to work, they want to look stylish and put together but not too trendy,” says Phillips. This often means “investment pieces”—dresses, jackets—from department stores or specialized boutiques. “But outlets can enrich your career wardrobe,” says stylist Rosana Vollmerhausen of DCstylefactory.com. “They can be great for work dresses or accessories.”
With 300,000 square feet and 200-plus stores, Potomac Mills is one of America’s largest bargain-hunting grounds, so consider pinpointing which stores to visit before even hitting the mammoth, usually packed parking lot. Department store outlets include Nordstrom Rack, Bloomingdale’s Outlet and a spacious, bright Neiman Marcus Last Call with finds like silk blouses for $150, down from $450, and office-elegant Louboutin pumps for $250, retail $600.
“J. Crew and Talbots, which have outlets there, can be really good for work skirts and jackets,” says Phillips. Another source: a DKNY Company Store, which, on a recent browse, yielded a crisp white blouse for only $15.
Sure, Manhattan has the mega flagships of Fifth Avenue and the boutiques of Nolita, but the Big-shopping Apple’s got nothing on retail destination Fairfax County when it comes to the array of stores and the options from sportswear to eveningwear. Tysons Corner, now accessible via Metrorail, has two mega-malls with enough cocktail frocks, satin shoes and sparkling jewelry to outfit several inaugural balls.
The larger of the two, Tysons Corner Center holds more than 300 shops, including department stores Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s. “I always take clients to Bloomingdale’s first if we’re shopping for an evening event,” says Vollmerhausen. Here she and her clients find sweeping, sequined ballgowns by Badgley Mischka, 1980s-retro printed cocktail frocks by Diane von Furstenberg as well as after-five shoes and bags. At nearby Nordstrom, well-stocked petites and women’s sections offer more options for putting on the glitz. This complex also holds paint-the-town-red friendly smaller stores, including Swarovski (dazzling bijoux) and Banana Republic (well-priced cocktail dresses).
But for luxe looks, high-end Tysons Galleria might prove a choice spot. The glassy three-level space—just across from Tysons Corner Center—shelters big names like Versace (sleek dresses), Tory Burch (printed evening shoes) and Bottega Veneta (Italian handbags). Macy’s here offers a well-stocked, well-staffed evening section for gowns and separates by names like Donna Karan, Aidan, Laundry and Sue Wong. Accessory vendors also shine: Anthropologie for haute hippie heels, Michael Kors for blingy bags, Liljenquist & Beckstead for sparkling jewels and watches.
Stylish jetsetters recognize the importance of shopping options close to an actual runway. Back in Loudoun County, near Dulles International Airport, Dulles Town Center mall outfits Cinderellas with the help of a Macy’s and a Lord & Taylor, and Fink’s Jewelers proves a powerhouse for sparklers like Mikimoto pearls and Roberto Coin rosegold bangles. Between vineyard visits, business meetings and swanky nights out, who knows? A fashionista might need to hop a plane to meet a prince.