Shopping in the Hamptons was not always such a thing. Summer meant not much more than beach time and casual get-togethers with friends. But those days of when and family are long gone. Several of the downtowns have become retail destinations with big-name fashion labels settling in or setting up seasonal "pop-up" shops to test the waters. However, beyond the bigger commercial centers in East Hampton Village, Southampton Village, and Bridgehampton, smaller, independent stores are the rule, whose owners stock the eclectic and the unusual from near and far.

You don't go to Amagansett looking for a cocktail dress, in fact it's gone more neo-hipster lately. You can get a muffin, hardware, a haircut and some sporting stuff. And lately Amagansett is turning into the music capital of the East End -- you can buy a beer and listen to live acts at the Stephen Talkhouse, you can buy vinyl records at Innersleeve, and you can try out an electric guitar or a ukulele at Crossroads Music. The -house-proud can find a comfy couch, and in a twist of shopping fate, great American antiques, perfection from Finland, and quirkiest of designer goods. There is a nice green area at the center of the shopping development called Amagansett Square.

Wainscott and Sagaponack
Because there are really no clear lines to tell where one begins and the other ends, and since being in a car blurs it even more, Wainscott and Sagaponack can be considered together. Everything happens on the north side of the highway, so think in terms of shopping with your car headed west. You will be doing no sidewalk strolling, and there being no hamlet center per se, and no public restrooms to be found. In Wainscott and Sagaponack figure on shopping for house stuff: Paint, pliers, platters, and pillow shams. There are favorite eateries of the local variety, one with a pool table, one with golf, one serving pizza. There is a good thrift shop on the Sagaponack side of the line, which raises money for the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, with clothes and lots of furniture and tabletop items.

Part of Bridgehampton is its older downtown -- find a parking space, this is a strolling town. There are antiques stores with absolutely zany stuff. Expect to spend some time looking around if your tastes go toward the "folky." There is a florist in case you need to apologize and a hardware store that can help you mend what the flowers can't. Consider homemade ice cream at the Candy Kitchen for what ails you. The Methodist Church thrift shop here has a large-ish men's department and well-sorted women's and kids' section. One of the best kitchen stores you will ever encounter, Loaves and Fishes, can be found in Bridgehampton, and you can sign up for cooking lessons (including dinner) as well. Next to the firehouse is a second-hand book store run by a gardening club that is easy to miss but worth the effort. There is a very nice public restroom in the central parking lot

The other part of the Bridgehampton shopping scene is to the west of the old downtown, in a figure-eight-shaped complex known as the Commons, which is bookended more or less by a K-mart and King Kullen supermarket. Nearby is English Country Antiques and two garden centers -- Agway and Marder's, one for the basics, one for the divinely exotic. Inside the Commons you will find electronics, a drug store, Victoria's Secret, T.J. Maxx and Staples. If you need your basic, you need the commons. Across the parking lot are shops with art supplies, vitamins, and a good assortment of foods and feeders for your feathered friends.

East Hampton
In tree-lined East Hampton you can get pretty much anything you want or need, or plenty you'd want but don't need. Parking can be tough, though a strictly enforced two-hour limit in the village's large lots keeps things moving. East Hampton Village has a downtown with three adult Ralph Lauren stores, one Ralph Lauren store for kids, and one for candy run by the designer's daughter. Window-shoppers enjoy the range of women's clothing boutiques and jewelry shops. A two-level Restoration Hardware is a good place to step off Main Street for a minute or two. The more sensible shoppers look for traditional furnishings at a branch of Hildreth's, the venerable Southampton-based shop, on Pantigo Road.

BookHampton on Main Street has current titles, a kids' section, and magazines. White's Pharmacy carries high-end cosmetics and fragrances available nowhere else on the East End. There are home goods available on both sides of Newtown Lane, as well as a few shops with menswear. Up in the lanes towards the railroad station you will find hand-crafted furniture, art supplies, and two garden centers, one with a vintage greenhouse. There are two stores for sneakers, and one shoe store with glamorous "limousine" shoes with towering heels and high boots for gardening. Monogrammed tea towels? Yes. Barbells? Yes. Pinatas? Yes. Sunglasses? Yes. Diamond rings? Yes, please.

The Bargain Box thrift shop in East Hampton is legendary and put together like a boutique rather than a jumble shop -- even the T-shirts are grouped by color. You can usually find a prom dress or a tuxedo. In the same building is a superb second-hand book shop, and well-edited nick-knacks and house wares are available. Slightly outside of town, to the west, you can see mozzarella being made at the Red Horse Market, and shop for antiques and a feather-bed without moving your car.

There is no shade in the main shopping area, but the sun is probably why you came to Montauk anyway. Summer days are steamy until the daily onshore wind comes up from the ocean. If you park in the center of town you can stroll to the beach and put your feet in the water. Montauk has a barefoot and flip-flop style. City people stalking around in black eventually feel awkward and find a nice Hawaiian shirt to change into. While you can't buy zoot suit (except perhaps at Melet Mercantile's summer outpost on Industrial Road), you can find a bathing suit, a wetsuit, waders, or raingear. Surfboards and boogie boards are available in a number of shops. Lately, a couple of clothing boutiques have cropped here, but the feeling is much less uptight than that in Southampton and East Hampton. Vintage-y board games are on sale at Whoa, Nellie. There is a whole shopping complex at Gosman's dock and, hidden away, a couple of shops near Duryea's, and an art gallery in the Railroad Station. Poke around the edges of Montauk. Wear a hat and sun block.

Museum Shops
For souvenirs visit the shop at the Montauk Lighthouse. If you are shopping for cool stuff you don't see every day remember East Hampton's LongHouse Reserve Instore shop and Guild Hall's gift shop, as well as the Parrish Museum, Southampton Historical museum gift shop and one at the Sag Harbor's Whaling Museum. In Bridgehampton the South Fork Natural History Museum has an off-beat selection good for particularly for nature obsessed kids.