Strip boutiques vs. outlet malls: where's your best bet?

Las Vegas visitors are determined to spend their money one way or another. According to a 2004 study by the MRC Group Research Institute, Vegas tourists spend only 6% less on shopping than on gambling, dropping $2.9 billion a year in the luxury boutiques.

It’s easy to see why. Most high-end shops are conveniently attached to the casino hotels, making it possible to roll out of bed and straight into Cartier. And Nevada’s sales tax is 7.75%, compared to 8.25% in California.

But if you shake off the tinge of convenience, there’s not much difference between the Strip and Rodeo Drive. True retail therapy lies in the desert’s outlet malls. The 120-store Las Vegas Premium Outlets is just minutes from the Strip; Fashion Outlets is 40 miles away in Primm en route to L.A. Each has many of the same stores as the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace and the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, albeit with last season’s styles.

V Life Weekend went looking for outlet finds and sized them up against the best of the boutique.

Item: BCBG Max Azria wrap cardigan in turquoise
Fashion Outlet: $73
Fashion Show: $186
Tradeoff: Colors are more current at the retail store, but the item is such a staple that you’ll find plenty of last season’s cardigans at the outlet.

Item: Brooks Brothers cashmere V-neck sweater in heather gray
Premium Outlets: $179
Forum Shops: $298
Tradeoff: The retail store has more sizes in stock, but the product quality and shopping experience are comparable.

Item: Dolce & Gabbana navy cotton buttoned shirt with stripes
Premium Outlets: $147
Forum Shops: $295
Tradeoff: Colors and sizes from the latest collection fill the racks at the luxe Forum store; pickings are slim at the outlet.

Item: Classic Coach black leather carryall
Premium Outlets: $359
The Strip: $428
Tradeoff: Numerous Strip retail locations are calmer and carry more current styles and accessories beyond bags; the outlet usually is filled with shoppers buying as many logo-covered purses as they can carry.

Item: Elie Tahari velveteen jacket in light mocha
Premium Outlets: $179
Forum Shops: $448
Tradeoff: The retail store is one month ahead in inventory, but smart shoppers call the Premium location with the items they want. As soon as it’s in, they get it at 40% off.

Item: Kenneth Cole men’s slip-on boots in black leather
Premium Outlets: $132.99
Grand Canal Shoppes: $238
Tradeoff: The two-story retail location carries the latest designs in an elegant boutique with a healthy sale section; the smaller Premium outlet has a stacked-shoebox setting that’s less about service and more about a quick, quality deal.

Item: Lacoste polo shirt in bright blue
Premium Outlets: $56
Forum Shops: $75
Tradeoff: A wider and more current selection of colors at the Forum Shops, but at Premium you can snap up samples in still-unavailable colors that the outlet tests for the factory in France.

Item: Theory summer-weight wool suit in dark chocolate
Premium Outlet: $216 (jacket) and $150 (trousers)
Forum Shops: $360 (jacket) and $258 (trousers)
Tradeoff: The retail location is one season ahead, but Theory fans can get wardrobe staples at the equally slick outlet for at least 40% off.

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