First off, let me just say that this is a problem. It’s not that we don’t have clothes for sale – Bishkek has clothes aplenty, with clothing shops everywhere. It’s that the combination of style, price and quality may leave you feeling there’s something lacking. Low sales volume, long transport distances and trading tariffs mean that prices here are often higher than what you would pay for the same item at home (more on that in this post). Back in the states I bought a bunch of cotton camis at Forver 21 for under $2 each; here they’re carried by a boutique. It’s also not uncommon for a shop to stock just one of each item. Furthermore, local fashions can also get…interesting, as evidenced by the fetish for fluorescent green the year I arrived, and the continued ubiquity of animal print (often overlayed with fluorescent hues).
Honestly, before coming back to Bishkek, I just went to the outlets on Chicago’s State Street and stocked up on about two year’s worth of clothing (have to love $5 end-of-the-season dresses and designer swimsuits at Macy’s…because it’s not going to happen here). Having mostly supported myself through college, lived near amazing wholesale clothing bazaars in China, and then lived off a scant PhD fellowship back in the states, I’m definitely somewhat of a bargain shopper. Which makes spending $30 on a t-shirt I know is originally only $10 back in Turkey, or $100 on a pair of plastic-soled shoes something I try to avoid. Locals do the same – for the elite, shopping trips to Dubai are a fashion in themselves.
But what if you re in Bishkek and need to buy clothes? Where do you go without feeling ridiculous for dropping way to much money on a $10 T-shirt? Thankfully I have found a few places over the past two years that have decent/interesting wear at decent prices.
- The Bazaar! Actually, most clothing at the bazaar comes from the lowest end of the Chinese clothing market, but if you’re in a pinch and need a tank top or a pair of leggings, the bazaar (Osh, Orto Sai) should probably be fine. Oddly I’ve found that the bazaars have better-quality socks (imported from Korea) than anywhere else, all for 40-120 som.
- Second Hand Stores: So I’m terrified of these, but I have heard that the second hand stores all over town generally stock decent-quality stuff from Europe and South Korea. If you happen to be plus-sized and don’t fancy the shapeless unishift or crazy-patterned billowing blouses of Kyrgyz matrons, these may also be your best bet for finding clothes that fit. Because Chinese clothes are tiny – I’m about a size 4 US, and I wear a Chinese large (occasionally medium) – and most European and Turkish brands are only stocked up to a size L/XL.
- MH (Vefa Center): Not sure about their pants, but they do have decent shirts and sweaters.
- Rodi Mood (Vefa Center): I bought a sun hat and scarf at this store yesterday and was pleasantly surprised at their variety and prices (almost everything was 50% off), which is what actually prompted this post. Decent jeans, t-shirts, long sleeve shirts and accessories – in colors and styles that I would actually wear. On sale, a lot of their stuff seemed to be under 1000 som. My sunhat was 350 som – a bit higher than bazaar prices, but much better quality.
- SELA: Cheap stuff, but they have a lot of basics, and about twice a year everything in the store goes on sale at 70% off, which makes the price-to-quality ratio quite reasonable. And yes, that’s right – everything. I’ve bought a few sun dresses here for about 500 som each. I wouldn’t buy clothes when they’re not on sale. SELA also seems to have a fairly extensive selection of kids clothes.
- Bossini: (Manas/Kievskaya) Just opened, so I haven’t been there yet, but I remember from China that they have good quality, simple, colorful clothes.
- Note: most Turkish brands (Colin’s, Mavi, Kotton, LC Waikiki) are the same price in dollars here as they are in Lira back in Turkey. It’s about 2 TL to 1 USD, so…
For Dress/Office/Events (like when you’ve packed for traveling and trekking, decide to stay the summer, and are invited to a wedding…):
- InCity: Usually located adjacent to SELA (Axunbaeva/Sovietskaya, Bishkek Park 2nd Floor); quality isn’t great, but they do have fashionably cut work-appropriate blouses, skirts and dresses in classic colors. Same yearly sales apply.
- Tom Farr: Also usually adjacent to Incity and SELA, Tom Farr is like the Banana Republic of this Russian clothing trio. Classic wear with work-appropriate clothes like cardigans and dresses. I bought my favorite summer sundress here for about 1200 som – again, the twice-annual 70% off sale makes it almost a good deal.
- Tsum Boutiques: As mentioned above, most boutiques have one one of each item. But at least at Tsum you have twenty or so boutiques bunched together, so you don’t have to go running about town. Some of them do carry nice stuff imported from Spain and Italy, though it seems like everything of decent quality is 3000-5000 som (except for the sales racks, which sometimes look like they were scavenged from an 80’s Prom Night Lost and Found..)
- Mango (Bishkek Park): Not a fan of Mango (the quality isn’t all that great…), but you can usually get a decent pair of work slacks for about $20-30 (1000-1600 som). Oddly enough, the prices aren’t always higher here than in the UK.
- MeXx (Bishkek Park): A tad overpriced, but they do have Amsterdam-origined classic fashion for both men and women; apart from Mango I think it’s the only non-Turkish non-Russian chain clothing store in Bishkek?
For Men: Colin’s (Kievskaya, beside Caravan/Behind Beta 1) has casual clothes and a large selection of jeans (for both men and women, usually $20-40), as does Rodi Mood and MH in Vefa Center. I’ve seen business-casual decent stuff at Tom Farr; Kiğılı (Vefa Center) is a classic Turkish brand with dress shirts, jackets and suits with much better quality-for-price than the “Italian Boutiques” in Bishkek Park. Yesterday I was trying to find E some replacement work shirts, found a couple of decent Turkish brand dress shirts on sale at MH for 1080 some each (not bad) and saw a bunch of button-up-shirts (business casual) in really light fabric at Rodi Mood.
As always, if you have any other suggestions, questions, or hidden favorites, let me know in the comments below!