The last time I shopped for back-to-school clothes, man had just walked on the moon. So, to truly grasp the current concept of classroom chic, I enlisted the help of a seventh-grade student at Lusher Charter School, where uniforms are not required.
Nina Kirsch, 12, has an opinion when it comes to fashion, but she is part of a new breed not as driven by trends as one would expect a tween (an almost-teen) to be. Perhaps that’s because the fashion news for middle and high school girls comes from a greater variety of sources and mindsets these days. Now Instagram, Pinterest, other forms of social media and fashion blogs join the influence of teen magazines, television, movies and music.
Today’s teens see options, not edicts. But guess what? Tween fashionese is not a foreign language. Turns out that in terms of trends, the age gap isn’t as wide as it once was.
“Many of the trends out there are shared by both adults and children. They just interpret them differently,” says New York-based fashion consultant Susan Sommers. She refers to such fall offerings as plaids, fringe, the “grunge look with a pop” and moccasins.
“Kids may not want to wear plaid pants, but they will pair denim with plaid shirts and plaid scarves and maybe mix plaids with prints,” says Sommers.
The common fashion denominator for mothers and teen daughters is T-shirts with jeans. The daughters, however, are taking the basics a step further, wearing T-shirts bearing catch phrases.
While shopping for T-shirts with Nina, I walked through a sea of statements: Be Nice to Zombies, They’re People, Too; Hipsters Are The New Jocks; You Wonderful Wonderful Thing You; Good Vibes Only; Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. And then there are pullovers emblazoned with illustrations of animals from birds to horses.
(Just to add a timeline here, my high school statement tees were original handmade tie-dye versions or plain tees sporting the name of a British band called the Beatles.)
Still, a message is a message.
The current statements teens and tweens make with their clothing pop up not only on T-shirts but also on shoes and with jewelry. Consider the latest flats with “what” on the left one and “ever” on the right, similar to the sentiment of the necklace that carries the letter charms “As If.”
But hot items advertised right now are not necessarily the ABCs of academic attire.
Check out any fashion blog or teen magazine, and take note of just what “back to school” means. Just because it’s cool doesn’t mean you can wear it to school.
“Back to school” in fashion terms translates to “fall fashion.” Despite fashion freedoms, schools that don’t require uniforms still issue dress codes, with rules such as no rips in jeans, no skirts more than 2 inches above the knee, no sunglasses in the classroom, no off-shoulder tops, no shoes without backs, no camisoles or tops with spaghetti straps, no wearing hoods on hoodies inside and so on. Parents beware; consult school policies before heading to the mall or boutique.
Icons have always come into play when it comes to teen style. For me, the fashion idols were Twiggy and Mary Quant.
For Nina, the star styles to watch are those of Taylor Swift (who has a line of Keds), television’s “New Girl” star Zooey Deschanel (who also designs a clothing line for Tommy Hilfiger) and in “The Fault in Our Stars” actress Shailene Woodley. And maybe the diverse styles of the girl-band Fifth Harmony. Other fashion muses that appear in teen blogs and magazines are singer/actress/Disney girl Selena Gomez, “Modern Family” star Sarah Hyland and You Tube DIY star Bethany Mota.
Woodley told InStyle magazine that she used to roll her eyes at high fashion, but then she found herself on the red carpet. “I have a new appreciation of it as an art form,” she says now. “Food and fashion are similar for me. How do you keep creating new things out of a set amount of materials?” she asks.
Well, there are apps for that, but it seems the smartphone camera is a most efficient vehicle for sharing personal fashion for feedback from a friend. And is there any subject that howstuffworks.com and wikihow.com don’t cover?
“First, shop from your own closet,” says Sommers, who suggests that starting with one’s own wardrobe is a key for developing one’s own sense of style.
For teens, layering that incorporates just one more piece can change a look. Or add a bracelet or a belt or pair a new print with an old one, like florals with stripes or plaids. Shopping vintage or resale also cuts down on the mainstream “mall look.”
Nina says she picks her back-to-school outfits with a combination strategy: following trends and being true to her own style.
“Some of the styles and trends are very similar to my personality and style. However, some trends like animal prints, camouflage, jean skirts or metallics in clothes are not things I would wear,” she says.
Seems teens are learning at a much earlier age that trends come and go, but personal style has staying power.
Me? I learned the hard way; it took a long time for my Ringo haircut to grow out.