If a highly unscientific sampling of five teen-agers at a local shopping mall is any indication, the leopard look is an endangered species.
"They're so ugly," one 16-year-old said of the animal prints prowling every young-juniors department. "They're loud," said another. "Totally trashy," declared a third.
On a recent shopping trip for back-to-school clothes at South Coast Plaza, a group of El Toro High School girls, ages 15 through 17, wandered from store to store offering their views on this fall's fashions.
According to them, also endangered is conformity.
Gone are the days when everyone must wear the same name brand or skirt length. Peer pressure to wear the same designer's name on the back of their pants has gone the way of Peter Pan collars and circle pins. Although Guess? jeans and Esprit outfits are still coveted, teen-agers today seem to be going their own way.
"I remember when everyone had to wear either Guess? jeans or Esprit," said T.J. Stoewsand, who will be a senior this fall. "They were so big before, but now they are not a must. We just wear what we want."
What these young women want are comfortable clothes with versatility, snappy outfits with style that are not too far-out or outrageous.
"We look for comfort," said Andrea Higuera, 16. "And personality," adds T.J. "Something you can wear to class and a football game."
They all like the new black-felt hats, short denim jackets, Esprit tops and skirts and the variety of jewelry and accessories available. Their one concession to brand names is L.A. Gear: Every girl must own at least one pair, they say.
They love this year's western styles, jewel colors, cardigan sweaters in bold prints, and all kinds of vests.
They also love to shop.
"I have been shopping every single weekend this whole summer, said Melanie Stahr, 15, who, like her friend Andrea, is a cheerleader this year. Despite all this activity, Melanie said, she hasn't completed her fall wardrobe.
Alyssa Jackson, 17, who is also a cheerleader this year, said she shops whenever she has the money. Three of the five have part-time jobs that help foot the clothes bills.
While they love to buy clothes, these girls know the limits. More than $90 for a two-piece outfit is too much, they said. More than $20 for a pair of earrings is also pushing it. Most of the things they buy are far less than either of those figures. If they spot something they must have and it costs too much, they have to wait and save the money.
"You always want more than you can afford," said Andrea. "My mom tells me when I have enough."
Their favorite stores? Charlotte Russe, Jay Jacobs, Judy's, Units, Wet Seal, Ups & Downs, the Limited, Contempo Casuals, Bullock's and Nordstrom. Their favorite malls are the Laguna Hills Mall and the Mission Viejo Mall because they are close to their homes, and MainPlace/Santa Ana and South Coast Plaza because they have the best variety.
"South Coast Plaza is the best" said T.J., who, according to her friends, knows each mall's nooks and crannies.
"You're talking to a girl who has two closets," said Alyssa of T.J.
The teen-agers said that with no school dress codes to restrict them, anything goes. A girl can wear just about anything that her parents will let her out of the house in.
"You can wear anything to school: sweats or real dressy things. You can go dressed up or casual," said Andrea.
With this freedom, classes are an amalgam of denim, chiffon, lace and flannel, a melting pot where personality more than peer pressure influences a student's look.
For example, T.J. loves boots, denim outfits and vests, all hot looks for fall. Andrea prefers navy blue and white striped sweaters, red and jewel-colored matching cotton tops and skirts, and plaid pants. Alyssa likes painted T-shirts and cotton knit tops, Melanie loves just about anything with polka dots, and Jennifer Song, 15, loves Benetton sweaters and western styles.
They do, however, reject two of the season's big looks: the colors gold, rust and black, and animal prints. They say the colors don't look good on them and that the animal prints are ugly. They also are not nuts about the flamenco-inspired black outfits dripping with gold coins that nearly every juniors department is peddling.
So they darted past a rack of black-and-gold dresses at Wet Seal and headed for a display of matching purple-print short skirts ($34) and tops ($32).
"That's totally cute," said Andrea. They all agree that the outfits were awesome and well-priced.
Following a morning-long study, the group came up with these favorites:
A black Andrew Sports shirt covered with studs and beads at Wet Seal ($29), a matching cotton top and skirt outfit in gray and pink by Esprit at Nordstrom ($42 for the skirt, $44 for top), a pair of Generra navy plaid pants at Bullock's ($48), Bongo cut-above-the-knee denim shorts ($36) and a Wooz denim jacket ($99) and matching denim skirt ($42) at Charlotte Russe.
After six stores and two purchases (a denim jacket and a painted T-shirt), the girls left low on money but high on hopes of coming back to buy more.