Seattleites are sometimes scorned for their fashion sense (polar fleece, sport sandals, and socks—oh my!), but as the city has grown and enough money has percolated through the ranks of retail, the city's style barometer has made a steady creep upward. Bibliophiles, foodies, wine aficionados, and design-centrists will also find plenty of shopping opportunities—Seattle is a hotbed of unique, independent shops stocking one-of-a-kind treasures.
Shopping in Seattle is something best done gradually. Don't expect to find it all in one or two days worth of blitz shopping tours. Downtown is the only area that allows for easy daylong shopping excursions. Within a few blocks along 4th and 5th avenues, you'll find the standard chains (The Gap, Urban Outfitters, H&M, Anthropologie, Sephora, Old Navy), along with Nike's flagship store, and a few more glamorous high-end stores, some featuring well-known designers like Betsey Johnson. Downtown is also where you'll find department stores like Nordstrom, Macy's and Barneys New York. Belltown and Pioneer Square are also easy areas to patrol—most stores of note are within a few blocks.
To find many of the stores that are truly special to Seattle—such as boutiques featuring handmade frocks from local designers, independent record stores run by encyclopedic-minded music geeks, cosy used-book shops that smell of paper and worn wood shelves—you'll have to branch out to Capitol Hill, Queen Anne, and northern neighborhoods like Ballard. Shopping these areas will give you a better feel for the character of the city and its quirky inhabitants, all while you score that new dress or nab gifts for your friends.
And don't forget about Seattle's culinary bounty, which includes the stalls at Pike Place Market; the flagship Sur La Table, which stocks every kitchen gadget known to man; and the city's various weekly farmers' markets, where you'll find enough locally made, artisanal offerings to fill a suitcase or two.
Malls and major national retailers keep pretty reliable hours, generally 9:30 am-9 pm; with antiques shops and independent stores, however, anything goes. Many businesses close Monday; some close Sunday as well, and others may close for one day midweek. Small boutiques rarely open before 11 am or noon and often close up shop by 5 or 6 pm. If you have your heart set on visiting a particular shop, call ahead to confirm its hours.
Seattle boasts some of the best second-hand shopping in the country. There are plenty of trendy consignment and used-clothing shops like Buffalo Exchange, and Crossroads Trading Co. on Capitol Hill and in the U-District, where each shirt and jacket has been carefully screened by the store's tastemakers; vintage shops like Red Light and the Fremont Antique Mall, where nearly every item is a one-of-a-kind find from the days of yore; and straight-up thrift shops like Goodwill and Salvation Army. If you're a fan of bargain prices and unique finds, and you enjoy the thrill of the hunt, take a chance on these shops. You never know what you might find.