A backpack, clothing and sneakers may be the usual crowd when it comes to back-to-school lists, but for kids, teens and tweens, getting ready for the upcoming school year is how they show style and self-expression.
is also approaching — Aug. 19 to 25 — which means no taxes for shoes and clothes up to $300, so it's a great time to plan ahead for those shopping excursions.
While college students decorate their dorm rooms, middle school students are looking for ways to personalize their lockers.
“It’s much more popular and much more sophisticated," Amy Valente, owner of in West Hartford Center, said. “Your locker becomes a mini home.”
Many have been going to Sweet Nest for locker decorations, including locker rugs, mirrors, stickers and magnets. Locker wall papers come in zebra stripes, metallics and bright purples and pinks, as well as lime green. Valente even carries mini chandeliers for lockers.
Small cork boards and whiteboards are other must-have items for lockers so friends can leave each other messages, Valente said.
Tweens are hardly ever looking for just any backpack when they shop in Sweet Nest.
“They don’t like plain backpacks. They like ones with designs,” employee Liz Blaine said, noting that tie-dye is particularly popular.
Bright neon colors and sequins are in for the 8- to 12-year-olds that shop in Sweet Nest, Valente said. Kids are getting mini lava lamp key chains from her store to decorate their backpacks. Many kids trade accessories with each other for "upgrades," she said.
The store opened last fall, so this is its first year in the back-to-school shopping scene.
, but girls 16 to 21 years old have already been coming with their friends, mothers and grandmothers to do back-to-school shopping. Owner Brittany Vaughan said instead of buying backpacks, many are buying large purses that can hold a few books.
“Vera Bradley is going in and out of the store very quickly,” said Vaughan.
That is also the case at — on Route 44 near the former T.J. Maxx plaza — where Vera Bradleys are on display in the window and handbags are the most popular item sold.
Many people at use Longchamp purses and Vineyard Vines totes to carry their books and binders instead of backpacks “for style,” said Vaughan’s daughter Jolie Bouchard, 16. Jolie is a rising junior at Simsbury High and works in her mother’s store about four days a week.
Consignment boutiques are becoming trendy, Vaughan said, largely because customers can find high-end brands for cheaper prices. For example, Vaughan recently sold a Coach backpack — which can run as high as $300 at retail price — for $72. Juicy Couture is another brand flying off the shelves as teenagers look for smaller purses, as well.
High school and college students have caught the consignment bug, many wanting upscale designer labels for a lower price. Items typically cost a third of original price, Vaughan said.
“I personally am just drawn to nicer brands. They hold up nicer and aren’t cheap,” Jolie said. “I work at the shop, but a lot of people don’t have jobs that pay a lot of money as teens and have to pay for gas, so they normally can’t afford the high-end expensive clothing.”
Teens are starting to buy fall clothing, like jeans, “getting what’s in style” and “a nice brand,” according to Jolie. For her, consignment makes high taste more affordable.
“I definitely like getting things cheaper than spending $400 on Tory Burch pants,” she said.
Before she could put Tory Burch jeans on the racks recently, teens flocked to buy them as she was pricing them. They were sold quickly for $72 each.
“Farmington Valley kids are close to New York and know the brands,” Vaughan said.
While Tory Burch pants do come in green, yellow and pink, dark denim and intentionally worn jeans are popular casual styles teenagers are looking at, Vaughan said. Brands from Gap, Hollister, Abercrombie and Old Navy to Free People, Lilly Pulitzer and are often in the junior’s section of the boutique. Costume jewelry and fashionable Pink sweatpants are also trending.
While neutral colors are in fashion for high school and college students, the tweens are going brighter and bolder.
Teen style is popping with hot pinks, neon greens and aqua blues, Valente said.
“I have three girls in this age group. The stuff they're buying this summer has me in hysterics. I can’t wait to see first day of school," Valente said.
Valente thinks the rise in popularity of sequins, glitter, accessories, "sparkly mascaras," eye shadows and lip glosses in tween style is because teen fashions are trickling down to the younger age group.
“Everybody wants to have a lot of bling this year," she said.
Tweens even have cell phones now and Sweet Nest carries "fun phone cases."
Furry pencils seem to be the writing utensils of choice.
Sports and Shoes
Vans sneakers are in for teenage boys who either skateboard or like the style, Chris Stephan, co-owner of , said. Fifth-graders to 17-year-olds comprise the Route 44 Avon sports store’s main customer base, he said.
Many parents bring their kids in preparation for the fall cross country, soccer and field hockey seasons, whether it’s to get a new field hockey stick or footwear. The height of back-to-school shopping there takes place in the last two weeks of August and first week of September.
For 18 of the 26 years Sartorius has been open, the store has offered a discounted package for cleats, shinguards and soccer socks closer to the start of the school year. That’s usually for the 4- to 9-year-olds.
"We do that package to make that inexpensive for the starting soccer player,” he said.
Uggs continue to be popular fall boots for the girls at places like Nordstrom, Valente said. She sells accessories tweens can pin on their boots like furry "Shaggies" and smiley face rhinestone "Pin'ems.
Navy and plumb are the most prominent colors that in Riverdale Farms Shopping carries, co-owner Susan Macko said. The Avon store's customer base includes infants to pre-teens, both boys and girls.
Stripes are a popular pattern that will carry through into the spring season, she said. Tunics and leggings "are still very big," she said, as well as clothes made of softer fabrics that feel good. Well known fashion lines people are buying include Joules, Splendid, Ragdoll and Rockets. Parents often buy dresses for their 3- to 8-year-olds. Headbands continue to be trendy.
Macko, who recently attended a fashion show in New York to see styles for next spring, said that "made in America" is a growing concern for consumers. Almost 20 percent of the items in her store are American-made.
Macko opened the store six years ago with Hillary Wallace and remembers a time before everything was taxed.
Now that there is more sales tax, Tax Free Week has become even more important to shoppers looking for price breaks.
She sees a surge in her boutique during that time, but there are also parents who are waiting until after the school year starts to shop for their kids. That way they can better gage what's trendy.
Other Stores for Back-to-School Shopping