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While the stereotype is that teens are oblivious to reality in their own little world, the recession is puncturing their bubble.

As many see their parents lose their jobs — or lose part-time jobs of their own — teens are being forced to cut their spending and become innovative when it comes to shopping and their wardrobes. An informal panel of 13 teens from the New York metropolitan area gathered by WWD found that they:

This story first appeared in the December 18, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

• Favor vintage stores over H&M and Forever 21.

• Are concerned about saving for college.

• Aren’t willing to pay full price — unless it’s from Target.

• Can’t wait for Topshop to open in Manhattan.

• Would rather shop freestanding boutiques or buy online than go to a mall.

This group of teens are less concerned about what they will get for the holidays this year — although Jonathan Gardenhire, 16, from New York, did push his luck when he asked for a $3,000 camera.

“My mom said no way,” he said. Some have much bigger issues to deal with — how to pay for college, how to have an emergency $2 on hand to buy a Metrocard for a subway ride or where they are going to get their lunch money.

“I’m shopping a lot less than I used to,” said Nicole Blaine, 16, from Brooklyn, N.Y. “Both of my parents are unemployed now, and I don’t have a job, so when I do buy something I am extremely careful. I go over it in my head and ask myself, ‘Will I use this? How much will I use this? Do I really need this?’”

Blaine, like her peers, said she has been forced to get creative — she often finds herself rummaging through her closet to rework items and make them into new outfits. “People would look at the way I dress and think that I spend a lot of money on my look, but really, I spend very little,” she said, adding she mostly shops for her clothes at boutiques in Chinatown or in vintage shops.

“I am always on the hunt for discounts and there are tons of them now, which is good for me,” said Amelia Persaud, 17, from Bronx, N.Y. “But now that I’m a senior, I have college to think about. My mom works at Chase and she is so busy since so many people were laid off around her. I also have an older sister in college, so my mom is stressed a lot.”

For those teens who do have jobs of their own — Luis Peralta works at an American Apparel store (and he also makes a little extra cash by making clothes for friends); Hayley Beard and Casey Winston work at a contemporary fashion boutique called Tula in Shrewsbury, N.J.; Liza Solarz and Jayme Klein, both 15, babysit; Ali Peikon tutors and babysits and Chelsea Cooper landed a paid internship at Ellen Tracy — they are finding that they are saving more than they are spending.

“My mom sat me down and talked to me about saving my money, and trust me, I used to spend my whole paycheck as soon as I got it,” Peralta, 17, from Queens, N.Y., said.

“Tula, where I work, has been much quieter than expected, but we’re hoping that the new promotions we’re running will bring in more customers as we get closer to the holidays,” Winston, 18, from Holmdel, N.J., said. “The key is to get the customers in the door because we do carry a mix of brands and price ranges for all ages.”

While the discounts at retail are plentiful — Cooper, 17, from Staten Island, N.Y., said she now frequents Macy’s since they pile on the discounts — the group excitedly shared the deals they’re finding.

“I call the Marc by Marc Jacobs store the ‘99 cents store for fashion’ because the deals you can find there are crazy,” Peralta said, holding up a canvas tote he recently found there for “a steal.”

In this highly promotional time, teens are finding discounts at higher-end designer stores — like Barneys New York (where Noel Barbon, 17, from Brooklyn, N.Y., used to work before he was laid off) — which have become much more interesting to them than shopping at stores like Forever 21 and H&M, since “the quality isn’t good.” They don’t like Abercrombie & Fitch because “it’s too loud, too dark and so seventh grade,” they cannot wait for Topshop to open in SoHo (since the one in London is “supercool”), and they still like Urban Outfitters since the retailer is “innovative and still not overpriced.”

“The malls are all just so boring,” said Beard, 17, from Colts Neck, N.J. “Malls are for kids when they go back-to-school shopping with their parents and buy tons of stuff all at once. I honestly haven’t been to a mall in months.”

Sixteen-year-olds Sophia Orlander, Caroline Pecker and Ali Peikon, all from Chappaqua, N.Y., agreed: “Our mall is really bad,” Pecker said of The Westchester Mall in White Plains, N.Y. “We never really find anything there.”

Orlander added, “I do a lot of my shopping online for clothes and shoes.”

“We usually look at Shopbop[.com] and Topshop, and Net-a-porter, which is really expensive and fun to look at,” said Peikon.

When asked if they will ever pay full price for an item, the overall consensus was that if they lower their prices and make better quality clothes, they will pay full price.

“Target was able to do it,” Cooper said. “We pay full price for stuff at Target because we can trust them and they get some great designers to make things we can afford.”

But as the teens talked openly about their love of shopping, they came back to the same common concern — the economy.

“My brother has two kids and he just had to spend a lot of money on coats for them. He can’t even buy a coat for himself,” Gardenhire said. “That really made me think about what I spend my money on.”

Blaine agreed: “I’ve really learned to value what I have — I’m so grateful that I have a home to go to and food when I need it,” she said.

Beard said that while she worries about the economy, she tries to keep positive.

“One of my teachers said that it should take about four years for things to get better with the economy,” she said. “So while I’m in college things will be bad, but when I get out into the real world, things should be OK.”

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