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Hold the Cheese

Fashion: If retailers wanted a model for her demographic, the tastes and spending habits of Tustin teenager Regina Wieczorek might be just the ticket.

November 21, 1996|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's 8 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, a school night for Regina Wieczorek, and she's worried. The Tustin teenager has just returned from an unsuccessful shopping trip to the mall.

"I don't know what I'm going to wear to school tomorrow," she says fretfully.

To Regina, what she wears is no minor concern. The high school sophomore says she's Orange County's answer to Cher, the Beverly Hills fashion plate played by Alicia Silverstone in the 1995 movie "Clueless."

Like Cher, Regina has a certain fashion reputation to uphold. In the hallways of Foothill High School in North Tustin, she's seldom seen wearing the same outfit twice. Friends always compliment her on her clothes.

"My life is fashion," she says.

Regina adores clothes shopping. Every week she visits malls and clothing stores in Orange County and Los Angeles to pick up on new trends. She's a careful student of fashion. She devours fashion magazines, watches "House of Style" and other fashion TV shows and serves on a fashion advisory board at Nordstrom.

Nordstrom and other fashion retailers would do well to study the shopping habits and fashion tastes of the Regina Wieczoreks of the world.

At 16, she falls into a category of shoppers who are old enough to love clothes and young enough to afford them. Collectively, U.S. shoppers ages 14 to 24 spent $10.5 billion on women's apparel in 1995. While total women's apparel sales, which fell just shy of $81 billion, grew by a paltry 1% from 1994, purchases by the younger shoppers grew by a healthier 7%, according to the NPD American Shoppers Panel in Port Washington, N.Y.

Like most teenagers, Regina works but doesn't have to worry about paying rent. Until recently she worked at an Italian restaurant, and she's looking for a job in fashion retail for the holidays. She spends most of the money she earns on her wardrobe.

Young women with spending money might be a retailer's dream, but catering to their fast-changing, fickle fashion tastes can be a nightmare. Consider Regina's recent shopping expedition: It does not matter that her closet, which doubles as a shrine to Brad Pitt, is already well stocked with recently purchased plaid miniskirts, baby bell pants, V-neck sweaters and flowy floral-print dresses. She has gone to her favorite shopping mecca--South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa--to find something new.

To add to her frustration, she not only can't figure out what to wear to school, she's also going to need a new outfit for a party coming up on the weekend. Of course, one could suggest that Regina wear one of the weeks-old outfits already hanging in her closet. As if.

The trouble is that Regina forgot to cash her paycheck and can only put items on hold until she and a girlfriend return to the mall. Undaunted, she sets out on a course of her favorite shops.

At Nordstrom's Brass Plum department, she riffles through racks of sweaters, lingering over a mohair style by Rampage ("I think that's really cute") and a boucle cardigan ("Everyone has those").

She approves of a pair of brown corduroy pants by Roxy and a black sweater by GirlStar with retro red and white stripes, but when she comes to a rack of leggings, she sticks out her tongue.

"They remind me of the '80s. They were cool in the fifth grade," she says.

Regina also dismisses crushed velvet T-shirts as "cute but getting a little too trendy."

And the short-sleeved mock turtlenecks?

"I had those last year," she says, shaking her head.

Regina often displays a knowledge of fashion beyond her years. She pauses before a spotted dalmatian-print top:

"Unless you're gorgeous, you can't get away with anything stupid," she says.

She heads into a dressing room with a couple of floral dresses but returns empty-handed.

"They're too short," she says.

Wherever Regina goes, solicitous sales reps hover in her wake.

"That's such a cute dress," says a young woman working at Wet Seal, admiring Regina's short, zip-front burgundy dress.

The walls of Wet Seal are plastered with posters from the TV show "Clueless" that picture actresses wearing the identical outfits selling in the store. The idea is that the customer can look exactly like the "Clueless" characters, but Regina is not impressed.

Sure, she saw the movie at least six times, and Silverstone is her favorite actress. The new TV show, however, is "the cheesiest thing I've ever seen. The clothes are really bad."

"Cheesy" is a word she uses to describe just about everything she considers to be in poor taste, bad fashion or just plain lame.

The black patent-leather handbags with iridescent smile faces sitting in a juniors department of a specialty store? "Cheesy." So, too, are the $16 vinyl handbags with the name of an unknown manufacturer stitched on the front.

"If it's not a good brand, why put your name on it?"

Before leaving Wet Seal, Regina tries on a black miniskirt and a '70s-looking black V-neck sweater with sky blue horizontal stripes, both priced about $45, and puts them on hold for her next visit to the mall.

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