“Underground” Target's Secret Bounty

When I was in my 20s, brunch wasn’t yet a thing like it is today; instead, my weekend girlfriends’ ritual was shopping at “underground” Target. 

Upstairs, the Warehouse District thrift store contained typical secondhand clothing and housewares. But down in the basement, all the merch was stylish and modern, not to mention new. It was a bargain-hunter’s dream: the bounteous excess of Minnesota’s benevolent cheap chic retailer—Target’s overstock, scratch-and-dent, samples, and returns—for a fraction of their already low prices. 

Since most of my friends worked in the arts, media, or nonprofits and could hardly afford “regular” Target, “underground” was a boon for stocking our wardrobes and apartments. We’d dress in a base layer of tank top and leggings (back then, there were no dressing rooms, so everyone just tried things on in the aisles), and descend, Alice-like, into the rabbit hole. 

The racks teemed with basics galore, but we gravitated toward the funkier finds: a sparkly gold belt, argyle sneakers, a whole row of Isaac Mizrahi wedding dresses, a pink-and-white seersucker suit (after deeming the combination too bold for either of us to pull off, my friend took the jacket and gave me the pants). We weren’t the only economizing fashionistas who had discovered the “secret” store; over time, my friends and I learned to wait for the most stylish shoppers to complete their selections, and then scavenged the remains of their carts.

To us, “underground” Target was a budget precursor to Rent the Runway. It allowed us to experiment with colors, cuts, or patterns we weren’t sure were flattering for a minimal financial investment. Items that didn’t work out after a few wears were simply donated back to the store. It was like borrowing from the closet of a big sister I never had. 

There’s something quintessentially Minnesotan about wanting to look good without overdoing it. In a culture founded on practical thrift, spending big on fashion smacks of frivolousness in a way it doesn’t on the coasts. We’ve been raised to expect more and pay less, even if we can afford better. 

One of my Mizrahi specials, a turquoise taffeta wrap dress with a high ruffled collar, once made it all the way to Lincoln Center. After the event, I hobnobbed with a few stylish New Yorkers, who generously complimented my frock. 

I should have just responded, “thank you,” and left it at that. But, of course, I couldn’t help myself: “It’s from Target,” I added.