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Where would retailers be without the pressure and anxiety students feel to own items that represent all the newest trends? According to the National Retail Federation, the amount of spending on back-to-school clothing and accessories is expected to increase 6.4 percent in 2004 over 2003, compared with a 1.3 percent drop in the total amount of money spent on school supplies. The overall amount spent on b-t-s-related items is seen increasing to $482.28 per consumer this year, from $450.76 per consumer in 2003. But making the grade was harder this year for retailers. Stores had to contend with higher oil prices and a later Labor Day holiday than last year, which caused consumers to put off buying. Still, there were new must-haves that sent young people flocking to Target, Old Navy, American Eagle, Gap and H&M to fulfill their cool quotas.

This story first appeared in the September 16, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

    20.7 percent

    If there’s one item that everyone’s wearing this fall, it’s the poncho. Will it be the pashmina shawl of 2004? Only time will tell, but for now ponchos in various styles such as a black drawstring number at Forever 21 and striped lambswool poncho at Gap are selling briskly.
  2. TWEED
    16.5 percent

    Blazers or jackets.
    Not many 13-year-olds or their older sisters can afford Marc Jacobs, but many will covet his tweed and organza coats. They can also choose from the fitted tweed belted jackets at H&M or Zara’s tweedy coats in autumnal colors.
    9.1 percent

    Legwarmers and off-the-shoulder T-shirts.
    Who can forget Jennifer Beals dancing in torn sweatshirts and legwarmers in the 1983 hit “Flashdance”? The look is back with various incarnations of legwarmers from DKNY, Hot Sox and Calvin Klein, and off-the-shoulder shirts such as Roxy’s Miracle Stretch cross front shirt and the Guitar Man off-the-shoulder T-shirt.
    8.3 percent

    Slipper-styles, kitten heels, flats and slips-ons.
    This season tortured feet won’t be a prerequisite to looking fashionable. There are wool skimmers and sequin-blossom slides at Urban Outfitters and tweed ballet flats at Old Navy. The under-25 set may even set foot in Easy Spirit now that Imitation of Christ’s Tara Subkoff is designing a collection of flats and pumps.

    7.4 percent

    Retailers and accessories designers are cranking out big vintage-style brooches. Gap ads highlight Sarah Jessica Parker’s quirky way with brooches. At Urban Outfitters, they include oversized flowers and insects, and cameos. American Eagle Outfitters is selling pins shaped like flowers and butterflies.
    6.6 percent

    The old adage — when hemlines rise, the economy goes up — is proving to be partially true. Miniskirts are everywhere, from the cotton gauze miniskirts at H&M and tiered micro corduroy mini at Forever 21 to Pacific Sunwear’s denim mini. But what goes up inevitably must come down.
  7. TIE-DYE
    4.7 percent

    The tie-dye revival may be inspired by the influential Miuccia Prada, who included it in a recent collection. Or tie-dye might be back because of the presidential election, which has invoked the Sixties frequently this year. Tie-dye fashion includes silk-gored skirts at Express and tie-dye bikinis by Amir Slama, who designs for Rosa Cha.
    4.4 percent

    Plaids, pleats and argyles
    The preppy look for teens comes straight out of the “for every trend there is an equal and opposite counter trend” school of fashion. Cutting edge clothes are giving way to classics such as Necessary Objects’ plaid and pleated skirt at Nordstrom, Isaac Mizrahi’s pleated skirt at Target and Le Tigre’s cableknit vests.
    3.7 percent

    Down jackets and coats.
    Now that chubbies are packed away, there’s another puffy look to try. Coats filled with down are lightweight and warm and downright fashionable now. Examples include Catherine Malandrino’s puffy coats, quilted down jackets at Forever 21 and Colby puffer car coats at Target.
    2.66 percent

    Forget itchy bulky sweaters. This season the buzzword is soft. With cashmere and other gentle knits selling at bargain prices everywhere from Costco to K-Mart, it’s easy to find feminine styles. Also spotted: French keyhole sweaters at Nordstrom, pink angora wrap sweaters and scoopneck angora sweaters with satin ribbons at H&M and, at Express, bow sweaters with ribbons woven through the neckline.

SOURCE: LOOK-LOOK, a market research firm in hollywood, ca., specializing in the youth market