It's that horrid, hot, humid time again -- your flimsiest pants feel too heavy, your skirts fit like girdles, and you find yourself fibbing about your upkeep ("I don't always look like a bum, I'm just on the way to the beach . . ."). Instead of sweating it out under what most Westerners accept as lightweight, shop for a sarong -- a breezy, versatile (and very inexpensive) wrap skirt made in places where they know what it means to swelter.
At Craft Caravan, imported sarongs from India and Kenya are from $30 for a striped cotton style (that works for men and women) to $85 for Indian raw silks that make snazzy eveningwear.
For ultralight $20 unisex Indonesian sarongs that don't look too beachy for town, check out Equator. The classic tourist faves are here (patterned with flowers or small animals), but the best of the lot are the chic traditionally printed neutrals and pastels.
The East Village's Katinka stocks tons of hand-dyed Indian wraps, including shiny yellow prayer styles with Sanskrit script ($10), pretty, sheer cotton paisleys ($25), and bright tie-dyes (from $20). While you're there, pick up this season's hot tie-back "choli" blouse (from $25).
For preppy occasions, bead-edged $50 Indian-made "Malatesta" sarongs are sold at Calypso St. Barth. Soft, sorbet-colored cottons are printed with simple, tone-on-tone paisleys and trimmed with beads. All are sold in matching cotton pouches that do double duty as evening bags.
Want to spend even less? Scour the city's street fairs, or stop by Robert's sarong stand for serious urban-hippie gear. Sold off racks on the street, Robert's sarongs ($13-$16) come in countless cheery tie-dye colors. And he'll show you how to wear a single swath of fabric four ways. He promises to be around every day except Sundays all summer.
Craft Caravan, 63 Greene St. (431-6667); Equator, 98 Greene St. (219-3708); Katinka, 303 E. 9th St. (677-7897); Calypso St. Barth, 424 Broome St. (274-0449); Robert's sarong stand, southwest corner of 71st St. and Broadway.
Picks of the Week
Jill Stuart's in-store sample sale offers 30 to 50 percent off the designer's simple, feminine, must-have spring and summer clothes (pictured, right): Skirts from $105, dresses from $110, capri pants from $125, cashmere tops from $160. 100 Greene St. (343-2300); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Sat. 11-7, Thurs. till 10, Sun. noon-6; 7/5-7/18.
Cobweb is taking 30 percent off tons of international antiques this summer, one group at a time (starting with benches and urns, other stuff later). Prices are from $35 for a six-inch urn to $1,800 for a turn-of-the-century Turkish brass bed. 116 W. Houston St. (505-1558); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Fri. noon-7; 7/5-8/27.
Felissimo is reducing many gift-ish accessories by 30 to 80 percent, including selected leather waste baskets ($100), Italian vases ($44), linens ($46-$200), and candles ($22-$65). 10 West 56th St. (247-5656); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Sat. 10-6; Thurs. till 8; 7/5-7/17.
Peacock Alley is taking up to half off many top-quality linens: cotton sheets ($72.50 for queen flat), down pillows ($60-$75), towels ($20 for large bath), and quilt sets ($500 for queen). 334 E. 59th St. (751-7005); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Sat. 10-6; 7/10-7/24.
Focus Paris's spring handbags in classic European shapes (many Hermès-inspired) are on sale for 40 percent off, from $45 to $90. 17 E. 37th St. (545-1535); A.E., M.C., V., checks; Mon.-Fri. 9-6:30, Sat. 10-5; 7/5-7/17
ALWAYS A DEAL
It doesn't take a genius to see that this summer's must-have designer thong sandals aren't so far off from classic beach flip-flops -- or that to make a splash, the basic variety-store kind won't do. Instead, order up some bright, rubber daisy-trimmed 'flops for $18 (plus $5.95 for shipping) from the Esprit catalog, and know that you could have spent $55 on a similar pair at Scoop (if they weren't sold out). Call 800-556-9477 (ask for style No. 4551460).