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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Back-to-School Shopping Hits Stores and Wallets

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Erika Andrews, 15, shopped for school clothes in North Adams.
Over the next several weeks, Berkshire region schools will open for the 2005-06 academic year and back-to-school fashionistas are on the prowl for the looks that will make the social grade.

Budget Bite

In the Northern Berkshires, shoppers face clothing costs and in many cases, the costs associated with shopping outside the region or from catalogues and on-line venues to find certain styles or clothing brands. With gasoline prices well over the $2 per gallon mark at most service stations and clothing “sale” prices ranging from $5 to $30 for tops and $13 to over $40 for jeans, “back-to-school” shopping can snap an enormous bite from a family budget.

Catalogue and on-line shopping doesn’t appeal to 23-year-old Kristin Gagnon, who works at the Moonlight Diner in Williamstown.

“I think [catalogue and on-line shopping] is more of a hassle,” she said. “You don’t know how something really looks or if it’s going to fit. I think it’s better to go shopping in person.”

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts student Lancy Button, 20, said that while the Berkshire Mall has “a few cute things and a few nice stores,” she does travel to the Holyoke and Crossgate malls to buy her clothes.

Selection and cost are factors for Button, who said she does look for bargains.

But she isn’t always thrifty, she said.

“If I see something I like, I get it,” she said. “And I can be bad with the credit cards.”

Gagnon noted clothing costs as well.

“Here’s what I think of fashion now: it’s more expensive and the material is flimsy,” she said.

Odd Men Out

Male students are especially challenged when it comes to local shopping, according to all those interviewed. Wal-Mart offers mens and boys departments, but there few other Northern Berkshire stores that offer affordable male apparel. The region’s parents and students travel to the Berkshire or other malls, outlet arenas, or utilize catalogues and on-line venues for choices in male clothing. Traveling means burning vehicle fuel, which adds to the overall cost of back-to-school shopping. Traveling to shop may also be time-consuming. Catalogue or on-line shopping means adding shipping and handling costs and an increased frequency of returns.


These are the boots of the moment, according to Fashion Bug store manager Lida Watters.
“I think it’s hard for the guys,” said Andrews. “They can go to Sports Corner [in North Adams] but that’s about it for up here. They can go to the [Berkshire] mall but things probably cost more.”

Button and Gagnon concurred.

“Guys really have no choice, there’s not much around here but the mall,” said Button.

Although female students have a few more local options, some clothing offered in other Berkshire locales isn't placed in Northern Berkshire shops.

Lida Watters, manager of a North-Adams-based Fashion Bug clothing shop, noted that a recently-released Jessica Simpson clothing line is available at the chain’s Pittsfield store, but has yet to be introduced at the North Adams store. Watters added that she would like to see the clothing available at the city store because she believes the merchandise would be popular with Northern Berkshire teen-aged girls.

Denim, Denim, Denim

Back-to-school shoppers are coming to the American Legion Drive store, Watters said. The “hot” items this year are “denim, denim, denim, denim,” she said, and emphasized that the store is well-stocked with those items.

“Denim has always been a staple but this year it’s huge,” Watters said during an Aug. 8 interview. “[Company officials] are even going to let us wear denim to work, that’s how big it is.”

But this isn’t traditional denim; the material is being used for everything from blazers to tops to jeans and has put on the glitz, said Watters.

“The items are embellished, higher quality, high-fashion cuts, all done in denim,” she said. “Another big look is the cropped length pants in denim or corduroy. For now, sandals are worn with the pants and later, it will be boots. The Western look is in.”

A search through the store aisles and an on-line review of several department store catalogues such as J.C. Penney and Sears found that rhinestones, embroidery, and other accents are prevalent even on little girls [sizes 4-16] apparel.

Cover That Thong!

Drury High School junior Holly Solak, 16, of North Adams, said the sparkly look meets with her approval.

“I wear a lot of things with sequins,” she said. “I love purses and shoes. I counted, and I have 48 pairs of shoes.”

Holly Solak and Lancy Button show off a pink purse considered to be "in style."


Yet despite Solak’s many footwear options, “I wear the same five or six pair,” she said.

Solak and 15-year-old Charles H. McCann Technical High School sophomore Erika Andrews agreed “plaid is out.”

“Some of the little plaid skirts are cute but not a plaid button-down shirt or a plaid blazer,” said Solak.

Turtlenecks have fallen from fashion’s youth-driven favor, and Solak said that jeans cut low enough to “show somebody’s thong” are also being shunned.

Andrews said a summer job at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art allowed her to earn money for school clothes. Andrews said she buys clothing that conforms to the McCann school dress code.

“I basically buy jeans and t-shirts,” she said. “ I think looking presentable is important. I do like the fashion tank tops and the jean jackets. I like bright skirts. A lot of people are going for the large purses but I think I will stick to my backpack.”

Gagnon and Button shared a strategy for finding stylish clothing locally and on a budget.

“Go to the Goodwill store [Route 8 in Adams],” Button said. “You can get some good stuff there.”

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net or at 802-823-9367.
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