By Sarah Alo
Like many women, I love shoes. But like many, I have trouble finding a pair that satisfies the quadruple whammy of shoe needs: comfort, style, affordability and—most importantly—availability. Especially for us women of substantial foot size, it’s rare that a store carries larger offerings, let alone in the sale section. But let us all rejoice: Bucktown’s new boutique Violette, 2031 North Damen, offers all that and more.
Owner Stephanie Sack says she has had a fantastic response since her opening at the end of May, in part because customers from her plus-size clothing boutique, Vive la Femme, have been pleading for shoes.
Violette only carries shoe sizes 7-12, and specifically stocks up on larger sizes. “I’ve been finding clothes that didn’t exist for nine years, so I knew I could find shoes too,” Sack says. She feigns outrage at the thought of carrying smaller sizes. “I don’t open a business to ape what others do, I open a business to set the standard.”
Over the years at Vive la Femme, Sack’s heard regular customer requests for lingerie, wedding and shoes; she found shoes to be the most democratic. “Vive is for the stylish women of size in Chicago, and Violette is for the stylish women of Chicago,” Sack declares.
One such stylish woman is Kelly Garland, who has been shopping at Vive la Femme since it opened nine years ago. “Everyone has a gift. My gift is finding good parking spots. Stephanie’s gift is dressing plus-size women. She is truly blessed,” Garland says.
Garland says that Sack is the reason she kept coming back to Vive la Femme. When she first came to the store, she was a young girl in the city looking for “fun clothes that weren’t from Lane Bryant.” Vive solved that problem. Now, she loves Violette as well. “The shoes are excellent, well-made, fit like a dream, and good for everyday,” says Garland.
“They are all reasonably priced, so you don’t feel bad. I know that when I walk in I will find something I need—possibly multiple somethings,” Garland says with a laugh.
Violette carries several designers including Gomax, Envy and Barefoot Tess. All shoes sell for $29 to $99. “They’re all cheap and cheerful,” Sack says. In addition to shoes, Violette also has jewelry starting at $26, scarves starting at $12, and purses for $32.
It helps to have an owner like Sack. She is a delight, and she knows her stuff. She’s bossy and tells you what to try on, and it pays off. The two pairs of heels she picked for me were both perfectly matched to my style. One I would not have picked up on my own, but when I tried them on they were divine.
From girlish flowery flats to studded heels, from leopard-print flats to tall espadrilles, the store offers a little bit of everything. The current concept is versatile looks “with a twist of situational whimsy,” Sack says. “I like shoes that get attention for being the perfect finish to the whole outfit.”
At her May opening event, she asked customers to pick between heels and flats and flats trounced heels, so Sack has made it a more flat-friendly store, but there are still plenty of heels to choose from in the store, and that is exactly what I did.
I trusted Sack because she has worked retail for so many years, but when she claimed the shoes were comfortable I still had my doubts. Sack had me try on a few pairs to find out for myself on the comfort level. I was shocked. The grey peep-toe wooden stacked heel that I tried on felt so good that I bought it, wore it out of the store and worked an eight-hour retail shift in them that night.
The staff at Violette runs tests on all the heels, and they only carry heels if at least one person says they’re comfortable. There are no stilettos in this store, but most women will find classic heels that will last.
At the bus stop, the woman sitting next to me told me how cute she thought my shoes were. When I told her the price and described Violette, she said that was exactly the type of place she was looking for but can never find.