Mix and match make the grade

Sunday, August 22, 2004

NEW YORK -- Music and academia, two things that take up a considerable amount of school-age children's time, come together to create some of the most popular back-to-school fashion styles.

"American Idol" stylist Miles Siggins says the modern version of the preppy look, including grosgrain ribbon trim, suede patch-sleeve sweaters and argyle socks and sweaters, is taking cues from hip-hop and punk.

"Music is a definite influence, so are TV and the Internet. People aspire to be their idols. People like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears had a lot to answer for the last few years because some girls were showing too much skin. But Christina Aguilera is covering up more now, so hopefully more girls will too," says Siggins.

He expects high school -- and even middle and elementary school -- hallways to be filled with boys wearing hooded sweat shirts with collegiate-inspired shirts and ties, and girls in baggy bottoms contrasted by fitted or feminine tops.

"I think there's a backlash against the extreme dressing-down thing. For kids nowadays, it's more rebellious to dress up than dress down," he says.

Siggins put together a fashion show for RED, America Online's teen service, called "RED Heats Up the Hallways." In it he features three primary trends:

Prepster punk. Think polos and twin sets adorned with metal chains, studded belts and pins.

Urban sport. Warm-up pants or loose jeans with tailored shirts.

Uptown glam. Pencil skirts and cardigans or blazers with brooches for girls; blazers and button-down shirts for boys.

However, logos, so popular a few seasons ago, don't hold much interest now.

"There's always an element of rebellion in the way teenagers dress. Everything is to get noticed," he adds. "It's a sad truth, but it's the truth that a first impression is based on what you look like."

Children see a new "back-to-school" wardrobe as a chance to make a fresh start. Some adults feel the same way, making September one of the biggest shopping months of the year.

A survey conducted for Levi Strauss & Co. found that selecting the right outfit for the first day of school was a greater source of back-to-school jitters than impending homework or being called on in class.

Siggins' advice is to choose clothes that the wearer feels comfortable in because that will translate into confidence.

"You have to buy clothes that match your face and personality. You can't dress against personality. If you do, it'll show," he says.

Lorraine Hitch of J.C. Penney's says youngsters like the flexibility and uniqueness of mixing and matching pieces. "We call it, 'I want to look different just like my friends.' They (teens) want to have the same pieces and layer them differently," she says.

Since teenagers, and especially teenage girls, are always looking for the latest, greatest new thing, they often set the pace for the entire shopping season, Hitch notes.

The Associated Press

When it comes to fashion trends, the class of 2004 is an eclectic mix.

Cotton Incorporated, a marketing and research organization for the U.S. cotton industry, offers this primer on making the most of mixing and matching:

Layer color, pattern and texture together for an individual look.

Create your own customized T-shirts.

Jazz up denim with interesting washes, finishes and embellishments.

Pair classic cotton shirtings with chunky cableknits.

Use surf, scout and sport-inspired colors and silhouettes for an outdoorsy look.

Wear cargo pants -- with full pockets -- to the mall and leave bags and purses at home.

Add interest with three-dimensional elements, graphic prints, contrast stitching, embroidery and trims.

Embrace vintage-inspired cropped blazers and feminine dresses.

Reintroduce delicate lace, floral motifs and sepia tones into a modern wardrobe.

Create a little romance with capes, shawls, ribbons and bows.

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