Discount Delights

    By Nanci Theoret

    You'll find super deals at Florida's many outlet malls.

    Right about now your friends are doing the mental math. They’re calculating the price tag of the new outfit you bought in Florida – those sexy embroidered Dior platforms, Hollywood-worthy Gucci shades, a bag rendered in trademark Burberry plaid and skinny True Religion jeans.

    A $2,500 shopping splurge? Hardly. Your cost was maybe $700 – even less if you bought clearance. You discovered the local outlet mall.

    Florida offers a dozen or so of these discount centers, which in recent years have upped the high-fashion ante – thanks to a growing number of luxury brands that now realize the potential of savings-savvy shoppers. Gone are the factory seconds and irregular castoffs of just a decade ago. Today’s outlet stores offer first-quality merchandise (evident by original price tags), factory over-runs and last season’s styles marked down 50 to 75 percent. You, your family and home can look like a million bucks without breaking the bank.

    After exploring Sawgrass Mills’ mind-boggling 2.3 million square feet and 350-plus stores, you’ll be happy it offers valet. Someone knows where you parked – and can help you with all those bags. Florida’s largest outlet, Sawgrass is a South Florida attraction unto itself, and serious shoppers could easily spend two days (four hours is the average) browsing the options. Féraud/Rösch and David Yurman made U.S. outlet debuts here, and the mall welcomed the first-for-Florida location of Kate Spade.

    If you’re looking for top-shelf designers, head straight to the mall’s Colonnade Outlets, offering Tag Heuer, Canali and Valentino. Need a break? Take in the newest blockbusters at the onsite theater or dine at the Sawgrass spin-off of Miami’s popular Villagio.

    Russet- and mustard-hued buildings, courtyards and koi ponds set the Mediterranean mood for Miromar Outlets, an outdoor outlet in Southwest Florida’s Estero. An expansion in 2008 introduced a Neiman Marcus Last Call and Doncaster, amping up the center’s numbers – 140 stores within 605,000 square feet. Proving there’s more to life than shopping (or maybe it’s a ploy to make us linger longer), the mall also offers live entertainment and water ski shows on weekends and has one of the area’s largest July 4 fireworks displays.

    Orlando Premium Outlets is home to Florida’s only Marni outlet  (yes, those $1,224 platforms really did cost $153 with tax). Salvatore and Giorgio (Ferragamo and Armani, that is) are also here. You can also shop for trendy trenches and bags at Burberry or Fendi. The mall also has a 24-hour hotline should an urgent question strike you at midnight.

    St. Augustine Outlets brings deep discounts to America’s oldest city. The mall boasts the only Gucci outlet in the southeastern United States and offers teen favorite Charlotte Russe, plus Dooney & Bourke, Hugo Boss and St. John. You’ll also find outlet staples Perfumania and Trade Secret here.

    The perennial powerhouse Coach Factory Store, considered the outlet industry’s best overall chain, is one of the more than 100 retailers at Destin’s Silver Sands Factory Stores in northwest Florida. The center has several children’s clothing outlets and the appropriately named Socks Galore.

    Enhance Your Discount Amount

    It always pays to be a smart shopper. Know the prices at full-line boutiques and check for additional savings online or for mall-sponsored coupon books. Add up the discounts by shopping the back of the store first – often where retailers locate sales and clearance racks. The biggest savings usually coincide with holiday weekends and sidewalk sales.

    Finally, if a mall doesn’t have a specific store, check the anchors. OFF 5th (Saks), Last Call (Neiman Marcus), Nordstrom Rack and Barney’s New York cull their merchandise from their full-line sisters. You’ll occasionally find Chanel, Prada and other couture labels here and Judith Leiber’s crystal-embellished minaudieres.