By  on July 1, 2005

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — There's something about shopping in affluent beach towns during the summer that beats lurching into the overly air-conditioned boutiques of Madison Avenue any day. Perhaps it's the ease and comfort of browsing in a bathing suit, flip-flops and a filmy cover-up versus a dress and spindly stilettos.

So it was with great gusto that after a day at the beach one recent Sunday, I went to check out the new Tracy Feith store on the lonely stretch of Montauk Highway. Feith, who previously had a boutique in East Hampton, closed it and relocated to a tiny but darling bungalow just down from the Clam Bar and next to the Napeague Stretch. He's the sole retailer on the long, narrow road, which is largely populated by eateries and beach motels.

Painted a colorful blue and kelly green, the shop is a mere 400 square feet, but laid-back and chic at the same time. Feith's vibrant frocks, swirly skirts and lacy tops add a shock of color to the all-white interior. It also carries an array of bold, fun necklaces, bracelets and earrings from designers like Monies, Karavas and Voubel. And with his longtime saleswoman extraordinaire, Claudja, minding the latest boutique, it's like stopping over to shop at a friend's home.

After perusing the racks for a pretty party dress, of which there were scores, I ducked into the little dressing room, which is decorated with big printed Indian pillows. Here, I first tried a beautiful yellow floral-print silk dress with an intricate turquoise sash replete with clasps. Then, a turquoise lace dress with an Empire waist that stopped just short of the knee. Stunning. Loved it. $735. Ouch.

Next up, I donned a white A-line frock with paillettes along the neckline — darling — and an aqua silk jersey number, which was a veritable bargain at $470. "If you had a house in Sardinia, then I would say get that one," said Feith's partner and muse, Susan Winget, who wandered in and pointed at the white frock. The fit, the fabrics and the cuts are all very flattering with the Empire waists — you never feel shoved in, or as if you're spilling out.Finally, although I loathed giving up the turquoise lace number, I settled on the yellow dress, blanching at the $620 price tag. Claudja insisted on grabbing a smaller size off the mannequin for me, and that was the clincher. I've never had a saleswoman insist I buy a smaller size in my life.

Normally, when you are looking for a dress, it's impossible to find one you love and that fits. At Tracy Feith, I literally could have walked out with four to-die-for dresses — none in need of alteration — in one shopping outing. That is, if I could have afforded it.

Not quite done yet, I took a 15-minute drive into East Hampton to check out two of the new stores that have opened this season.

The J. Crew at the Beach shop is small, but perfectly decorated with wainscotting and vivid blue walls. The women's offerings, which are at the front of the store, are pared down from the company's overall assortment to perfect seaside attire: washed twill minis, lightweight cashmere sweaters, bathing suits and flip-flops. I snatched up a coral colored skirt, some brown flip-flops, and a mocha-colored straw beach hat. The women's cashmere selection didn't wow me, but I loved the men's V-necks. "It's Loro Piana cashmere," whispered one of the very perky salesboys. It felt like it, too, and was available in an array of vivid colors like robin's egg blue, coral and lavender for $158. I tried on the small and the medium in men's, but neither quite worked. On a whim I tried the large and it was perfect — just oversized enough to look louche.

On to swimsuits. The problem here was that the store only sold bikinis, a dead giveaway to their targeted demographic — teen girls, right? Too bad — I would have loved to buy a bathing suit for a mere $68, a bargain compared with my Eres suits. I settled on the flip-flops, the mini, the hat and the sweater, and an eager and very knowledgeable sales associate rang up my total — $291.66.

Final stop: Calypso. Christiane Celle, the owner of the ever-burgeoning string of Calypso boutiques, this summer moved her midpriced store on Newtown Lane to make room for a Calypso Home store. The new, larger clothing space, now a few doors down, is so long and vast it feels a little like a bowling alley and is filled with floaty, bohemian beach finds, perfect for this resort town. Arranged by hue, there are racks and racks of long ethnic skirts, tunics, tanks and flowy dresses along with stacks of Ts, bikinis and, thank God, one-piece bathing suits! After sifting through the wealth of offerings, I picked out two swimsuits and a private label dress in tan and pink, which was on sale for $75, down from $125. I tried on a fuchsia Laura Urbinati suit that didn't impress me at all because, despite all the detailing, it just didn't pop, and an aqua Delfina one-piece, which fit nicely but still didn't wow.The dress, however, was adorable. It was missing a button, and I asked one of the salesgirls to see if she had another. The computer informed her there was indeed another in inventory and so the very earnest and somewhat joyless sales associate scampered down to find it. She came up empty-handed and visibly upset that the computer was wrong, but no matter. I took it anyway.

The best part of the shopping day was that if I were looking to buy any of those things in the city — a party frock, a summer dress, flip-flops, a lightweight sweater — I would have had to traipse all over town. But on the far reaches of Long Island, the merchandise was all resort-related and perfect for a clambake on the beach or dinner at the Palm.

That said, one still has to endure such obnoxious fare as a teenage girl who, when showing a fellow girlfriend her new purchases, trilled: "I'm going to Europe this summer and my mom insisted I buy all neutrals so that I don't look like an American."

Quaint shopping boutiques or not, it is the Hamptons, after all.

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