"Do you want sexy or do you want poufy?" Siri Schlief asked a slight blonde in Victoria Secret sweatpants and Kelly green flip-flops.
On a slow, sunny midweek afternoon in early April, a few prom-bound shoppers were trickling through Schlief's downtown shop, Siri's Boutique. They shared the racks with a mid-30s mother, her son and a trio of ladies of a certain age modeling sequined blazers and mentioning matter-of-factly that they needed drinks.
"We have to have something for everyone," Schlief said. "We're not like a boutique Outside that can specialize in petites or something."
OK, let's stop for a second. When I think about what I witnessed, I'm forced to come clean.
Before last week, I'd only visited Siri's Boutique twice, and both times I'd all but written it off as a place for, well, "seasoned" shoppers. You know, mothers of brides or people with 9 p.m. bedtimes. I never considered it a place for prom-goers or 2 a.m. Taco Bell drive-through regulars.
But there I was fondling a Bordeaux-colored satin clutch, wanting to grab a drink with the sequined blazer gang and secretly wishing I had a prom to go to because the chartreuse spaghetti-strap dress with the asymmetrical hemline was a steal for under $100.
So I admit I was hasty in my original conclusion and have since decided that shopping at Siri's just requires time, attention and the ability to do a little digging. And when I told Schlief, she smiled and just said, "You never know what you're going to find in here."
Schlief is definitely a little bit old school. The store doesn't have a computer or a cash register, just a couple of calculators and a credit card machine. But she keeps up with her merchandise, brands and customers better than any software could track them.
"I can't work the mouse," she said with a laugh and a dismissive wave.
Schlief's always been a bit of girly girl. She came to Alaska in 1965 as a flight attendant "back when (the uniform) was a pillbox hat, three-inch heels and white gloves." Twenty years later she got into the business of making women look good.
Siri's has been around since 1987, first on Dimond Boulevard and then a small house near city hall. She's been in her current location at the corner of Ninth Avenue and F Street for eight years.
Schlief moves quickly, and she seems to have a to-do list constantly running through her mind. She kept mentioning all the jewelry that she needs to put on display, which is a little odd since the jewelry selection at Siri's -- everything from chunky turquoise to vintage shapes and hues to delicate pearls -- takes up an entire room.
The boutique is organized by color. There are rows of reds, blues and pinks, a rack of denim and tons of prints. Seasonal florals sit by the front door, and a column in the middle of the store has polka-dot dresses from the Canadian brand Joseph Ribkoff on display.
Metallic handbags hovered above a rack of loungewear, including a BCBG sweatsuit marked down from $130 to $65, in the Boss' Losses room. This is a little offshoot on the west side of the house where merchandise is moved when it goes on sale.
Discount shoppers, take note: There's also an "orphan rack" in the middle of the store stuffed with clearance items for $25.
Schlief has a No. 1 rule when working with customers: "If (she) doesn't get compliments, she'll never wear it again or she may stick it in the closet and say 'I'll never go back there,' " she said. "So we're honest."
Second to her candid opinions, Schlief wants to make sure shoppers are getting a deal.
"I'm not bringing in dresses that are $500," Schlief said. "The poor moms. ... I might be old-fashioned, but I don't spend $500 on a prom dress.
"Over the years I've just found the best ways to find the best prices for the girls."
SIRI'S BOUTIQUE is at 845 F St. Hours are noon-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday. Call 277-2999 for more information.