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School fashions: What’s hot, what’s not

Consumers seek value not skinny jeans. By Teri Goldberg

Value is hot. Must-haves may not be this back-to-school season, says Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research company. “It’s a consumers’ market,” adds Cohen, who says the majority of back-to-school shoppers will seek out value and upgrade their wardrobes with “fashion right” items rather than ring up credit card bills or plucked down a wad of cash on trendy threads.

Consumers also are willing to start later and spend about the same as last year. About half or 47 percent of back-to-school shoppers plan to spend less than $250 per child, according to a poll NPD conducted between from June 8 to July 5, 2006. Twenty-eight percent will dish out between $251 and $500. And seven percent are expected to spend more than $1,000.

So where will consumers do the most damage? Upper-income shoppers will continue to buy on impulse at high-end shops. But most of us will look for deals. And that means, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s, department stores that have value-oriented name brands, says Cohen. A quick look at the Web sites reveal a hefty selection of name brands, such as JanSports and Champion, at JC Penney and classic brands, such as Jockey and Candies, at Kohl’s. Both stores have set up their Web sites to steer the cyber shopper in the direction of what they consider hot this season.

Known for its star-studded casts of designers, including Isaac Mizrahi and Michael Graves, Target will continue to attract value- and fashion-conscious shoppers, says Cohen.

The politically correct will gravitate to niche shops, such as American Apparel. But that’s a very small segment of the population, adds Cohen.

Skinny jean or not
Of course, retailers will try to push fashion of any sort to get the consumer to open up their wallets. And if there is one must-have this season, it’s the skinny jean, straight leg pants that taper at the ankle.

“The skinny jean is very popular,” says Renee Guida, fashion spokesperson for Bob’s Stores, a value-oriented retailerheadquartered in Meriden, Conn. Although she admits that the sprayed-on look is not for everyone. “You have to dress for your body type,” says Guida. The skinny jean would not be “flattering” on a “larger person,” she explains. She also says men still prefer the loose fit.

Cohen expects skinny jeans to go the way of many fashion trends designed with size 0-2 in mind. “Skinny jeans, I don’t think so. You have use pliers to get them on. And you’re not going to wear them again,” he says.

Skinny jean or not, most consumers own at least five pair of jeans, says Guida, and she knows some people that have 30 pairs. Actually anything goes this season in the denim department, from embroidered to cropped jeans, but expect a slightly cleaner look with minimal rips and tears.

What consumers spend on a pair of jeans depends on their fashion sense and budget. Boutique jeans run $100 and more. BTW, 7 jeans are already on the way out, says Jocelyn Loleng, media consultant, formerly a production coordinator at Ralph Lauren, who clads her slender body only in designer wares. “Designer jeans Yanuk, True Religion and Chip & Pepper are on the rise,” she adds.

Value shoppers will stick with traditional stock, such as Levi’s and Lees. The good news is “you still can get a decent pair of jeans for $20,” says Guida.

Message Ts

Message and graphic T-shirts are still hot, says Guida. These T-shirts make a statement, although it’s not always clear what the wearer it trying to say. Graphic Ts at Kohl’s, priced at $9.99, reduced from $18, are imprinted with expressions, such as “My Monkey Made Me Do It” and “Chillin’ With My Peeps." Huh?

Other shops that carry hip and trendy T-shirts include Threadless and Destroy NYC (these border on scary.)

Café Press has a stash of political tees with sayings such as, “I’d rather vote for a sock puppet than George W. Bush.”

At Kohl’s you’ll also find T-shirts with the American Flag or that say U.S. Military, reduced from $10 to $4. Ironically, the “military inspired” or camo look still makes the grade, says Guida. (Apparently, fashion-conscious shoppers do not associate the trend with real wars — as in Iraq, Israel — or perhaps they’d reconsider the attire.)

Girls also favor burned-out T-shirts that come with holes in them, says Guida. Boys look for branded Ts, especially ones with skate board company logos on them, such as Element, Quiksilver, Hurley, Split and Volcom.

Hoodies, bags and moreHoodies and track jackets are back on the racks, as well as skate shoes, sneakers, clogs, flip flops (start of the school year) and boots (mid-year.)

And no matter what the trends are, you can’t start the new school year without a new bag. A cyber trip over to eBags.com suggests what’s hot this season.

Bestsellers include backpacks and messenger bags, designed to hold electronic gadgets, such as CD/iPod/MP3 players. Prices range from $29.99 for the High Sierra Mia to $99.90 for JansSport’s LiveWire audio pack. Other practical yet fashionable options are laptop cases, especially laptop backpacks, and stylish versions of the messenger bag or backpack.

Tagger lets cyber shoppers design their own Urban Access Pizza Courier messenger bag for $49.99. Consumers can choose the color of the main compartment plus the flaps and straps. The bag comes in an “authentic” corrugated pizza box, wax paper and all.