Fashion and history of Boystown neighborhood in Chicago

Situated within Lakeview, just south of Wrigleyville, lies the neighborhood of Boystown. Here the streets of North Halstead, Belmont, and Broadway mark the borders of 1.1 square miles of restaurants, novelty stores, and boutiques that carry everything from adult toys to outrageous costumes to more traditional fashion items.

As its name suggest, Boystown is named for its large population of gays. In the 1960s and 1970s gays began to flock here in search of lower prices. In 1970 Boystown hosted its first gay pride parade, and became the first officially recognized gay village in the United States. But it isn’t just gays who call Boystown home, some hipsters, young singles, and open-minded progressives also reside here.

Although more traditional boutiques do exist the majority of the stores specialize in lingerie, costumes, and novelty items. Perusing through these shops, it becomes evident why this neighborhood is called Boystown. The stores are filled with sequins galore, and heels that come in all sizes.

If North Halstead Street is where people spend their nights and make their purchases that prepare them for these nights, Broadway is where people spend their days. What “standard” clothing stores do exist tend to specialize in menswear, although there are a few that cater to women’s wear as well. The boutiques in Boystown generally sell mid-priced clothing that caters to young professionals (although the age range becomes a bit blurry when describing the men of Boystown). The selection here is eclectic, and every piece has character.

There are almost no chains in this neighborhood and many of the shop owners live in or around Boystown themselves. As a result there is a real feeling of community. With many of the bars open until 3AM on weekdays and 5AM on weekends the nightlife in Boystown is anything but dull and there always seems to be something going on. This community hosts a lively theatre district as well, including its fair share of drag and peep shows.

While walking the streets of Boystown I saw only one man in sweatpants and I am pretty sure he was on his way to the gym. The people here appear to take pride in their appearance and are not afraid to make a statement with their clothing. They are eccentric and fun loving, and definitely take an interest in what they put on their bodies. The shoppers of Boystown definitely have a flair for fashion and a creative streak.

Photos by Hannah Howcroft. Illustration by Teya Bozhilova.

Leave a Reply