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Gala Season Shopping: Where to go for the perfect party dress

One of the most common questions I get right around this time—the calm before the gala season storm—is “Where should I go shopping in San Francisco for a party dress?” And with all the back-to-back events that hit in September and October, the ladies are typically looking to avoid the horror of all fashion horrors: the dreaded McFrock that shows up all over town on every other gal the same night. Other than the usual department store suspects, where else can you shop on short notice for that next formal affair? Here are a few of my favorite boutiques around town, where you’re guaranteed to find vintage originals, hard-to-find international imports or small runs-of-the-moment dresses.


Acrimony: Shop owner Jenny Chung has a distaste for the mundane (hence, the name of her store) and thus stocks her new gallery-boutique with only a handful of handpicked pieces from designers out of New York, Europe and Asia. For a look that’s super hippie chic, check out Stretsis’ digitally printed dresses from the fall ‘08 collection.

The Firm
: If you're on the slightly more casual side of girlie girl, stop by this off-the-beaten-path shop for pretty, printed frocks by Ella Moss, Amanda Uprichard, Rachel Pally and Yumi Kim.

Elizabeth Charles: Flirty and feminine dresses reign supreme at this Fillmore spot, where owner Elizabeth Charles brings back the latest every season from her travels to Australia and New Zealand. Look for rare finds from Karen Walker, Akira and Richard Nicoll.

House of Hengst: I’m loving this San Francisco label’s gorgeous, body-skimming silhouettes for fall in deep jewel tones and, of course, classic black in such unusual fabrics as neoprene (seriously!) and ultra-suede.

Torso Vintages
: This is the place to go if money is no object and you’re in search of something truly original. Ask owners John Hadeed and David Gorski to pick out their favorite vintage couture piece in your size (they might even unearth a gorgeous gown no one has yet seen from their overflowing basement) or shop from their own line of reconstructed vintage.