Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Homework assignment No. 1: what to wear

A lot of parents aren't buying in to the rush to get kids a brand new wardrobe

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Geez. What happened? The hammock was just getting broken in and now we're talking about exchanging lemonade, s-mores and sunscreen for juice packs and Lunchables.

Like it or not, some schools have their blackboards dusted off and in service. Most schools will be in session before Labor Day.

What's a parent to do when she realizes her children's wardrobe consists of bathing suits and flip-flops?

Breathe easy, first of all.

Though a new National Retail Federation survey says families with school-age children will spend $450.76 on back to school shopping, people we talked to are in no rush to the registers.

A few are even headed for end-of-summer vacations, including McGayle Randall of Western Hills. She and daughter, Malaika, who turns 10 Saturday, are going to New York City. Roberts Paideia becomes her new daytime home next week.

Others, too, including Jocelyn Williams of North Avondale, still are wrapped up in summer.

"Are you serious?" she says when asked about what her children will wear their first day of school. "We never run out and buy stuff. It'll be weeks before we know what they'll need."

Deborah Porter of Springfield Township is taking the wait-and-see approach - buy a few things to get started and postpone shopping until later in the year.

But Maureen Murphy Coz of Price Hill has no choice but to start shopping now. Her son, Mike, 14, is making the switch from a uniform school (St. William) to a nonuniform school (Walnut Hills).

"It would be different if he were in a situation where he had some everyday school clothes," she says. "We'd wait. But his older brother, Joe, is taking the 'cool' clothes they share off to college."

Greater Cincinnati's seasonably unseasonable weather is one reason many families wait to shop for school clothes.

"The weather is so strange here," says Williams, mother of Mason, 7, headed to Fairview in Clifton, and Javin, 4, going to Arlitt Early Childhood Development Center on the University of Cincinnati campus.

"Nobody knows what's going on with the weather. We wait and try on all the stuff when it starts to get cold and see what fits."

"The weather is so unpredictable. As it changes and they go through growth spurts, I make decisions about shopping," says Porter, mother of Brianna, whose fourth birthday is today. She'll be trading in shorts and sandals for tie and leather shoes at John Wesley Nursery School in Pleasant Run. Porter has two more little ones at home waiting for possible hand-me-downs, a brother Akari, 2, and sister, Zaria, 5 months.

With three little ones, Porter tracks sales.

"We got coats for this year at the end of last winter, and we shopped Prime Outlets at Jeffersonville for leather shoes and gym shoes last month."

Randall picks up a few thing over the summer and looks for winter clothes after Thanksgiving, shopping Dillard's, Sears and Lerner's.

"Fortunately, she's not picky yet," Randall says of her daughter, "but I am sure that's coming."

Growth spurts interfere

"By the time the weather is cool enough to wear their fall clothes, they have a growth spurt," says Jennifer Nenna of Loveland, mother of Dominick, 10, entering fourth grade, and Abigail, 7, in second grade at J.F. Burns Elementary.

That's important, especially when you are Mike Coz's mother.

The eighth-grader is inching close to 6-foot-3 with a size 15 shoe.

Buying too early could backfire.

"We'll wait until Aug. 15 (school starts Aug. 19) and maybe he'll be at the end of a growth spurt," says Coz. "He could grow more between now and next week," she says, admitting although they've already purchased a few things.

"What we have so far - a shirt, cargo shorts, khakis and a blue blazer - is not going to get him far into the year."


Wearing a uniform saves some stress in daily clothing choice, if not shopping. Many uniforms can be purchased through schools, stores and catalogs. Lands' End even has a library of school logos available, including St. William.

Nan Moore of Price Hill, mother of three sons, two at St. William, knows that doesn't solve all the clothing problems.

"Wearing uniforms is incredibly easier," she says, "I'm blessed because I didn't have to deal with it until last year," when her oldest started at Walnut Hills.

