- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The pressure is on teens to find the hippest jeans, the trendiest T-shirts and the perfect poncho for the back-to-school season — particularly for the first day of school.

Finding the right outfit for that first day is more stressful for teens than homework, being called on in class or extracurricular activities, according to a survey conducted by research firm Insight Express and sponsored by Levi Strauss Signature, a Levi brand that sells for under $25 at mass retailers like Wal-Mart and Target.

More than half of teens ages 13 to 17 say their outfit is either very important or important for the first day back to school.

“You establish who you are that very first day,” said John Mincarelli, professor of fashion merchandising for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “It’s all in the look. Right off the bat you’re making an impression.”

Retailers are trying to make it easy this shopping season with hip new ads showcasing the latest styles to appeal to teens while focusing on affordable prices to appeal to parents.

It’s essential that retailers get it right because going back to school is the second-most-important season after the holidays. Families with two school-aged children are expected to spend an average of $451 on back-to-school items this season, according to the National Retail Federation.

Many retailers have created back-to-school advertising that rivals music videos.

JC Penney started a campaign at the end of July featuring teens dancing to the hip sound of Stagga Lee’s “Rock Ya Body” and wearing JC Penney’s merchandise.

“Kids are smart and savvy,” said Michael Cape, vice president of brand marketing at JC Penney. “They can tell when you’re forcing [advertising] on them. We had to communicate to kids on their terms and come across as being cool.”

The ads also can strike a chord with parents.

“It resonates with parents because they want their kids to fit in school,” Mr. Cape said. “Kids feel confident if they look good.”

For the parents, the styles — like half tucked-in shirts, or prints “matched” with wild graphics and different brand names — may not make sense, but teens know exactly what they are doing.

“There’s a lot of time and care put into a seemingly haphazard style,” he said. “They are working it.”

Cynthia Scherer, 11, dressed in a plaid black-and-white miniskirt, paired with a pink tank top, bangle bracelets and a variety of necklaces, was shopping with her mom and brothers at Arundel Mills last week.

The soon-to-be seventh-grader is keeping her eye on affordable skirts, tank tops, earrings and bracelets for the new school year and says she will definitely have a new outfit for the first day of school Aug. 30.

Her mom, Dorothy, says the family will go to Wal-Mart to find the inexpensive trendy clothes.

Caitlin Loiselle, 12, and Phoebe Neseth, 13, shopping last week at Arundel Mills, say it can be stressful finding the right clothes to wear to school — particularly items that match.

The two rising eighth-graders at Severna Park Middle School in Anne Arundel County, Md., make sure they have their clothes picked out the previous night so they aren’t fussing in the morning finding items that go together.

Their all-important outfits for the first day haven’t been bought yet.

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