For kids, back-to-school fashion stems not from Paris but from practicality.
How else to explain the continuing popularity of cargo pants for boys and girls of all ages? All those pockets can hold plenty of interesting stuff - string, crayons, rocks, and the other debris of childhood - and the trousers can look military or preppy, depending on the number of pockets.
Older teens can even find satin cargo pants for a more grown-up flair. For those who don't want the spotlight shiny pants bring, satin trims are an alternative.
Meanwhile, preppy styles - think plaid skirts, argyle sweaters, opaque tights, and even knee socks - have taken off again for girls, according to the Bloomington, Minn.-based Mall of America. But instead of playing preppy straight, folks are mixing it with punk-influenced togs and even military styles. The result? Eclectic clothes that go where no prep has gone before.
Denim remains an integral part of the school wardrobe. Whiskered finishes, and other washes, create fresh looks for jeans, as do cargo pockets and metal chains. Jackets come in all hues of blue. A stand-out combination: Jackets and jeans in different shades.
Corduroy provides a warmer alternative to denim, always welcome here in the land of cruel winter winds. Other warm fabrics for brisk fall days include velour, fleece, suede, and knits.
As in fashion for adults, athletic looks are a slam dunk when it comes to trendy comfort. Hoodies, a.k.a. hooded zip-ups sweatshirts, not only come in all colors and stand in for sweaters, but provide a flattering line from sternum to shoulder as a bonus.
Shoes also play a part in back-to-school style, says Rebecca Weinberg, a spokeswoman for Amazon.com's apparel site and fashion stylist for several TV shows, including Sex and the City. Distinctive Converse sneakers are “a staple for boys or girls, in a high or low top,” she said. Puma tennis shoes are another option. Boots, which made a big comeback in the last couple of years, are likely to return for winter.
It's always wise, though, to check with your child's school before buying items - low-rise jeans, crop tops, mini-skirts - that might trip a dress-code alarm. Many local schools now have Web sites containing such information, but if you don't have access to the Internet, you can telephone and ask.
As for the finishing touches, a newsboy cap (think J. Lo), long knit scarf or a crocheted item, a tiny purse, or a messenger bag says school's started for 2003 - and you're on top of it.