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Saved by the bell

August 31, 2008|Erin Weinger | Times Staff Writer

Back-to-school season is usually a time when retailers rack up major sales. But this year is poised to be a tough one, which means stores are offering specials ahead of schedule. Here are our picks for the best places to nab a stylish new back-to-school wardrobe on a budget.

Marshalls: The destination for discounted department store names has never been known as a cool kid hangout. But this back-to-school season, Marshalls is trying to change that with the Cube, a trendy, in-store boutique full of pieces for younger bargain shoppers.

You'll know you're in the Cube when you hear pop music blaring and see the pink-and-green Palm Beach color scheme. Pieces mined from all over the store are arranged by style, not size, as Marshalls traditionally does it. Brands include DKNY, BCBG Girls, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Guess and Free People; prices are mostly $40 and under; and styles are current, with some pieces selling at (pricier) department stores simultaneously, a Marshalls spokeswoman says.

If you happen to visit during an off time, have no fear. New goods arrive every week. The in-store boutique even has its own Facebook page, complete with a "Hills"-style glimpse into the lives of Marshalls summer interns. (Lauren and Heidi they are not.) The Cube may host a bevy of brands, but scoring last season's Balenciaga blouse is out of the question.

Burbank Empire Center, 1701 N. Victory Place, Burbank. (818) 729-9007. 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday, till 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Eastland Shopping Center, 2735 Eastland Center Drive, West Covina. (626) 967-6371. 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday, until 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. West Park Shopping Center, 3781 Alton Parkway, Irvine. (949) 250-4206. 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday, until 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Target: The trusty retailer is ground zero for pens, pencils and protractors. But don't forget that fashion is a school supply too. Starting today, Target's latest GO International line of private-label gear arrives in stores. Stylish basics include sleeveless funnel-neck tops ($22.99) and orange kimono-sleeve anoraks ($39.99), perfect for heading to class on a crisp autumn morning. Botkier, Target's latest guest accessory designer, offers a roomy metallic hobo ($49.99) as an alternative to the nylon book bag. And online shoppers can score Isaac Mizrahi's new collection of colorful cashmere sweaters, $69.99, exclusively at

10820 Jefferson Blvd., Culver City. (310) 839-5200; 1800 W. Empire Ave., Burbank. (818) 238-0132; 7100 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 603-0004. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Crazy 8 through Sept. 7: Find polo shirts, graphic tees, hoodies and denim at rock-bottom prices at this children's chain, which offers basic gear for newborns to size 14. For girls, a very on-trend blue-and-white plaid pocket-front dress is $17.99 (from $22.50), and cotton polos are $5.99 (originally $12.50). Boys' plaid short-sleeve buttoned-downs are $10.99 (from $14.50). But the real deal is the jeans -- buy one pair for $16.50, or two or more for $9.99 a piece.

Del Amo Fashion Center, 3 Del Amo Fashion Square, Torrance. (310) 793-7479. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, until 8 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Gymboree through Sept. 7: Find preppy looks that won't blow your back-to-school budget. Girls up to age 12, don't miss argyle sweater vests ($22.49 from $28.50), houndstooth swing jackets ($31.49 from $39.50) and patent leather clogs ($27.49 from $34.50). Guys can show their sporty sides in canvas motorcycle jackets ($25.99 from $32.50), Velcro skate sneakers ($22.99 from $29.50) and vintage-inspired rugby shirts ($17.99 from $22.50). Value packs of socks $7.49 (from $9.50).

421 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 278-0312. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Sherman Oaks Fashion Square, 14006 Riverside Drive, Sherman Oaks. (818) 783-6821. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Express through Sept. 7: The college set will have more money to blow on beer -- er, books -- now that dresses, blouses and jeans are 40% off at Express. Check out the store's tailored denim jackets ($52.80 from $88), versatile white tuxedo shirts ($29.70 from $49.50) and dolman sleeve, open-back tops ($35.70 from $59.50), perfect for frat parties and beyond. The basics are on sale too, including scoop-neck and V-neck sweaters in teal, gray and wine for $29.50.

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