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Hot back-to-school fashions

Ponchos and miniskirts are back for girls, vintage T-shirts and great sneakers for boys. By Teri Goldberg

Cargo pants are “in” for boys but “out” for girls. Teenage boys will wear button-up shirts out and teenage girls will cover up their belly buttons once again. Both boys and girls will seek a dressier look in the shoe department. She will wear heels with jeans. He will put on a brand name shoe.

Like it or not, back-to-school is the first, and perhaps the only time, for school kids to make the “right” impression. “If you’re not hot at back to school, it’s a long way to get hot,” says Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at, The NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based sales and marketing research company.

A back-to-school bounce in sales is equally important for retailers. “If a brand gets off to a slow start or is dubbed not cool for the year, it has a lot of ground to make up. If it starts out as the hot brand or retailer, it has a lot of momentum going into the fall and holiday season,” says Cohen, who started his career as a buyer for Federated, Inc.

This season, retailers can’t ignore the teen-buying factor. Many teens plan to break open their piggy banks just to be cool, according to a survey by BIGresearch conducted for the National Retail Federation. As a matter of fact, 45.5 percent of survey participants with teens said their kids would be spending their own money on back-to-school goods. Preteens, 6 to 12 year olds, are expected to dish out about $40.48 each; and teens will part with about $84.58 each, according to parents who say their kids will spend their own money. Pocket change? Think again. Total preteen and teen dollars expected to contribute to retail sales this back-to-school season: $884 million.

What influences teen fashion?So what’s hot this season? “It all starts with adult fashion in Milan,” says Laura McDowell, the fashion spokesperson for, the national chain that prides itself on its discounted designer goods. Fashion for tweens, ages 9-12, and teens, ages 13-17, “trickles down from the runway,” she says.

Cohen strongly disagrees. He says retailers want consumers to think fashions are runway-driven but it’s not true. “That’s not how it works today,” he says referring to time when designers could set the trends. “The consumer is the ultimate vote caster,” says Cohen.

The biggest influence on kids today is the media, says Cohen. Tweens are driven by a particular television or movie character and it dominates their entire wardrobe, whether it’s SpongeBob SquarePants or Dora the Explorer. Teens have to have the right brand but also are concerned about style. Brand is not enough. Teens want to know, “Is it the right style? Is it the right color?” says Cohen.

Hot spots to shop this year are mall-based, national retailer American Eagle Outfitters, tween/teen shop and, says Cohen. Bargain back-to-school shoppers will look for stylish wares at discount prices at, and, says Cohen.

Ponchos and miniskirts are hot

Whether Milan or the media is the primary influence, the poncho is everywhere this season. Styles at Limited Too range from striped ponchos with hoods to machine crocheted. At Children's Place, there’s even a poncho doll, $8.50. The doll is clothed in a multi-color poncho similar to the wool/acrylic blend ponchos found on the racks at Children’s Place. The kid-sized ponchos sell for $16.50 to $19.

The poncho doll also wears a bright colored miniskirt, another one of this season’s must-haves. Pleated miniskirts, priced at $29.50, fill the racks at Aeropostale. Miniskirts average $34.50 at American Eagle Outfitters and come in several styles, including the way hot tiered ruffle skirt.

American Eagle Outfitters

In contrast to skirts, jeans are “clean” this season, says McDowell. No pockets, no embroidery, no bells, no whistles. Bootlegs with higher waist lines replace hip huggers.

The “timeless” tweed is also back, says McDowell. And pink is still the color (how many seasons is that now?) So a pink tweed blazer is “totally cute, very current,” she says. Other popular shades of pink include dusty rose and deep magenta. New fall colors include royal blue, violet and chartreuse.

For the boysIn the boys department, styles vary little from last year, says McDowell. Vintage T-shirts with cords, jeans or khakis is the norm. Styles breakdown slightly when it comes to athletic versus urban types. Those who favor the athletic look shop stores such as, and

The real trend setters are urban types, 15-25 years old, says Greg Selkoie, founder of, a cyber shop that targets this global youth culture. “What these kids are wearing today, mainstream kids will wear tomorrow,” says Selkoie.  Cools brands include,, and

Price is also no object for these “alpha consumers” or consumers who love to consume just to consume, says Selkoie. They have no problem dropping $32 on a T-shirt, especially if it mocks contemporary culture. One T-shirt at Karmaloop from Freshjive bears the logo from Woodstock with the bird’s head cut off. The product description says, “Real rock ’n’ rollers aren’t gonna let some freakin’ bird chill out on their ax.”

Sneaker culture is also super hot with urban types, says Selkoie. Limited edition Chuck Taylor-style high tops top the list. Some limited edition sneakers are even unisex, such as Puma’s Boston Freedom Trail, $108, and the limited edition Pro Keds with designs by Bronx-born graffiti artist NYC LASE.