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Class act
Parents across the country are about to shell out $1-billion in back-to-school clothes and supplies. Word of advice: Listen to your kids

Saturday, August 25, 2001

Photo: Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

This year's back-to-school fashion is already rating a D. That's D for denim, the biggest trend for both girls and boys heading into the classroom after Labour Day.

"Denim, denim, denim -- embellished, embroidered, glitterized, uncut -- that's what's hot for back-to-school," says Mirella Di Blasio from Montreal. The buying director of La Senza Girl, a 30-unit chain of tween clothing stores from Victoria to Halifax, says it's nostalgia for the Jordache and Sergio Valenti jeans era. "And the cowboy/cowgirl trend, as seen through Madonna and Britney Spears, is big, giving denim a kick in the pants."

But listen to what the kids say. They have the biggest influence on back-to-school shopping. Statistics Canada says there are 1.2 million of them, aged 6 to 8, in addition to another 2.5 million "tweens" aged 9 to 14 across the country. And they spend. Or rather their parents do, to the tune of $1-billion, which is what the YTV Tween Report, conducted last year by the Young People's Television Network, determined is the amount Canadians shell out, on average, for back-to-school clothing and supplies.

Denim is at the top of the fashion wish list for most of the kids The Globe randomly surveyed for its own back-to-school report card.

Take 13-year-old Sarah Goldstein of Toronto. She's about to enter Grade 8 and, with just two weeks remaining until the bell rings on that first day back in the classroom, she has made jeans her No. 1 shopping priority.

"I don't wear dresses to school," Sarah says. "I want to be comfortable. Dresses aren't me. I can't run around in them. But jeans are great. I can wear them with anything, and feel really good wearing them."

Her faves are by Montreal's Parasuco jeans company. Blended with a touch of Lycra for a form-fitting look that suits burgeoning figures just fine, the pants come with just a hint of flare. Sarah wears them with backless running shoes that she swears don't fall off when she's running the field during recess.

Sarah, and her younger sister Samantha, 11, easily list off brand and store names in anticipation of next week's shopping spree -- Adidas, Mavi, Gap, Jacob, Jr., Old Navy, Siblings, Le Chateau, Roots. But at at the end of the day it's thenlook, not the logo, that matters. Says Samantha, "I like to be in fashion. I like to know what's in style."

Kari Emond, fashion director for Zellers, a national chain with 330 stores coast to coast, says listen up. "The look of the moment. That's what the kids are after. If you, as a retailer, can provide the right fashion look, the kids will seek you out."

Some of fall's must-have items include jeans with cargo pockets and denim jackets studded with faux rhinestones and coloured trims. Mike Mutsaerts, director of marketing and retail operations for the Please Mum children's clothing chain, counts these looks among his biggest selling items. Speaking from the company's head office in Vancouver, he says girls are wearing their denims with sparkly T-shirts. Boys are going for a more layered look, pairing Ts with plaid shirts worn loosely over top.

Kyle Havimaki, an 11-year-old entering Grade 7 at Beverley Acres Public School in Richmond Hill, Ont., says he likes the baggy look. But it's not homeboy -- "what's that?" It's athletic with a preppy twist.

"I would like to get baggy pants, preferably orange, or some other bright colour, to wear with a baggy T-shirt, and a sweatshirt and baseball cap," he says excitedly. Orange is his favourite colour; he likes the fact that the traffic-stopping hue will make him stand out in a crowd. "I'm really interested in fashion," he says. "Fashion is good. You get more attention and are actually more popular when you wear nice clothes because people notice you more."

Like girls.

"Yeah, girls."

He gets his fashion tips from store flyers from stores such as Zellers, where he'll be heading next week with his beleaguered dad, Ron. Havimaki senior says he dreads the annual back-to-school shopping ritual, especially as his children grow older. Kyle, he says with a sigh, definitely knows what he wants -- so orange it is -- while Danielle, his eight-year-old daughter, is still malleable. "I want a fuzzy pink T-shirt I saw at Zellers," she says. Pink is fine. Pink is something dad understands.

Ron estimates he'll be shelling out $150 on each child. The YTV Tween Report discovered that the national spending average for back-to-school is closer to $300.

This is what 11-year-old Michael McNeil's mother expects to pay for her son's new fall wardrobe. Michael attends Holy Rosary School in Toronto, and he plans to stock up on jeans, T-shirts, khakis and sweatshirts for his first day in Grade 6. His dream item is a a pair of Nike Prestos that he has eye-balled at Foot Locker. They are black, red and white. "I like the design," he says. "I think boys like design. They like style. They like to look cool."

Girls have long dominated the back-to-school fashion market. While they are increasingly wearing pants, they have not lost their fondness for feminine details like lace trims.

Alex Lai, who is 9, is entering Grade 4 at All Saints School in Mississauga. "I like it when clothes are pretty, cute and with a little flare," says the up-and-coming competitive diver. She absolutely loves what the newly opened Olly Shoes in Toronto is offering: brightly coloured leather booties with an undulating rubber heel, and a Burberry plaid Mary Jane which, when Alex sees it on the shelf, instantly declares it "fabulous."

"Kids today know what they want," says Katherine Chapman O'Gara, CEO and president of Olly Shoes. "And they want it clean and conservative. No frou-frou."

It's a trend seconded by Roots kidswear designer Margaret Baczynski. "The whole preppy look is big," she says from Toronto. "It's athletic wear with argyle sweaters, that sort of thing."

So upgrade that report card to a C. For classic.

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