Byline: Kristi Ellis

WASHINGTON — Teens in the greater Washington area often get a bad rap when it comes to fashion.
They, along with the rest of the population here, have long been labeled conservative dressers. Executives at some of the most fashion-forward stores here dispel that myth. Washington has a special personality as the seat of government, as it is home to scores of foreign embassies which adds to the consumer diversity and transient nature of the residents. Tourists who prowl the federal monuments, museums and parks by day and the shops by night also provide a boost to the local economy in the busy season of April through September.
Easily accessible public transportation provided by a far-reaching Metro system allows teens to move easily from D.C. to the shopping centers such as Tyson’s Corner and Pentagon City in northern Virginia and other outlying locales.
“There is great style here,” said Gina Tovar, fashion education director at Nordstrom in the Tyson’s Corner shopping center in McLean, Va. “I wouldn’t say it’s edgy, but I don’t think it’s conservative either.”
Nordstrom has seven full-line stores in the greater Washington area, including suburban Maryland and Virginia. Tovar said most teens prefer to blend in with their peers.
“They are definitely hugely influenced by what the celebrities are wearing and what they see on television,” Tovar said. “Music influences their choices a great deal.”
For spring, fashion denim is strong, she said, noting that studding, lacing, ornamentation and shredding are all among the top-selling styles.
“Urban romantic [and bohemian] is also a big trend our customers here are asking for, and that includes peasant tunic tops that they can wear with denim,” Tovar said.
Street athleticwear is another trend for spring, she added, citing top-selling items such as stretch velour, sweatshirt hoodies and logo T-shirts. She said teens shopping with their parents tend to purchase necessities based on seasonal changes, while teens shopping with their friends are on the hunt for fashion items.
“Girls are dressing cute and preppy,” said Martha Whitley, owner of two Lily Pad stores, which carry Lily Pulitzer exclusively, and co-owner of a newly opened store in Arlington, Va., appropriately named What’s In.
“They are preppy, but they love jeans,” she said. “Everything they wear is jeans and if they are old enough they wear heels with them. It’s as conservative as it gets here, but it is also a big melting pot.”
That is one reason she opened a new store with partner Michelle Stowers to capitalize on the demand for fashion. What’s In is located in Arlington, right across the Potomac River from Washington and carries a range of looks from Trina Turk’s bold-pattern jackets and dresses to Diane Von Furstenberg’s classic wrap dresses.
Some of her spring bestsellers include Seven’s denim pants, Theory pants, Catherine Malandrino peasant tops, and tops with lace or ruffles.
“White shirts are really big now because they all go with jeans,” said the 37-year-old Whitley. “I have seven white shirts in my closet and it’s the go to, especially when I travel, because it’s so easy to put on a white shirt, jeans and a blazer.”
Whitley also has a big teen clientele at her two Lily Pad stores in Bethesda, Md., and Alexandria, Va. Three private high schools are located within a one-mile radius of the Bethesda store.
“Teens will come in and get a dress for a dance,” Whitley said. “They don’t bulk up the wardrobe.”
Wendy Red, fashion director at Washington-based Up Against The Wall, said the teen population in the area is demographically diverse but shares a common passion for music.
Red, who co-owns 16 stores, including three in Los Angeles, has lived in the Washington area for the past 20 years and has a teenage daughter herself.
“All teens have a little bit of rebelliousness in them,” Red said. “They need to do things their parents don’t want them to do so they listen to music and they listen to it loud.”
She said shopping centers are still the number-one hangout place for teens here and when they go to malls, they shop for music or apparel.
“When they can’t go to clubs and they can’t drink, they have to find a place to come together and malls are the place they hang out,” Red said.
Red has two stores in Washington: an Up Against the Wall unit and her only Commander Salamander store, which are both located in Georgetown. She said Commander Salamander appeals to a “multicultural audience.”
“If you grow up in Reston [Va.], you are not thinking the same way as someone in Georgetown, who might be more streetwise, more aware and faster in fashion,” Red said. “Reston, for example, is a little more suburbia and teens go to malls because they can’t walk around on the streets the same way teens do in Georgetown.”
Some of her best-selling brands at Commander Salamander are Triple Five Soul, Ecko and Puma. “Retro is really happening here,” she said.
Velour and terry track suits sell well, as do denim or plaid skirts. Prices range from $10 for a T-shirt to $70 for a stretch denim jacket and $150 for a track suit.
“Anything with 1980s style fringe is also popular and that includes jeans with fringe on the side and suede fringe jackets by B. Lucid,” she added.
At Up Against The Wall, brands such as Sergio Valente, Jordache, DKNY, Diesel, Baby Phat and Guess are top sellers. In denim, washes are the most important feature, and sand-blasted denim with a tint combined with low-rise silhouettes are standouts.
“D.C. is pretty forward and sometimes more forward than other areas, even New York and L.A.,” Red said. “Sometimes things start here and we can ride it longer.”

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