Even though it hadn't opened for business yet, Morgan Kaufman was excited to discover Parc Boutique under construction while she was shopping in northeast Minneapolis. Impressed by the setting -- a crystal chandelier, green and blue walls with dark wood fixtures and a Vespa scooter on a picnic table -- Kaufman, who lives in Maple Grove, came back to the store after it opened, with boyfriend Peter Trinh in tow.
There, he got a pleasant surprise. "I dragged him in," Kaufman said. "And they had guys' clothes. Look, there's something for you, too!"
Trinh was not, for a change, stuck in the boyfriend chair. Kaufman bought a black dress and Trinh picked out a few T-shirts. "It's the first place we've gone where we've both bought something," he said. They made a successful return trip, as well.
The line between the sexes has blurred -- at least when it comes to shopping. Parc and Covered's new Uptown Minneapolis location are offering premium denim jeans and tops to wear with them for both men and women.
The stores are a couple of new options in the Twin Cities, joining veteran men's-and-women's shops Len Druskin, Q and In Toto.
Parc's owner, Thao Bui, is a University of Minnesota graduate who lived on the West Coast and worked at Gap's corporate headquarters before returning to the Twin Cities last year. She opened her boutique in mid-May.
Bui's vision for the store always included both men's and women's clothes. "I'm in a relationship, and my partner and I both love shopping," she said. "Boutiques here are mostly women's, but we like to try stuff on and come back and show each other," she said. Her initial mix is 80 percent women's and 20 percent men's.
When Stacy Larson, owner of Covered, signed a lease for her second location, she took advantage of the fact that it was more than twice the size of her original 600-square-foot Dinkytown shop. "I couldn't put men's in that store," she said.
Her new, more spacious shop is stocked with 30 percent men's clothing; Larson would like to bump that to 40 percent eventually.
Covered's second location is designed to have a gender-free feel. The white walls and dark brown accents act as a blank, albeit very well-lit, canvas to the premium denim (the average price is $220 for men's and women's jeans) and colorful tops, dresses, scarves and accessories. A conversation-piece Foosball table appeals to both sexes.
"It has been a big hit," Larson said. "Sometimes the ladies get into it and if a guy looks bored, I'll say, 'Hey, want to play foosball?'"
Both boutiques have some seating, to accommodate guys who don't want to shop or don't fit into the limited sizes available in premium denim. Covered stays open until 9 p.m. most nights (in summer) for the social browsers who are dining or going to movies in the area. On a recent Saturday evening, most of the males who wandered in with women sat in a chair. One guy requested a footstool.
Even if they are shopping for themselves, guys often opt to sit. According to Bui and Larson, many men have a grab-and-go approach to making purchases. That includes Trinh.
"I'm not a big tryer-on type of person. I never do," he said.
Often, a female shopper will purchase something for her significant other.
Thao intentionally placed the men's section near the dressing room, so guys waiting for their girlfriends to emerge from behind the curtain might browse.
Another gender difference: "Guys are really picky. Girls will try on something they're not sure about, but if a guy doesn't like the embroidery on the pocket, he won't pick it up," Larson said.
There are advantages to going coed. Linda Tuncay, an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago, has extensively studied how men shop, particularly Gen Xers, now ages 32 to 42, in urban settings. She thinks that mixing men's and women's merchandise is a good idea.
"Men rely on women so much when they're shopping," she said. "Whether it's a significant other or a female friend, they'll go to them for advice or assistance."
Larson has seen this behavior in action. "If the guy is with his chick and she's shopping, too -- he's in her dressing room, right away, asking, 'Do you like them?' When couples come in, he won't necessarily start shopping right away -- she has to prod him a little bit," she said.
That said, Larson has been impressed with her male customers' product knowledge. "They'll come in and say, 'I was just at Lisa Kline in L.A. ...'" she said. "I'm getting interesting requests for different independent lines that I wouldn't think anyone in Minneapolis would care about."