kennethcole3.jpgOne of the ways I knew I’d moved to a “real” city and was no longer in a small town was the presence of high-class, boutique-type stores like Seattle’s flagship Kenneth Cole store. Boasting a prime corner spot at 5th and Pike and a longtime keystone in the heart of the city’s shopping district, it’s one of those places where you splurge on a truly great suit for something life-changing (like THE interview), or invest in something unique – and a little more “New York” – that differentiates you from the masses of Hot Topic- and Eddie Bauer-wearing Seattleites. Yes, it’s more expensive than some but there’s never a question of quality. I’ve bought a few things there over the years, when I was feeling particularly rich or just wanted to pretend to be, or when they’ve had a ridiculous sale. With every passing year, as I become more of a financially-stable, gainfully-employed grown-up, the prices seem a little less outrageous and their high-fashion attire a little more attainable. It’s been a milestone experience for me; a place I felt uncomfortable just walking into when I first moved here – unemployed and broke, unworthy of such prestigious finery – and that I’ve long assumed would be part of a celebration of my “arriving” into the upper class, the day when I finally purchased one of their fine, high-fashion suits at retail price to wear when laughing haughtily over port and aged cheeses at the country club.

As it is with things, and especially things in cities, I did not move fast enough and the opportunity has passed. Julia, Danielle and I were out for brunch Saturday morning and thought to get our exercise by wandering through some downtown stores.

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A group favorite, Kenneth Cole was on the wandering itinerary, but we were met not with spring’s trendiest shades of black, white, black and black but instead with glib signage about steep discounts and final-final sales of anything not human or permanently attached to the wall, right down to the shoe racks and the coat hangers.

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I seized my last opportunity and bought a few great dress shirts, discounted ridiculously to about $34 each (from $170) as there were several great ones left in my size, and we stood around feeling a little confused before wandering on our way, dismayed.

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Confusingly, Barney’s just expanded into a larger store only a block away, and Nordstrom is carrying more high-end brands than ever, so I don’t think Seattle’s shoppers are going downmarket – far from it, if anything. Probably just a decision made based on a line in a spreadsheet by an accountant in New York, but it’s still an unwelcome change here in Seattle and a spot in the city that I’ll miss dreaming about.