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FASHION CURRICULUM : Back to Basics : An Education in Affordable Clothing for Students


As every school kid knows, you can't go to class dressed like a dweeb. Wear the wrong thing and you face the kind of swift and merciless punishment only a junior-higher could deliver.

Confused about what to buy for back-to-school wardrobes? Parents, take note: Not surprisingly, kids want to wear what their friends are wearing.

"Give kids some say when buying back-to-school clothes," says Robbie Ellis, a spokeswoman for JCPenney Co. Inc. in Dallas. "Sometimes Mom and Dad will have to say 'No,' but they are not walking the halls--the children are."

Here's a checklist of affordable back-to-school essentials for the braces-and-bubblegum set.


Whether you're shopping at Kids Mart, JCPenney, Mervyn's, Sears or Target, you'll note the classic look is back. Neatness counts: Shirttails are tucked in. Baggy pants that run three sizes too large are now ripe for parody, as seen in "Clueless."

Boys are wearing lots of layers. "They're putting hockey jerseys and flannel shirts over T-shirts," says Mary Kwan, a vice president with Sears Roebuck & Co. in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

For girls: "Plaids are extremely important. You'll see a lot of flippy skirts," she says.


*Henley shirts, with three-button fronts and no collars, in textured fabrics or waffle-weave thermal (average $10-28 at various retailers); denim work shirts ($16), plaid flannel shirts ($6-$20)

* Five-pocket jeans with a relaxed fit ($15-$20)

* Denim and sweater vests, including striped knit styles ($20)

* Attitude T-shirts with screen logos ($9-$15)

* Denim or plaid flannel shorts ($14-$22)


* Tiny tee's, some with ruffled lettuce-edge hems and sleeves, and baby polo ($13-$17)

* Short plaid skirts ($10-$24)

* Scooter skirts ($10-$17)

* Denim vests ($12-$17)

* Two-piece dressing: Knit dresses with denim vests ($25-$30); denim jumpers with baby tees ($37).


Kids are wearing oxfords, work boots and hiking boots that are clunky and comfortable.

* Hiking/work boots ($25-$59), chunky-heeled loafers and lug-soled oxfords ($9-$21)

* Converse "Goo" shoes that change colors when exposed to body heat ($45)

* Tennis shoes

* For girls, Mary Janes with thick heels; T-strap shoes ($6 and up)


Accessories can improve a child's chances of being voted Best Dressed.

For girls:

* Headbands, sometimes worn two at a time, berets and hair bows ($3-$6)

* Thigh-high leggings and tights ($4) and scrunchy socks to wear over tights ($2.50-$5)

For boys:

* Stadium jackets ($60)

* Baseball caps. Available at all stores, but check with your school district before buying; som campuses ban caps to discourage gang dressing.


Getting new notebooks, binders and other goodies is probably the best part about going back to school.

* Backpacks: Even kindergartners carry them. Older kids want the ones with the known labels, like JanSport ($20 and up)

* Lunch kits and mini coolers ($10) have taken the place of the traditional lunch box * Nike school supplies, including binders, book bags and student planners in solid colors with bold graphics ($15-$20).


For a growing number of students, the question of what to wear is no longer being raised in class. In the past couple of years, uniforms have been instituted at many public campuses, most recently at Wilson Elementary in Costa Mesa. It's the first school in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District to adopt uniforms.

But at the Santa Ana Unified School District, 28 of the 30 elementary schools have voluntary uniforms. Only Adams and Taft chose not to have uniforms--the parents voted against them. With concerns about gang attire and violence in the schools rising, expect to see more schools adopt uniforms.

"Some students are very fashion-conscious," says John Bennett, an assistant superintendent in Santa Ana. "Parents feel uniforms eliminate the need to keep up with the trends."

* More Back to School, E4

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