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With the economy faltering, and people worried about how they will afford gifts for the holidays, many shoppers are heading to outlet malls. Reporters visited some of the biggest and newest outlet malls in the region, where they found packs of shoppers, seemingly undeterred by the economic slump. They spotted a few good deals on designer sneakers, leather jackets and handbags, but found some prices were not better than at regular department stores. I buy them because: (a.) they cost less than actual clothing; (b.) one size fits all; and (c.) a bright pair of gloves, in particular, draws attention from areas that need camouflaging. But there are only so many socks, gloves and scarves a stingy shopper can buy, even in a down economy. I spent a recent Friday at Woodbury Common, the 220 store outlet mall here, checking out potential Christmas presents while building my endurance for the holiday slog ahead. I ended up with socks. But I can’t blame Woodbury.

Things started well. As I entered the huge parking lot that rings Woodbury, I felt good. There were no teenage girls in the back seat, plotting to “surprise” me with a caffeine laced drink on the theory that its mood elevating effect would loosen my purse strings. And the place was almost deserted.

I headed straight to Neiman Marcus Last Call, where a $207 gray leather Victor jacket caught my eye, as did some leopard pumps: $78. I put them on, walked around and consulted a fellow shopper.

Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, just down the faux street named Grapevine Court, is tidier than Last Call, making it look more expensive. It isn’t. If I bought black gloves for my mother in law ($95), I could get Kelly green ones at half off for me. Still, $95 was a commitment. I kept walking.

To Chloé. Beige tones, indie rock, shoppers speaking languages other than English. A jacket wasn’t gray, it was anthracite. Pocketbooks were displayed like Ming vases. Next to the pleather Daytripper ($495, down from $795) was a photo of Kate Hudson “toting this season’s latest and must have accessory.”

At Anne Fontaine, where $165 white shirts come with tiny bags of potpourri, a saleswoman laughed when I mentioned bargains. “I’ve been at this mall four years,” she said, “and if you’re not a designer shopper, you will not find bargains.”

Not at Prada, anyway. The Prada store was so minimalist, I thought it was closed. But a friendly saleswoman pointed to last year’s line: half off. I still couldn’t afford it. But a $500 tweed jumper was adorable with a belt at derrire level. All the green gloves in the world could not draw attention away from that.

The saleswoman disagreed. “It shows your curves. It says you’re a woman.”

A hungry woman. I headed to the food court. China Taste!
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Pretzel Time! Au Bon Pain! I settled for Subway, the tweed jumper of fast food. So far, I had spent $7.33. On lunch. I was the only empty handed shopper I saw.

But then I seemed to be one of the very few locals at Woodbury that day.

“I’d say 75 percent of our shoppers are not from this country,” said one saleswoman. Woodbury Common, which made Forbes magazine’s list of the 10 best outlet malls on the planet this year, aims for foreign tourists. Busloads come from Manhattan every day. people are bigger shoppers,” said Jean Guinup, senior director of marketing for Chelsea Property Group, which owns Woodbury and nearly 50 other discount malls. “They’ll plop down thousands.”

Operating on this theory, I started going only to stores that disappointed looking people speaking foreign languages were leaving. Maybe they would be in my price range.

This worked at Longchamp, where I found a $122 bag for my husband to put under the tree for me. It didn’t work at Ellen Tracy, where a camel coat and skirt would deplete the entire budget.

I decided to go only to stores with “Outlet” in their names. Over the mall’s speakers Janis Joplin sang “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” I knew how she felt. Work hard all my lifetime and can’t cram my feet into $49.99 pumps from Factory Shoe Outlet.

I headed back to Last Call and Spanx. The Tight End Tights were gone. I snagged one pair of Two Timin’ socks.

Every shopping story should have a happy ending. Mine came at Banana Republic. Before I knew it, I was in a dressing room with a Kelly green skirt: $35. It was not Prada. But it was cheaper than the Kelly green gloves, and I needed to buy something.

I wore it to work the next Monday. A colleague examined it.

The timing couldn’t have been better. With bargains in vogue in the current economy, the new Tanger Outlets at the Arches beckoned. Armed with coupons for its Oct. 23 opening, I set off on a recent afternoon for this pastel hued Disney esque rendition of an Italian village, aching for retail therapy and hoping to find a few good deals.

Looming like an oasis in the midst of an industrial area, the 800,000 square foot, $350 million outlet center, chock full of upscale brands, promised to be a respite from the humdrum strip mall and indoor mall experience that has long defined Long Island’s shopping scene.

Designed around a central piazza, with fountains, cobblestone paths, umbrella tables, covered pathways and pedestrian streets named after Italian cities, the Arches supplied a novel diversion, even if I didn’t duck into the 16 screen movie theater for a matinee. (A New York Sports Club hasn’t yet opened.)

I headed first for Juicy Couture, where bubble gum pink , lime and lemon colored velour hoodies and track pants for $139, reduced from $185, lined the racks. I looked in vain for the less garish, albeit more pricey,
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versions and colors I had seen in department stores.