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Shopping on St. Bart's

Max Kim-Bee

Photo: Max Kim-Bee

POP QUIZ: WHAT'S PACKED AND FRENCH AND CHIC ALL OVER?ANSWER: ST. BART'S.

The Caribbean island has its own maverick dress code, which falls somewhere between Riviera couture and California beach-bum. We already know about the celebs and the supermodels. But you really want to watch the off-duty waitress in a clingy pareu and bikini top, toting a surfboard on a Vespa, her blond ponytail lashing as she navigates the coastal road between St. Jean and Gustavia. She's got the look. Ditto the daredevil cliff divers at Shell Beach—wet suits paired with Hogans.

For the late-night crowd at Le Ti St Barth (Pointe Milou; 590/279-771), the island's epicenter of cool, dressing for dinner is a competitive sport. Don't try to make a grand entrance in any old resort clothes; black mesh tanks and cropped satin hip-huggers are proper attire at this Gypsy caravan. (Remember, dancing on the tables is de rigueur, so leave your Jimmy Choos at home.) You can always pick up extra plumage at the restaurant's in-house bazaar, where trend watchdogs Carole Gruson and Thierry De Badereau stock the latest glad rags from St.-Tropez, Morocco, and Brazil.

And while St. Bart's also plays it safe with outposts of Hermès, Cartier, and Chanel, the island's most exciting boutiques test your style quotient with limited-edition labels. Here's where to find them.

GUSTAVIA
The port town of Gustavia is like a treasure hunt: some of the best shops are hidden down side alleys and up above street level.

Blue Coast Martine Alfare is a Paris expat who moved here to escape le rat race. Tucked in an alley off the harbor, her store is one of the few on St. Bart's that cater exclusively to men. (Beware of marauding wives and girlfriends.) Grab armloads of Alfare's soft linen shorts and shirts—the lime green and coral are top sellers—as well as floral Crossways and Kiribati surfer-dude trunks. 5 Rue du Bord de Mer; 590/296-018.

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