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Fashion a major focus of back-to-school shopping

Delaware Public Media

This year’s back-to-school fashions have moved beyond plaid, with new colors, cuts and combinations designed to inspire discretionary spending.

While shopping in recent years has focused on purchases kids need rather than want, this season there’s a trend toward indulgence.

Kids grow and need more clothes. As consumer confidence grows, parents tend to buy their kids more clothes—or more expensive clothes.

That’s reflected in increased spending on fashion. Of the $684.79 average tab for a school-age child in kindergarten through 12th grade, more than half is expected to go for apparel. That includes $236.90 for clothes and $138.66 for shoes, according to the National Retail Federation, a Washington D.C.-based trade group.

Merchants are responding by promoting items to wear, touting fashion as well as function. Here are trends to watch:

  • Keds, the iconic footwear brand, is kicking it up a notch with denim sneakers that sport feminine ruffles and shimmering sneaks in brushed silver and gold metallics. Other options include glitter, stripes and polka dots.
  • Mom may count on Stitch Fix, the curated online shopping service, to put together fashion-forward outfits and mail them to her for approval. For back-to-school, Stitch Fix is offering the service to children. Each Stitch Fix Kids box contains eight to 12 items, including shoes and accessories. There’s also an option for one-of-a-kind apparel for kids who want to ensure a unique look.
  • JCPenney is targeting teens through a partnership with adolescent influencers Brooklyn and Baily McKnight, who are serving as brand ambassadors. The identical twins from Texas promote girl power and family values and have amassed more than 3.5 million followers on Instagram. JCPenney is promoting Brooklyn and Baily backpacks.
  • Students who wear uniforms are revving up their look with patches that glow in the dark on backpacks and such discretionary items as jewelry and fashion-forward footwear.
  • Athletic and leisure wear—known as athleisure—is resonating with the sporty set. Picture hoodies that transition from the classroom to the skateboard park. This year’s leggings are updated with stripes down the side. Adidas is showing pants with a cropped hoodie with three stripes down the sleeves.
  • There’s a strong movement toward embellishment, with sequins, embroidery and patches. H&M is selling $17.99 T-shirts with a twist: sleeves dotted with faux pearls.
  • Skinny jeans are getting squeezed out by denim with straight legs and a boot cut. American Eagle is selling high-waisted jeans with a button front, cropped legs and a flared silhouette.
  • To kids, the 1990s is ancient history—and inspiration for retro fashion. This year, the tween set is gravitating toward such ‘90s-inspired pieces as kilts, high-top sneakers and T-shirts from such bands as the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Value is still important in a competitive market, so expect to find great deals on kids’ clothes. Target is selling T-shirts for $4 and jeans for $8. At Walmart, uniform belted jumpers start at $4.79. Hoodies start at $12. Kohl’s is discounting Converse sneakers by 25 percent. JC Penney is promoting graphic Nike T-shirts for teen boys, discounted to $15.

Eileen Smith Dallabrida has written for Delaware Public Media since 2010. She's also written for USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, the Christian Science Monitor and many other news outlets.