Before their first date in 1989, Jill Card asked her now-husband Richard what she should wear.
“Just wear jeans and a cute top,” he said.
Today that pithy advice adorns the signs atop womens wear boutiques in Hinsdale and St. Charles (with a third location opening soon in Wheaton).
Like many small business owners, Card’s journey to opening fashion spots in the Western Suburbs was serendipitous. When the youngest of her two children started kindergarten, she needed an outlet, so she applied for a job working the floor at Ann Taylor in Wheaton.
“I had worked out with my friends the day of the interview and got a little dressed up,” says Card. “They were wondering what was up but I didn’t want to tell them. The next day I went back to the gym and told them I got the job.”
It wasn’t long before she developed a loyal client base and won awards for being a top seller.
This was during a time when the premium denim market was booming, but Card was having a hard time finding jeans that fit both her and her customers.
“The denim market as a whole was long legs and skinny,” she says. “They had to fit a model.”
She took a trip to Fifth Avenue in New York, determined to find some jeans that fit. She succeeded, but the customer service she received, combined with the fact that salespeople were unfamiliar with their denim products, left something to be desired. She saw a hole in the market.
“My friends and I were all turning 40 and it was a big milestone,” says Card. “We were wondering if we were dressing too young or too old.”
She also took notice of the fact that nine out of 10 customers who came into her Ann Taylor location told her they just wanted a cute top.
After a few promotions, Card became intrigued by the idea of owning her own shop. She explored a franchising option with a store based at Oakbrook Center, but ultimately decided she wanted to open a shop where she could decide which product lines to sell.
“There’s a world of fashion out there that can make us super overwhelmed,” Card says. “My role is to bring fashion from the magazine to Main Street, in an affordable way. You don’t have to wear yoga pants everywhere you go.”
Card curates her stock from seasonal apparel shows at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart; she also sources the latest looks from biannual trips to Las Vegas. She prefers to carry clothing that can’t be found on Amazon or at Nordstrom.
The shopping culture at Card’s stores remains an important aspect of her business. To her, shopping shouldn’t be a chore. And by offering clothes that fit all shapes and sizes, Card has discovered a niche that keeps her customers coming back and enjoying their shopping experience.
“We’re just fun and friendly,” she says. “It’s always sunny at Jeans and a Cute Top Shop. We want to be the place that says, ‘You don’t have to cry in the fitting room anymore.’”
Jeans and a Cute Top Shop is located at 34 E. First Street in Hinsdale, 630-964-4661, jeansandacutetopshop.com.