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NEW YORK — Teens will never admit it, but the uncertain times and fashion’s latest fascination — the counterculture looks of the Sixties and early Seventies often worn by their parents — have become the latest rage.
Suffering from lackluster sales and fashion trends that focused mostly on duster sweaters and denim last back-to-school season, retailers are looking for spirited buying inspired by the casual, anti-establishment looks of another time of national uncertainty — the era of the Vietnam War and Watergate.
Driven by the hot fashion trends this spring and summer in bohemian and peasant styles, department and specialty stores are counting on the trend continuing this fall, with some seeing an evolution into more Western and vintage looks.
Even with consumer confidence plummeting in July, as corporate scandals and stock market plunges caused concern among shoppers, industry observers predicted that teen spending on apparel is still a high priority and the strong fashion cycle this year should spur sales.
Calling for a good b-t-s season this year, Kimberly Greenberger, an analyst at Lehman Bros., said pent-up demand for fashion should be enough to drive teen spending. In addition, she explained the fashion this year reflects consumers’ desire for comfort after a year of turmoil.
“People are yearning for days when things were better and are looking back in time when fashion was more recognizable and understandable,” she said. “When the greater world feels more scary and the economy feels a little bit rocky, people tend to reflect back home; and they also tend to crave times when things were better and more comforting, and look backwards in fashion and not forward to the booming market in the late 1990s when fashion was edgier.”
Greenberger noted styles from the late 1960s and early 1970s — home-crafted and worn and distressed looks — are back in a big way.
“You get that when you bring influence of the past decade into the collection and that is where we believe the strength of the 1970’s retro is coming from,” said Greenberger.
She noted that the bohemian or peasant trend that dominated spring-summer is roaming into a prairie look for early fall. Key pieces will still be woven tops, some of which will have the peasant silhouette, but updated with different fabrics and prints. Other important looks include the prairie or tiered skirt and Mexican-Hispanic ethnic influences with salsa-inspired blouses and skirts.
Retailers are introducing a myriad of ways to show the Western garb, rounding up suede fabrics, fringe on garments, belts and handbags, and rawhide ties on peasant-looking tops. While denim was a sure-seller last year, retailers are updating their lines with patched pieces and front-seam detail. Homemade-influenced denim skirts will also hit the racks in all lengths.
At J.C. Penney, a spokesman said the bohemian-peasant looks continue to be strong and are moving into a more feminine feel, with ruffled edges and gypsy-like sleeves in fabrics like gauze and lace. Key items are jeans (with woven or suede hippie belts), skirts and peasant tops in brown, tan and rust colors.
Christine Munnelly, divisional merchandising manager for juniors at Macy’s East, said the bohemian look is melding into the Western style and should help make b-t-s selling this year more successful than a year ago.
“The hobo-prairie feeling is more relaxed, an all-American look,” she said. “It is one big melting pot, because they merchandise well together with fringe and eyelet elements, rawhide detailing, bell sleeves and suede pieces. The peasant look is very strong, and we planned it that way. We still see woven tops going through the fourth quarter, but mixing it with lace and velvet to dress up the peasant top to give it a gypsy feeling.”
In addition, Munnelly said long denim skirts that are belted are outstanding. Of course, a key item for b-t-s is jeans, Munnelly said, noting Macy’s has focused presentations of the jeans department in 20 stores into four key looks — black wash, pintucking, belted and laced-up detailing — rather than organizing by vendor, which allows customers to easily find the look they want.
Munnelly also noted that Macy’s is going after the junior better denim category with brands like Mavi, Silver and Levi’s. Prices range from $48 to $68. New brands include Buffalo, Roxy by Quiksilver, Echo and Rocawear.
Denim is also going to be a major statement for b-t-s at Express. The specialty retailer said it will have a core denim collection consisting of low-rise, boot-cut and flair bottoms, as well as fashion denim. Also, Express has taken denim to the next level with patchwork and graffiti.
“It is more over the top, not so bohemian anymore, but more romantic with lace and ruffles,” said an Express spokeswoman. “For us, bohemian is so passé. We are now using romantic with lace and ruffles for fall and pairing an old-looking top with a new pair of jeans,” she added.
Tops with ripped and reworked jeans, as well as cords, skirts, pants and jackets, are also expected to be top performers at Express this fall.
At Charlotte Russe, Harriet Bailiss-Sustarsic, president and chief merchandising officer, said on a recent conference call, “We are confident in our interpretation of fashion,” noting the Western style is going to be important in the fall mix. Key items include corduroy and novelty denim, suede and knits.
“The product trends have moved away from prairie and peasant fashion wear towards Western and other trends,” she said.
A Sears spokeswoman agreed that the bohemian-peasant look is going to be big for b-t-s. For bottoms, she said low-rise jeans continue to be a key trend in flair and boot-cut silhouettes. In terms of finish, she noted the authentic or vintage-worn look appears to be selling well, as are jeans with treatments like blasting and whiskering that create a worn look.
“Anything with a unique detail with the pants, like novelty patch pockets or a wider waist belt, and lace-up jeans and tops, continue to be important,” she said.
Paula Masters, chief merchandising officer at Gadzooks, said the chain is “going big” on the bohemian-peasant trend and will be represented in its Candie’s and Misdemeanor branded lines.
Another big trend sure to pass through the school door this fall is athleticwear or what some are calling “athleisure,” like the old warmup suit with cooler detailing.
Penney’s and Macy’s East are offering sets or separates of the hooded jackets with matching pants and T-shirts. Other active-casual looks include yoga pants and low-rise drawstring bottoms.