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NEW YORK — With cold weather, backpacks and books right around the corner, two college student interns from Cornell University and Northwestern University, respectively, visited some leading retailers to shop for their back-to-school wardrobes. Restricted by tight student budgets, as well as needs to be both warm and stylish, here’s what they discovered at stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Scoop, Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and H&M.
Abercrombie & Fitch
The rock music blaring from A&F’s speakers hit shoppers’ ears well before the sparsely dressed hunks on larger-than-life posters were even in eyeshot. Shaggy-haired frat boys home for the summer stood by the door and lured in customers to the Paramus Park Mall unit in Paramus, N.J. Junior high-aged teens arrived in gaggles to puzzle over the meanings of the witty sexual innuendos printed on fitted cotton Ts.
The fall offerings indicated that an older, slightly more sophisticated look is on the horizon for A&F. In lieu of last year’s chunky wool sweaters and pocketed polo shirts, open-knit ponchos and cowlneck cashmeres covered the display tables. Although the color array, from navy to bright pink, held constant from seasons past, I was disappointed to note that prices have skyrocketed. Nevertheless, I grabbed a white poncho with rainbow stripes, for $49.50, and a baby blue velvet blazer with a ribbon tie, for $99.50.
The Ezra Fitch collection, which is Abercrombie’s premiere venture into high-end denim, was prominently displayed on the girls’ side of the store. Marked by decorative back-pocket stitching and the “Ezra Fitch” logo emblazoned in dark yellow on the inner waist, the collection featured jeans and skirts, which are slightly longer than A&F’s trademark superminis. Both the sizing (Ezra Fitch jeans were available in 24 to 32, a deviation from A&F’s typical 00 to 12) and the price tags ($98 to $133, rather than the usual $70 or so), echoed the influence of companies such as Seven and Paper Denim & Cloth. I was pleased to find, however, that for the first time, denim from Abercrombie fit me well in all the right places, and I loved the boot-cut style and darker washes.
After perusing the argyle sweaters and skirts, which I deemed a bit too schoolgirl for a college campus, I decided to purchase a pair of Ezra Fitch jeans, which are versatile enough to dress down for class or pair with pumps for a night out.
Luckily, if I get to school and decide I can’t possibly live without a rainbow poncho, I can always visit the A&F store in Ithaca, one of the few chain retailers with a location in the college town. — Julie Zeveloff
The ultrafeminine division of Urban Outfitters targets an older, upscale crowd and specializes in dolled-up versions of dorm room-closet staples, from preppy chinos to boho-inspired tops and accessories. Back-to-school fashion was plentiful on the sales floor — skirts were all knee length and longer; Michael Stars and Ella Moss T-shirts come in a dazzling array of pastels, and every garment in sight was dripping with ribbons, buttons, pins and other eclectic costume jewelry.
I was in the market for a blazer, and Anthropologie at Fifth Avenue and 16th Street had a dizzying assortment. Some had bows, some were tweed with flower patches and some were lined with antique-y floral cloth. Of them all, a light gray, corduroy blazer with red stitching fit best, and I calculated that it would be well worth the $118 price tag. I grabbed a pair of tweed trousers with funky fabric around the waist. Unfortunately, the fit was a little strange, and the brown corduroys I tried on didn’t lay right either. There was a great assortment of dangly earrings which would complete any ensemble in the store, and most were reasonably priced — around $28.
As I departed, I was pleased to note that even the metal detectors were covered with felt daisies. — J.Z.
