saks fifth avenueI recently ventured over to the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets for what I thought would be an exciting day of bargains and fun.

Boy was I wrong. Although they were outlets, they were mainly discounts in the sense that you could get 10% off a $200 Burberry scarf. Nearly all the stores at the Wrentham Outlets were decidedly booshie: Barneys, Burberry, DKNY, Guess, Kenneth Cole, Lacoste, Coach, Swarvoski, etc. There was even a Vitamin World outlet that sounded intriguing, although it made me a little nervous. What exactly is a vitamin outlet? "The ones the FDA said we couldn't sell"?

In any case, these seemed more like designer stores rather than outlets, with clothes that you only knew were a "bargain" because they told you they were 20% off their regular prices.

The New York Times reports on this emerging trend of the deluxification of outlet shopping. Top designers see it as a way to better manage their own inventory, and shoppers flock for a whole store of True Religion products rather than just a few racks at the department store.

Bottom line: Outlets aren't what they once were -- places to get really inexpensive name-brand clothes. If you're a label whore, it's probably cheaper than buying stuff in the department store. But for the truly budget-conscious shoppers among us, Filene's Basement, Marshall's and the thrift store reign supreme.

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