Hot items for back-to-school

iPads, maxi dresses, Converse shoes and neon colors are kids’ picks this year

As a parent, you barely finish buying summer weather togs when it’s time to start thinking about back-to-school clothing and accessories once again.

While the outlook is hot for the month ahead, the colors for fall are equally so with the brights of a neon summer heading firmly into fall wear. The tone mutes a bit for older guys and gals, but the brights still have it, and especially when paired with preppy fare, combining a bit of tradition with a retro look and feel.

Kids throughout the country, whether firmly ensconced in New Hampshire, out in Missouri or down in North Carolina, all seem to share a desire for bright and bold this fall. Girls absolutely love Justice, a ’tween retailer featuring Mod Mania as their trend alert. Bright retro colors, with mod tunics and throwback messaging are paired with leggings, funky headbands and accessories.

Kristina McLaughlin, a second-grade teacher at Hills Garrison Elementary School in Hudson, said, “Girls love any clothes from Justice and like Pillow Pets and Webkins, too.”

The boys aren’t necessarily as fashion forward, according to McLaughlin, but love that perennial favorite, Pokemon cards as well as Beyblades. The second-graders are big readers, too, and if your child is heading into that grade, chances are that Junie B. Jones, Captain Underpants, Geronimo Stilton and the Magic Treehouse series will top their reading list faves and become familiar favorites for you, too.

Eight-year old Emily Freitas loves Power Rangers, and she doesn’t care if some of the other girls think it’s odd. She and her friends, boys and girls alike, dig Pokemon cards, too. Soon to be a third-grader in Wilmington, Mass., Emily’s age group is really into the boy band One Direction, which is sure to make its presence known in fashion and accessories this fall for school.

Older sister Liz is closing out her middle school career, entering eighth-grade at Wilmington Middle School this fall. Not surprisingly, Liz likes to shop at Abercrombie, Hollister, Aeropostale, Justice and Kohl’s, too.

“She’s has finally realized that you can get more items when you shop the sales at Kohl’s and Justice, which has made our budget sigh in relief,” said her mom Jayne Freitas. “Like most teens, she likes her phone, music and Facebook. Once school starts, her TV and computer are limited to weekends and she will not have access to Facebook. She will need to earn that luxury with good grades on her report card.”

Martha Dexter’s kids are fairly low-key in their fashion sensibility, opting for comfort over current trends. Daughter Chloe is a jeans and T-shirt sort of girl, and her brother, Matthew is the same, says Martha, although he’ll wear shorts well into November if he can.

“They both aren’t very trendy, kind of like their mom,” said Dexter.

The Litchfield family is definitely at the forefront electronically though.

“The iPad we got for Christmas has supplanted their handheld Nintendo gaming systems.”

Lynne Lavalle, a mom of 10 who is a Massachusetts transplant living in Waxhaw, N.C., has all ages and stages to ready for the upcoming school year. Her ’tween and early teen daughters love the colored skinny jeans, and one daughter is jonesing for Converse sneakers and Tom shoes.

“Seventies retro seems to still be in, and lots of neons, hearts and animal prints,” said Lavalle. “Fabric headbands seem to be popular, too.”

While her early-teen daughter is into Abercrombie and Hollister in a big way, her older girls, who are high-schoolers, like styles that are trendier, but not necessarily name brand. One loves maxi dresses in bright colors and bohemian style while the other likes skirts and dresses that are higher in the front and lower in the back with wedge shoes.

“The neon is more for the late elementary and middle-schoolers,” said Lavalle.

Lisa Delaney is a daycare provider for kids, age 2 to 12, in Litchfield. A quick poll of the kids in her care revealed how important the older girls felt that wearing brand name clothing was.

“It is important how you look, one of my 12-year old girls said or you will get teased,” said Delaney. “I have a 9-year old boy that said he doesn’t believe in trends and he wears what he wants when he wants.”

At this age, shopping and movies were the main source of entertainment that they most enjoyed, and there’s quite a focus on having the right iPod and cell phone.

“I have noticed that things have changed drastically in the past few years,” said Delaney. “Image is very important.”

While backpacks have always been an essential part of the back-to-school experience, slim-style, drawstring sackpacks are equally as popular among the younger set. Far less bulky than traditional backpacks, these sporty lightweight bags are easy on the back, quick to roll up when not in use and hold quite a bit. Are they are durable as their counterparts, however? Not especially, but many, even the brand names, are a fraction of the cost of the more rugged traditional-style backpacks from retailers like L.L. Bean and Jansport.

Younger kids can certainly get away with a sackpack, given the volume of homework and books they’ll need to carry. You can also consider a mid-price messenger bag, often available in a variety of great designs and styles from various retailers, as your child’s needs change with regard to what they’ll be carrying back and forth to school, focusing on the heavy-duty bag toward the middle and high school years.

Sackpacks are particularly big with 10-year old Kadin Renn of Fenton, Miss. A fashion-savvy sort of guy, Kadin’s look also includes a twisted necklace, the type often seen on pro and amateur athletes. His mom, Samantha Renn, said he’s a huge Bears fan; so of course, his is a Chicago Bears necklace. One back-to-school must most parents won’t see on their own shopping lists would be the battery-operated pencil sharpener Kadin told his mom he just has to have. Back-to-school supply shopping for his younger brother, Max is fairly simple. The soon-to-be first-grader just wants Spiderman folders.

You sure to have to love simplicity.

Pamme Boutselis is a MarComm professional and a writer. The mom of four now-grown kids, she blogs about their experiences as a family in "Along the Way." Follow her blog at or on Twitter @pammeb.