"Now it's, 'I have to have this piece washed in order to wear it with that.' "

Braden, 7, her youngest, has been kind enough not to grow so much over the summer that new navy shorts and slacks are needed - yet. And she has the advantage of hand-me-downs to fall back on.

But the inevitable new reinforcements are needed. The younger the boy, the tougher they are on knees.

"In winter, we always end up buying pants because of the knees," she says.


All moms agreed the one thing they purchase either just before school, or shortly after, are shoes.

"School supplies and shoes we buy right before school starts," says Randall - "gym shoes at Foot Locker and two pairs of dress shoes, usually at Dillard's."

"We bought gym shoes and leather shoes last month," says Porter. "We just guessed what size they'd be wearing."

As for Mike Coz' size 15s, "They are hard to find, especially locally," his mother says. "Last pair we bought from an Eastbay catalog store. That was the only place we could find them.

"You almost always have to buy shoes and backpacks every year," says Coz.

But that's not enough for long.

"Then comes soccer," says Moore.

What's hot

Color: Earthy, rich-toned colors including clay, slate, bisque, shadow pink, terra cotta and deep boysenberry are popular.

Athletic/sport: Updated with an '80s edge for an old-school tracksuit spirit - team logos, numbers and letters, yoga pants, mesh and nylon, sleeveless tanks and shooter shirts topped with hooded sweatshirts.

Retro: It's the '60s all over again - sweater jackets, bell-bottoms, crochet vests and purses, appliqued and embroidered shirts, fitted band-collar jackets and stripes.

Military: It's all in the details - cargo pockets, zippers, and grommet trim.

Trim: Suede trim, oversized buttons, satin ribbons, metal buttons, nail-head trim.

Denim: It's a cleaned-up, nontattered version for girls and baked, patchwork and tinted for guys. Mini-skirts and jeans get a lot of competition from corduroy.

Shoes: Pants are worn with heavy-bottom, thick-soled wedge platforms, Mary Jane's and t-straps. High-heeled work boots with cargoes and sneakers for sport athletic suits.

Boys: Clean, classic and preppy, as well as multi-pocketed cargo pants and shorts, faded plaid tops over graphic T-shirts topped by hooded sweatshirts.

Girls: More nondenim pants paired with blouses with feminine bows, ruching and ruffles, and jackets of every style - sporty zip-ups with cargo pockets to lightweight bombers and classic denim and sweaters with cuffs, collars and luxe trims including fake fur.

Clothes shopping tips

•  Wait. Buy only one outfit before school starts and shop the sales soon after when kids have had a chance to see what everyone else is wearing.

•  Do not go out the door without a list. Have kids make a wish-list of five things they want. Make your own list and find at least one compromise.

•  It's trying, but take kids shopping with you. Make them part of the solution. Too many? Take one after dinner to one or two nearby stores and another the next night.

•  Agree beforehand on what you are shopping for - shoes, jeans, tops, underwear. Don't try to do it all at once.

•  Go through kids' closets (with kids) and weed out what doesn't fit or won't pass the "cool" test. Pass it on to younger kids, trade with neighbors or take the "label" clothes to a second-hand shop like Plato's Closet.

•  Check with the school on dress guidelines and no-nos and plan to leave super-low rise pants, short-shorts and midriff-baring and low-cut tops at home. The same goes for anything with liquor-related ads or cigarette products, revealing holes and tears.

•  Tell older kids how much there is to spend to stay within budget.

•  If they want to go over budget, let them use their own money, from chores, allowance, baby-sitting, etc., to make up the difference.

•  Shop second-hand stores. Plato's Closet, specializing in reselling trendy "label" brands, and Valley Thrift are popular, well-stocked shopping stops, especially for teens.

•  Look for heavier-weight fabrics, especially in pants, that will hold up to multiple washing.

•  Pants with double-knees are a must, especially for younger boys. Also double stitching, reinforced seams, necks and armholes.

•  Think mix-and-match and coordinated colors for more outfit combinations.

•  If you can, buy socks all one color, all one brand, to eliminate sorting problems.

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