The Palm Beach Diaries: High Society, Haters & the World's Best Hand Cream


Palm Beach and The Breakers at Palm Beach are synonymous with old money and high society. It was 1995 and I wasn't old money. I wasn't even new money. In fact, that year, I, personally, had no money - so what was I doing staying at The Breakers?

Good question.

An even better question would be - What was I doing staying at The Breakers wearing Annie Hall inspired khakis (most likely purchased at The Gap), Hanes men's white t-shirts, destroyed jeans, vintage (Translation? Thrift store bought.) dresses and the clunkiest of clunky black shoes?

During the mid 90's, the mixing of high and low (end) had yet to be openly embraced as a trend by starlets or socialites. The ubiquitousness of cheap chic chains like Forever 21, H+M and Zara would be years down the road. Marc Jacobs had sent his grunge inspired models down the runway at NY Fashion Week (a few years earlier, in 1992) in vintage-y print dresses, t-shirts and dark lipstick, but the women staying at The Breakers were probably the ones writing nasty notes to Anna Wintour because she had dared to featured Marc's Grunge for Perry Ellis in Vogue in the first place. Those high society ladies were then in no way onboard with a $10 men's white t-shirt as daywear. Or the hipster cachet of a John Fleuvog sandal or (God forbid!) a red canvas tote bag with a huge picture of Snoopy and Lucy Van Pelt on it.

They hated my look.

The only person at The Breakers who appreciated my aesthetic was a young waiter who served breakfast daily in one of the grand dining rooms. One morning, when I rolled in after 10am, he went a little wild, saying how he loved my whole look and talking about the obvious irony of that red tote bag. He said it flew in the face of everyone else there who was carrying an expensive status handbag. While he may have misused the word irony, he obviously got what I was going for. He got my look completely. That I appreciated.

So, let's recap. What we know is that the women staying at The Breakers were NOT fans of low end eclectic style. And neither were the hotel employees - except, of course, for the young waiter at breakfast. I knew all of this definitively because most of the female guests were wearing Chanel, Escada or Akris head to toe and also because whenever I went into gift shop, the people working the register were reluctant to allow me to room charge so much as a magazine. I had no choice but to assume that it was because of the way I was dressed. After all, I had a room key and was a completely legit guest in good standing.

There I was at the Five Star Breakers Hotel and Resort - shunned by both high society and high society's minions. It was then that I realized I had to get the heck out of there, even if only for a few hours.

After walking around nearby Worth Ave and quickly figuring out that I couldn't afford to buy anything in any of those stores, I happened upon a courtyard with a few unassuming shops. It was charming and welcoming. The exact opposite of Worth Ave. The whole scene was like something out of a movie, only it wasn't. It was definitely real.

One of those charming shops was actually L'Occitane. Keep in mind this was decades before L'Occitane could be found in just about every fancy mall in the US and its products were winning Best Of accolades from just about every beauty magazine under the sun. I had certainly never heard of it and had no idea that I was about to discover what has come to be considered by many as the holy grail of hand creams. Seriously. (In product reviews on, people have referred to it as 'life changing'.)

L'Occitane is a French brand - extra points for THAT because as you may know I do consider myself to be faux French. Also, the woman who owned the shop was originally from France and still had a heavy accent. Even more impressive (to me). And she was NICE - What a breathe of fresh air after where I had just been! She explained the company history and products which back then, consisted essentially of soaps, solid perfumes and the Shea Butter Hand Cream. (Today they have at least a dozen or so versions of the hand cream as well as skin care for both men and women. It's extensive to say the least.)

You should also know that up until that point, hand cream and I had had a decidedly Goldilocks type relationship. This one was too greasy. This one was too heavily perfumed. This one was too greasy AND too heavily perfumed. Well, the L'Occitane Shea Butter one was - and is - just right. It sinks into your skin and softens your hands. Simple as that. It's the shea butter. If you use it daily, you'll also see an improvement in the overall appearance of the skin on your hands. Did I mention the shea butter? (Other brands have recently tried to jump on the shea butter bandwagon, but L'Occitane did it first and best.)

That day, I bought a bunch of L'Occitane, including their Shea Butter Hand Cream which I've continued to buy up - and give as gifts - since. In fact, I am so passionate about it that I'm still sad about the brusque and unapologetic TSA agent who confiscated a brand new tube from me at the airport a few years back. I bet he brought it home to his wife! That's always been my theory.

Now, L'Occitane really is everywhere. Sort of like H+M or Zara. I'm sure that even the Palm Beach high society ladies are using it, but I'm not bitter - I do, however, like to think that I discovered it first. Wink! If you want to check out the hand cream and more, just go to or (if you're local) wait for the new store opening in Garden City (Cranston, RI) this Spring.

Photo Courtesy: L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream photo, L'Occitane