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Sue Bush
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Back To School "Cool"

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Nikki Kirk, 7, shows off an in-style shirt and a shopping strategy.
For retailers who sell children's clothing, backpacks, book bags, and low- and high-tech supplies ranging from pencils to computer programs, the next few weeks may rank second only to the Christmas shopping season.

Sales And Promotions

Back-to-school shoppers are out in force, said Fashion Bug Manager Lida Watters during an Aug. 8 interview at a North Adams-based store.

"People are coming out and they are in a shopping mood," she said. "One thing I did notice is that retailers seem to be pushing it [back-to-school] a little earlier and I think a lot of that is due to the uncertainty about gas and heating fuel prices."

Coryssa Cote, 10, and Kelsey Biagini, 10, of Cheshire, said that they enjoy shopping as a team.
Watters said that the rising costs of both fuels could impact the school shopping budgets of many families and retailers are "wanting to get the jump on the shopping."

"Prices don't seem higher than last year and there are sales all over," she said. "And as long as the sales keep going on...that's the key, the retailers have to be on top of the promotions."

Fashion Bug operates stores along the East Coast, including a store in Pittsfield and a store in Bennington, Vt.. The North Adams store does well during the back-to-school shopping season because of a little girls department [size 4-14] a juniors department, a missy department, and a well-stocked plus size department, Watters said.

A New England location gives many area retailers a boost at this time of year, she added, because people view back-to-school as an indicator of the upcoming fall season and a need for warmer clothing. Even if clothing worn by students during the final weeks of the 2005-06 school year fit now, it is likely that the changing weather will mean a need for some new clothing.

"And you have to get it now if you want to find anything," she said.

Looking Good And Fitting In

Kelsey Biagini, 10, and Coryssa Cote, 10, both of Cheshire and students at the Cheshire Elementary School, were shopping with Kelsey's mother Tammy Biagini. Things have changed since Kelsey was a younger student, Biagini said.

"I used to be able to go out and buy clothes and bring it home and she'd love it," Biagini said. "Now, it's her way or no way."

"I worry about how stuff looks," Kelsey said, and added that she and her friends consider it important to possess a wardrobe that not only meets individual approval but can survive group scrutiny as well.

"The big deal is to look good and fit in," said Coryssa.

The camouflage look is "in," whether the print is shaded in a traditional green, brown and black tone or in pastel and cream hues, Kelsey and Coryssa said. Shirts may have glittery embellishments; shoes from companies such as Etnies, DC, Phat Farm and KSwiss are considered "cool," the two fifth-grade students said.

Finding a "cool" style in a color and style that also fits well and achieves a desired "look" is easier said than done, Kelsey and Coryssa said.

"If you have a friend with you, it helps," said Coryssa, who added that a friend will advise when an outfit is flattering and stylish.

Monkeys And Frogs

Dee Superneau of Adams was shopping with daughters Sabrina Superneau-Gilman, 10, and Nikki Kirk, 7. Sabrina and Nikki are C.T.Plunkett Elementary School students.

Dee Superneau checked out the selections of daughters Nikki Kirk and 10-year-old Sabrina Superneau-Gilman.

The family is about go on a vacation and Superneau said she wanted to get the school shopping done beforehand.

"We've already done some shopping and we took a big chunk out of it," she said. "I figured I'd better get it done before we went on vacation because the kids are going back [to school] on Aug. 31."

Nikki is a fan of camouflage clothing and Bobby Jack monkey-themed attire. She is not a fan of backpacks, she said.

"I like book bags," she said.

She finds many clothing items that she likes, Nikki said.

"Nikki doesn't mind wearing Wal-mart," said Superneau. "Sabrina will not wear it at all."

Her favorite clothing is designed with a monkey or a frog theme, and may be pink, Sabrina said.

"Pink is a good color," she said. "Camouflage is cool, too."

Elementary school age girls do review each other's clothing and make judgements about whose clothing rises to classroom "cool" standards and whose does not.

"And it's important to be cool," Sabrina said.

She does pay attention to her wardrobe but she is also intent on having the correct school supplies as well, Sabrina said.

"She's actually more worried about that than the clothes," said Superneau.

The teacher who will instruct Sabrina this school year distributed a list before summer recess began and the list identifies each item the teacher requires students to have for the class.

"We have to get what it is on the list," Sabrina said. "It's a full list with lots of stuff, it fills the whole page."

Superneau will tackle the cost of the items on the list as well as the cost of school clothes; she also had to shop for a 15-year-old son who is a high school student.

"He wears Pac Sun from the [Berkshire] mall," she said. "And that's expensive."

Longer Shirts, Shorter Skirts

This outfit might make the grade with elementary school age girls.
For junior size girls, one popular "look" is a short-short mini skirt worn over a pair of capri length leggings, said Watters.

Denim items are again in demand and a style dubbed "skinny jeans" is very popular. Tunics and longer-length t-shirts are replacing short tops that left abdomens exposed when coupled with low-rise jeans.

Watters said she does not believe the longer lengths came as a result of pressure from public school officials, many of whom banned the skin-showing look from schools, or parents, who criticized the fashion industry for not offering acceptable alternatives to belly-button baring designs.

"I think it was a fashion thing but I do think it was fortuitous," she said, and added that she is happy to see the longer shirts have claimed "in" status.

Neutrals such as tan, brown, and cream are big this season and black pants, shirts, sweaters, and skirts are filling the clothing racks. she said.

"The pastels are more for the little girls," Watters said. "But no matter what I have for junior fashion, there is always a group of some pastels. A lot of people really like them."

Leggings are a staple of this year's fall fashions, said Fashion Bug Manager Lida Watters.

A Paragraph For Boys

Boys and young men are looking for straight-leg loose-fit pleat-free khaki pants, distressed, loose-fit denim or dark-rinse, narrow jeans, vintage t-shirts with a soft, already worn and faded feel and look, zippies, hoodies, sweatshirts, and layering pieces, such as short-sleeved t-shirts that can be layered over long-sleeved t-shirts.

Clothing Swaps And Second-Hand Shops

Shopping alternatives are helping some families cope with the cost of school clothes and "clothing swaps" are growing in popularity in some regions. The basic premise requires parents to clean out children's closets and save outgrown clothing that is in good condition. A group of parents arrange to meet at the home of one parent and clothing is examined and swapped for items that each family can use. Some swap groups establish rules affecting trades and item values; others operate with a great deal of flexibility.

Swap groups have been formed in neighborhoods or among groups of friends whose children are staggered age-wise.

Second-hand clothing stores may offer budget-friendly solutions when shopping, especially when seeking winter coats or vintage-look items.

Remember When...

Recalling one's own school days clothing craze may help a parent cope with a child's demands for fashion. Superneau recalled her early teen years fashion "must-have."

"I remember my deal was Jordache jeans," she said. "And I was told that if I was getting them - they cost $50 bucks - it was half of my $100 [to be used for school clothes], and I'd be wearing them a lot more than one day a week. I didn't care. I had to have them."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.

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