TWICE a year, I travel to the world's fashion capitals to cover the runway shows and, to be honest, indulge in lots of retail therapy -- Fifth Avenue, Bond Street, Via Montenapoleone and the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, been there, bought that. But I have nabbed some of my best finds without even leaving my desk, by letting my fingers do the shopping.
My morning routine includes coffee, the newspaper and checking the J. Crew website for new online exclusives. Before I go to bed, I browse Zappos to see exactly how many pairs of those Marc Jacobs flats are still in stock in my size. (They keep track of those things.) And apparently I'm not alone. Last year, for the first time in history, online shoppers spent more money on clothes and accessories than anything else. A report from technology and market study group Forrester Research found that fashion spending reached $18 billion in 2006 and could hit $22 billion this year, in which 10% of all clothing sales are expected to occur online.
But it's not all about convenience and fast access. Shopping well online has a lot in common with shopping well in those great shopping districts -- knowing the best sources will lead you to something truly unique, a fantastic value, a young discovery. So, from my computer screen to yours, here are the sites I find myself returning to most often for the best merch, deals and service.
For designer clothing, bags and shoes
Bluefly: At 6:30 a.m. EST every morning (that's 3:30 a.m. PST, so beware SWI, or shopping while intoxicated), 150 new styles are posted on this rocking site where I bought studded Miu Miu flats and a Tory Burch geometric print skirt at 40% off the retail prices. There are always a lot of Christian Louboutins too, and even the occasional piece of Chanel or Hermès. The online personal shoppers, or "FlyReps," are on hand day and night, and extremely helpful. And if you have buyer's remorse, there's a 90-day guarantee. bluefly.com
For contemporary clothes and Juicy Couture in every size and color
Shopbop.com: This site stocks a wider selection and size range of contemporary designers than any I've ever seen. Labels include L.A.'s Cynthia Vincent, Vince and Diane von Furstenberg, as well as page after page of Juicy Couture in all sizes. www.shopbop.com
For contemporary accessories
Clothing.com: This is the place for the latest bags by Botkier, Goldenbleu, Kooba, Orla Kiely and Anna Corinna, plus shoes from up-and-comers such as the L.A.-based Posso the Spat. They also have a big selection of denim for men and women, and free shipping and returns. www.revolveclothing.com
For a late-night Birkin bag fix
Portero.com: Unlike EBay, this luxury auction site guarantees that its Cartier tank watches, Hermès bags, Jimmy Choo stilettos and Robert Rauschenberg canvases are the real deal. www.portero.com
For shoes nobody else has
Office: This British site with an edge is great for on-trend shoes, including this season's ankle boots and Mary Janes. Even with the lousy exchange rate, you can get almost everything for Nine West prices. Check out the slightly higher-end Poste Mistress label too. office.co.uk
For a wedding shower gift
Sleepyheads.com : It may be a bit difficult to navigate, but the stellar selection of PJs and nightgowns makes the bleary eyes worth it. The his-and-hers pajamas embroidered with "Mrs." and "Mr." or "Bride" and "Groom" make ideal gifts. sleepyheads.com
For that sexy sweet nothing
Bare Necessities: Find everything to make you sexy, suck you in, push you up or out by Cosabella, Hanky Panky, Sassybax, Scanty, Spanx and more. You can also search the bra selection by size. barenecessities.com
For summer feet
FlipFlopTrunkshow.com: Flip-flops and sandals from dozens of brands including Reef, Havaianas, Nomad and more, as well as beach bags and other goodies. Here you really can buy one in every color. flipfloptrunkshow.com
For cheap chic
La Redoute: When I'm tired of seeing all of my friends in the same cheap-chic designer clothing from Target and H&M, I set my browser to this French site, which has lots of inexpensive, on-trend basics (fall's favorite lace-up shoe for $89, anyone?) as well as its own designer collaborations. Now online: Christian Lacroix for La Redoute, which includes a fab ruffled trench coat for only $250. laredoute.com
For dressing like Talitha Getty
Vivre: This site epitomizes the jet set with caftans and exotic jewelry alongside luxe clothes from Oscar de la Renta and Roberto Cavalli. There's even a glossy magazine-catalog that you can sign up to receive. vivre.com