At a time when almost everything you might want is at the tip of your fingers on the internet, shopping for clothes can turn into a to-do list item to cross off. But what if, instead, you entered a space — a real, physical space — filled with vibrant colors, high-quality materials, and friendly service that helps you find exactly what you need?
That’s what Ida Polite has been providing D.C. through her business for more than three decades. Ida’s Idea served customers for 23 years at 7th and I streets NW before moving west to its current location, 1029 Vermont Avenue NW. Ida has been outfitting women for more than 40 years, but she truly started her craft at the age of 6. “I played store in the backyard with my brothers,” she says, noting that they joined in even when they didn’t always love that the store was “filled” with women’s clothing.
She started her professional career styling as a buyer in New York City, working for a variety of stores through the 1980s and ’90s. “I was very successful, and I asked my manager if he would open a store for me in Harlem,” she says.
He wouldn’t. So she set out to open Ida’s Idea on her own in 1980 in Manhattan. Luckily for the District, she made her way here for a fashion show, where she stayed at the then-Howard University Hotel on the Georgia Avenue side of Howard’s campus. There, she did a visual visibility study, seeing opportunity in and around the hotel, where she ended up opening her own showroom with clothes for sale.
“It was the only hotel, Black-owned, that I had gone into full service, and it was owned by the university, so that excited me,” she says of the hotel, where she lived for six months. She maintained her New York City store for a while until she moved to D.C. full-time, settling near Penn Quarter.
“From there, I have built a repeat customer [base], and my repeat customer is strongly a part of my success here in Washington,” she says. “We say we provide services that are impeccable, and we say that our selectivity has a market that is very strong. So that’s where we are.”
Walking through the door of Ida’s, you’ll find a varying selection of women’s clothing, and many pieces you’re not going to find elsewhere — that’s the point of specialty designers such as Ida. You’ll find styles that are distinctive, intriguing, and simply gorgeous. And there’s no need to be intimidated by these superior looks: Ida can look at your silhouette, as she says, and immediately know which pieces will work best for you.
She advises with not just experience and expertise, but true fervor. “I really like the fact that I have found something I have a passion for: my passion is for fashion,” she says.
That’s a message she shares with many people she meets, including when she visits local schools to talk about entrepreneurship or when she hosts college students studying design: “Find out what your gifts are. If you find out what your gifts are, life is so much easier from a work perspective,” she says. You can hear it in Ida’s voice when she talks about her craft — she’s been able to find her gifts.
“When I wake up in the morning, I never feel like I’m going to work. I feel like I’m going to have some fun today, I’m going to style individuals, I’m going to provide service for individuals, I am going to negotiate prices with manufacturers, I’m going to do some worldwide traveling,” she says. “I’m going to just enjoy what I have been called to do.”
Ida’s Idea is located at 1029 Vermont Avenue NW and is open 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.