By Art Petrosemolo
Back-to-School shopping for the clothes-minded
Back-to-school clothes shopping has three stages.
There is the parents pick out everything and children wear it stage, followed by having children take part in the decision to ultimately kids picking out what they will wear and when.
The time span between each stage seems to be shrinking. Kids are getting older faster if that’s possible.
Colleen Doogan, Shrewsbury, knows only too well the stages as she has three active children, all under 10 years of age. On a sunny, late July afternoon – when she wanted to be at the beach – Doogan had shirts on the bed, pants on the floor, dresses on the chair and sweaters on the dresser as she began her seasonal review of her children’s clothes. She tossed some in the keep pile and others in the donate or share pile as she planned for third-grader Conor, 8, first-grader Abigail, 6, and 4-year-old preschooler Declan.
It’s got to be done, her expression said.
“We still have weeks of beach time left but, if I don’t start now, it will be even more of a madhouse the week before Labor Day.”
So a little more than a month after the first day of summer, Doogan and her children, like many other families in the Two River area, were planning for September.
The malls and big box stores have been thinking fall since they put their July 4th decorations away and now parents aren’t far behind.
An informal survey of area moms with children, ages 4 to 14, is eye-opening and an education if you are not in the clothes-for-school shopping stream.
At the Doogan home, Conor is all into athletic jerseys and T-shirts, sweat pants and athletic shorts. “Shirts with collars today are mostly for church, parties or dress-up functions,” says Doogan.
For Conor, knowing what he is going to wear the next day is important, but for some other 9-year-old boys, it is low on their priority list as they grab the closest T-shirt and shorts – whether they are clean or not-so-clean.
The Doogan’s second son, Declan, is a quick learner, his mother says, and he has definite opinions about what he likes to wear.
“Declan likes to pick out his own clothes for church,” says Doogan, “and he understands matching colors – even if it is red-red with maroon.”
Where things change for back-to school clothes shopping is with the girls and oh, does it change! As you can guess, girls are much more conscious about how they look and how their friends look – even at an early age.
Abigail Doogan, entering first grade, is involved in picking out her outfits with mom.
“Sure I miss picking out and buying Abigail’s outfits,” says Doogan, “but she is growing up and has definite ideas on how she wants to look.” For 6-year-old Abigail, that means glittery T-shirts with lots of graphics or frilly dresses or what this reporter has learned means a “girlie” look.
Doogan shops anywhere and everywhere. She also has a network of friends with older and younger children and they exchange, pass down or pass up clothing all the time.
“With three children who are growing by the month, it is so important to keep an eye on their closets, and to be sure the clothes they pick out to wear are the right size and age-appropriate,” she emphasizes.
The stakes are higher as boys and girls reach middle school and high school. For many boys, dressing down is dressing up and jeans, T-shirts, and athletic shirts are enough. Parents have to be sure there are dress clothes or semi-dress clothes – that fit – in the closet for events where jeans and a T-shirt just won’t cut it.
Moms aren’t alone as they think of school clothes. A quick web search using the phrase “back to school clothes” brings up thousands of “hits,” all with advice or advertising from big-name stores and online retailers. For example, WikiHow has five pages on “How to Make a Back to School Shopping List” that promises “to make it less boring and get everything you need.” New Balance found me with an e-mail ad entitled “Back To Cool” (footwear to kickstart an active school year) and I don’t have any school-age children.
Mom Jennifer Costello, Fair Haven, with Jack, 10, Nicky, 8, and Annabelle, 5, has been having experiences similar to Doogan’s as she gets her kids ready for school. Her boys pick out everything. Her daughter is still OK with mom being involved with clothes selection.
Costello has to drag her boys to shop and all they want is athletic stuff including lacrosse shorts, sweatpants and team shirts. She shops year-round for school clothes and, like most moms today, looks for sales.
As children get older, the challenges are different – especially for those with teenage girls.
Melissa Semiao, store merchandiser at the popular Urban Outfitters in Red Bank, sees it all. “For teenage girls, it’s all about what’s trending and what’s in style,” she says.
Following Rumson eighth-graders Jen Famulary and Jenna Hawke as they shop in Urban Outfitters is eye-opening. UO is one of the girls’ favorite stores because, they say, “it has everything.” They also like American Eagle and PacSun but admit they shop around all the time.
Working as a team, Jen and Jenna move left to right, up and down, front to back covering each and every rack and display, keeping up an endless stream of fashion conversation. It isn’t long before they both are carrying an armload of sweaters, tops, bottoms and dresses. When merchandiser Semiao joins them and makes suggestions, the armloads get even bigger.
Jen’s mom Michele says, “Many times Jen will go shopping on her own or with friends. We have very different opinions on clothing, so I’ve found that it’s easier if I take the back seat. She usually makes good selections so it works out well. And when we don’t have time to get to the stores, online shopping is a good option for us. Jen makes her selections, I look them over and then place the order.”
For boys this age, usually they want to do the shopping themselves and may even have difficulty with items purchased for them by parents or relatives. Gift cards seem to make the most sense for boys.
Jan Weisman’s son, Charlie, who will be 15 soon and goes to Red Bank Regional High School, leans toward the beach look rather than athletic, which also is popular with boys. The beach look is year-round at the Jersey Shore with labels like Billabong and Quicksilver. Weisman, too, has to drag her son to the store to shop.
There are hundreds of back-to-school clothing stories from parents and children that will make you smile. With the U.S. Census Bureau 2012 estimate of more than 138,000 children under age 18 in Monmouth County, there will be no shortage of angst from moms and children as “what to wear to school” moves to the top of the priority list as opening day looms closer.