When I want a dressy sweater and have the cash to splurge, Scoop is my store of choice. Maybe it was the yummy cashmere Vince sweaters at $195 a pop or the cashmere ponchos at $245, or even the comfy, cotton C&C California long-sleeved shirts ($55 apiece), but for whatever reason, I managed to spend more than an hour ogling the latest offerings at the boutique on the Upper East Side without even realizing it. The saleswoman was helpful, suggesting ways to incorporate the summer sale items, such as a Generra bathing suit tank on sale for $49, into winter ensembles (i.e.: wearing the bathing suit tank under a sweater to expose the frill right below the hips), but it was a little awkward when she asked me to critique how she looked in the latest jeans by Citizens of Humanity (a little less than $150, but cute nevertheless). I drooled over a classic pair of strappy, gold Jimmy Choos, but was quickly brought back to reality after checking the $440 price tag. And after a great deal of ooh-ing and ahh-ing, I decided to give my credit card a break and head home, still dreaming of the day when I, the poor college student, will be able to afford the pricy but beautiful pieces hanging on the racks and resting on the shelves in Scoop. — Lesley Messer
Ah, the thrill of the hunt. Such is the mantra for the H&M shopper. Because of the enormous size of the Herald Square store and the wide selection (as well as the blaring pop songs that at times were slightly overwhelming), shopping for back-to-school clothes can seem like a daunting task. But it’s one well worth it in savings, assuming the shopper is well-informed and knows what to look for. This season, there’s H&M’s line of corduroy blazers in bright colors such as green and red, as well as a wide assortment of corduroy pants and skirts. Recently, I bought a black cotton blazer for a little more than $40, but decided against the brown tweed, hoping to find one I liked better elsewhere. However, one nice aspect of shopping for jackets at H&M is that there are almost always matching pants, perfect for securing that sophisticated, polished look. And when I decided I needed new shirts to wear out in Chicago, H&M’s variety of patterned blouses and frilly shirts, or even its flouncy dresses, seemed perfect. I especially liked a Chloé look-alike black dress with a plunging neckline and braided straps for $29.90. H&M’s accessories also can help dress up any wardrobe, from the inexpensive flower pins to chic aviators for $5. — L.M.
The Banana Republic on 34th Street was in a late afternoon lull when I stopped by to check out the chain’s latest fall gear. The end-of-summer sale was down to lime green tanks and XL bikini bottoms, but next season’s collections looked fresh and ready to buy.
Upstairs in the women’s department, flowing dresses, vintage-inspired camis in prints and solids, and knee-length skirts in floral patterns and stripes abounded. Banana’s signature fall colors were mint and peach, and most garments in these colors were paired with sparser black pieces on the display racks. The store was scrubbed and spacious, and it was easy to rifle through the racks to look for sizes.
A knee-length, strapless pink satin dress with a chevron design caught my eye — at $168, it was a great pick for the first round of fall formals, before it gets too chilly. I scooped it up, along with a cranberry-and-white striped henley sweater with elbow patches. At $68, it was a little rough on my tight student budget, but I’m sure it will be well worth the price when I’m roughing Ithaca’s bitter October winds.
Although the majority of merchandise here would suit a budding business woman in New York City far better than it would a college student roughing it in the mountains, I couldn’t help but adore Banana Republic’s classy, sophisticated pieces for those few occasions when jeans and sneakers won’t suffice. — J.Z.
Urban Outfitters is the ideal back-to-school shopping hot spot for everyone from the Lacoste-wearing, collar-popping prep to the trendy, vintage-sporting hipster. This season, Urban’s selling its latest collection of signature T-shirts with statements — think last year’s, “Everyone loves a (fill in the blank) girl,” — such as “Get High on Yourself,” or “I Love Vegas,” as well as funky sweaters and schoolgirl skirts ideal for fall.
Urban featured a line of flared pants with a funky clasped waistline in green, orange, black, white and even one with black-and-white vertical stripes. I ended up trying them on and loving the cotton material, perfect for those days of Indian summer, and decided the $58 price tag was well worth it. Of course, there were matching blazers to go with each pattern, but I’d rather have a blazer with buttons than a tie. For the fad-seeker looking for a pair of galoshes or a fabulous new pendant to pin on a new jacket, Urban is also the place to go. And, of course, when push comes to shove, the sale rack, with its plain T-shirts (I scored two for $6), Lees and bags (a knock-off Jelly Kelly was a whopping $3) left over from summer, was simply unbeatable. And I couldn’t leave without picking up the “Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell” book because, hey, isn’t part of back-to-school keeping up with one’s reading? — L.M.