Whether it’s an up or down year for the stock market, whether the designers are hitting new heights of creativity or dawdling in dullness, teenage girls are a growth market.

While teens’ apparel purchases are influenced by economic and fashion trends, they are also driven by one simple truth: Most people aged 13 to 19 are growing physically and socially, and that means they have to replace clothing more frequently than their elders because of size and style.

Lots of other factors, including a desire to fit in with their peers and a lack of other financial responsibilities, contribute to teens’ tendency to spend more on clothing than adults. But the simple force of nature plays a role in making teens such a compelling market to many apparel companies.

According to STS Market Research, based in Cambridge, Mass., teenage girls spent $5.8 billion last year on "casual sportswear," a term the company uses to encompass most apparel except coats, innerwear, socks, shoes and accessories. That works out to about $393 per capita, which is about 27 percent more than the typical woman aged 20 or over spent.

"Their per capita consumption of apparel items is much higher," said Art Spar, president of STS. "Partially, that’s because of the fashion consciousness, and partially because of the fact that they’re growing and they’re constantly outgrowing and needing to replace clothing."

STS research, which is based on consumer panels, found that teen girls bought clothing on average 11 times during the year, ahead of the eight times reported by adults, and bought on average 18 casual sportswear items during the year, ahead of the 15 items purchased by those older than them.

The population of teen girls in the U.S. is also likely to continue to grow for the next few years. The U.S. Census put the population of females aged 13 to 19 for the year 2000 at 13.7 million. Factoring out immigration, last year the population of that age group would have dropped slightly, since the cohort of more than 2 million women who turned 19 in 2000 would have been replaced by the less than 2 million children turning 13. But for this year through 2006, the population of girls turning 13 should exceed the number of women turning 20, which will slightly drive up the population.STS market data is based on a projected population of 14.6 million 13- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. last year, which is about 6.4 percent higher than the population predicted by the national census. STS data is drawn from a panel of 5,673 respondents.

Fashion is also a higher priority for teen shoppers than it is for many older consumers. During the past few decades, American adults have steadily spent less of their disposable income on apparel, as they’ve found other outlets, including home improvement, travel and particularly, electronics.

Teens, according to Michael Wood, vice president at Northbrook, Ill.-based Teenage Research Unlimited, "would be bucking that trend," spending about one-third of their disposable income on apparel, footwear and accessories.

"Clothing plays such an important role in their lives, as well as brands," the TRU official said. "It’s more important for this age group to have whatever is latest and greatest."

Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor, a poll of 4,000 U.S. consumers aged 16 to 55, also found that teens’ enthusiasm for shopping exceeds that of their elders.

Forty percent of women aged 16 to 19 responded that they "love" shopping, compared with 16 percent of women and men aged 20 to 55. (See Table 1.) While the 37 percent of respondents aged 20 to 55 said they shopped to get what they needed, only 13 percent of women aged 16 to 19 chose that response.

The poll found that females aged 16 to 19 shop on average 2.7 times a month, compared with 1.7 times for shoppers aged 20 to 55.

The brands that teens chose also told a lot about how they prefer to shop. STS found that four of teens’ five top brands, in terms of dollars spent, were specialty store labels. Old Navy, Gap, Express and American Eagle topped the list, with Guess — which is sold at wholesale and at company-owned boutiques — coming in fifth. (See Table 2.) About 42 percent of teens bought at least one item at Old Navy last year, the survey found.

"Old Navy is a huge outlet for teenage girls," said Spar of STS. "Its penetration is remarkable."TRU’s Wood said specialty stores in general are a key outlet for teens.

"These specialty stores with their own brands, they have been able to create an image, a very strong image, behind that brand," he said. "You walk out of Abercrombie [& Fitch] and you’re carrying a piece of that store with you. It’s very appealing and aspirational."

While marketing is one reason specialty stores have been so successful with teens, Wood suggested, another factor is a key characteristic of the teen psyche.

"Teenagers are not very confident when it comes to fashion," he said. "The specialty stores that carry private labels have an advantage because for a teen who may be less confident in terms of style, they know they can go into American Eagle or Abercrombie & Fitch and anything they pick up is going to be acceptable [to peers]. It’s making that decision-making process a little bit easier for them."

Cotton Inc. found that specialty stores were the top shopping choice of females aged 16 to 19, with the plurality of teen women — 42 percent, up from 37 percent in 1994 — buying most of their clothes in that channel. That compares with a plurality of 25 percent of men and women aged 20 and up buying most of their clothing at department stores. (See Table 3.)

"If they go into another retailer and they pick up a brand, it may not be the right brand," he continued. "To a teenager, especially a teenage guy, it really is a security blanket to walk into an Abercrombie and be real comfortable and confident that anything you’ll walk out with is OK."

In the jeans market, the specialty store hegemony is not as strong. LEI led the market, followed by Mudd, Gap, Express and Old Navy. (See Table 4.)

While moderate-priced jeans brands top the list of teens’ preferences, teen girls outspend their elders on jeans, paying an average of $38.28 for a pair of jeans last year, compared with $34.13 for adults aged 20 to 55, according to the Lifestyle Monitor. Forty percent of teens were willing to spend more than $40 on a pair of jeans that fit well, compared with 22 percent of adults. (See Table 5.)The Lifestyle Monitor survey also found that females aged 16 to 19 on average own 10.1 pairs of jeans, up from 8.8 pairs in 1994 and ahead of the 8.1 pairs on average that all respondents aged 20 to 55 reported. That’s not surprising in light of STS’ finding that last year 85 percent of females aged 13 to 19 bought at least one pair of jeans.

Teens’ willingness to spend more than their elders was not limited to jeans. The Lifestyle Monitor survey found the plurality of teen girls aged 16 to 19 — 33 percent — said they had spent $51 to $100 in a month on clothing, while the plurality of adults aged 20 to 55 — or 26 percent — said they’d spent $1 to $50. (See Table 6.)

Despite their proclivities towards spending, teens are still interested in a bargain — or at least a markdown. While females 16 to 19 agreed with their elders that selection was the first factor in deciding whether to make a purchase, their next-biggest motivation was a sale sign, while adults were more interested in service, the Lifestyle Monitor found. (See Table 7.)

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