Even in Recession, Spend They Must: Luxury Shoppers Anonymous ONLY a year ago, Maggie Buckley might have indulged a craving for, say, satin opera gloves or python sandals with a quick trip to Saks or Bergdorf Goodman. But now, in these recessionary times, she tends to avoid such public sorties. Shopping is almost embarrassing, and a little vulgar right now, said Ms. Buckley, an editor at Allure magazine. Loath to be seen loading freezer-size parcels into the back of a waiting cab, she finds herself shopping at under-the-radar soirees in the homes of her friends. Ms. Buckley is one in a coterie of shoppers turning their backs on conspicuous consumption but trawling for treasures nonetheless at invitation-only shopping events springing up in hotel suites, at private showrooms or in the well-appointed parlors of their peers. Feeling the pangs of conscience, they are shopping on the down-low, finding deals in places that are the retail equivalent of a safari on a private game reserve. People dont want to be as public about shopping for luxury goods as they were in the past, said Robert Burke, a luxury retail consultant in New York. Its a feel-good way to buy, and this is a time for feel-good things. Such covert shopping has long been enjoyed by the upper crust, people who could pay six figures for diamond-and-sapphire brooch or sable wrap and the privilege of exclusivity. But in the current climate, stealth consumption has gained a more potent appeal, taking place at gatherings with an insiders feel. Were like a little secret that people want to share, but not with just anybody, said Eve Goldberg, an owner of William Goldberg, a diamond dealer in Manhattan. Ms. Goldbergs company recently opened a salon that caters to clients who prefer to shop discreetly. People are saying: Its that time of year; I want to buy something, but I feel a little weird, Ms. Goldberg said. Often they tell me, I dont want to be out there making an announcement with a big bag that says Harry Winston. Private dealers, many of them dilettantes who acquire their wares from designer friends, at trade shows and from dealers and artisans in exotic locales, are the bane of recession-battered high-end merchants. Established retailers are hard pressed to compete with such luxury pop-up shops while maintaining inventories and absorbing the high costs of operating their businesses. But under-the-radar parties offer the well heeled, and the well connected, a chance to snap up temptations without an inner censor chiding them for their spendthrift ways. There is certainly a stigma to spending openly in this economy, said Eric Spangenberg, a consumer psychologist and the dean of the business school at Washington State University. These people dont want to appear flippant by disregarding the woes of the economy, he said, but they still want to get their shop on, and theyre going to find a way. Those who cannot wean themselves off the shopping habit flock to events that are, in Dr. Spangenbergs phrase, the high-end equivalent of a Tupperware party. There they trade gossip and air kisses and spring for crewelwork pashminas or pavé diamond pet collars. Sure, they are shopping. But they are also enjoying the camaraderie and a social experience, said Joan Horton, an event planner and decorator who offered a selection of shrugs she bought during buying trips abroad. Last week she displayed those items, sold under the Shrug Shop label, at a lavish three-day shopathon in the apartment of a friend. The gathering, the brainchild of a clutch of freelance stylists, designers and merchants, offered handmade Balinese lace blouses, ikat patterned tablecloths, Indian shawls, snakeskin bags and Bakelite bangles. We were looking for a retail outlet, said Amy Eller, an organizer of the event. But then the Dow went into free fall, putting a crimp in their plans. We decided we would just become a floating marketplace, she said. That marketplace took the form of a haute bohemian souk on Park Avenue, stocked with items priced from $25 to $700, shown off against a backdrop of crimson walls, 19th-century lithographs and faux leopard carpeting worthy of Elsie de Wolfe. Ten percent of the proceeds from the event, which drew about 300 guests and took in an estimated $60,000, went to VetDogs, which provides service dogs for disabled veterans. People like the private atmosphere, Ms. Eller said. And they also felt they were giving back a little while they shopped. SIMILAR opportunities for altruism may have eased the consciences of the 250 guests at the International Fashion party, a by-invitation event held last week at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco to benefit Rebekah Childrens Services, which aids children with emotional and behavioral problems. But the party, which attracted the social figures Vanessa Getty, Sloan Barnett and the wives of several Silicon Valley executives, was also a magnet for trophy hunters. Filigreed chokers and diamond-studded earrings with an ornate Asian cast were offered alongside hair and eyelash extensions and a rack of furs supplied by Saks Fifth Avenue, which saw an opportunity to reach affluent clients. Prices ranged from $100 to $10,000 or, furs apart, about 10 percent above the wholesale cost. We dont need to mark up items so much as a store might, said Dorothy Toressi, an organizer of the benefit. We dont need to hold inventories or pay salaries or other costs of overhead. After checking in at the door and filing by a phalanx of security guards, guests sipped Champagne, fingered baubles arranged on muslin-draped tables and tested the heft of new handbags, happy all the while to be mingling with their own. These parties can be social networking opportunities, said Susanna Stratton-Norris, a London-based knitwear designer who offered her opulent cashmeres for sale last month in a suite at the Regency Hotel in New York. She pulled her guest list together from a roster of clients she had cultivated in an earlier career as a decorator. These people felt as if they belonged to a club, Ms. Stratton-Norris said, one that caters to their tastes and where they could meet like-minded people. Socially at ease, they were free to indulge an acquisitive streak, not embarrassed to purchase in multiples or to tell me, Ill have one of these in every color. Other covert shoppers conduct their operations on the Web. It seems counterintuitive, but the big ticket items are flying out, said Ricky Serbin of Rickys Exceptional Treasures, a luxury resale store on eBay. Mr. Serbin said that in one week in November, he sold three Oscar de la Renta gowns, each for about $3,000. In flusher times they might have languished while shoppers indulged a yen for finery at luxury boutiques and upscale department stores. Whats changed? People like the anonymity of the Web, Mr. Serbin suggested. No one can see you coming out of Neiman Marcus moving a ball gown. Tatiana Sorokko, who recently bought a Ralph Rucci ensemble from Mr. Serbin, supported that theory. In this economy, the people I know are making adjustments. Their transactions tend to be between themselves and the seller, said Ms. Sorokko, a former model and the owner with her husband, Serge, of a gallery in San Francisco. Stealth shopping provides the satisfaction of buying something special from a person who you trust, she said. But you havent gone public. No one will talk.