Go Back to School in Style

Colorful jeans, highlighter-hued tops and socks, cropped denim jackets, a plethora of plaids and global-inspired styles are on trend for back-to-school season, circa 2014.

It’s good to know there’s a calm spot in this whirlwind of style; nothing has to match. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t.

“Colored and printed denim are at the core of kids’ wardrobes. We always love color, especially for back-to-school.” says Sofia Wacksman, vice president of trend for Kohl’s Department Stores. “Layer on the brights with mismatched bracelets or pop colored socks.”

The average family with kids in kindergarten through 12th grade will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics in 2014, up 5 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey.

Local shopping destinations, such as the Ohio Valley Mall and The Highlands, provide a myriad of options to fulfill back-to-school needs. For those whose tastes run more to the playing field than the fashion runway, there are stores up and down the river – both the big-box kind and the mom-and-pop kind – that specialize in sporty looks.

But don’t overlook the treasure trove of cost savings to be found at local thrift stores, consignment shops and even yard sales. Shoppers can find everything from barely worn namebrand fashions to backpacks to shoes to round out their back-to-school wardrobes and finish off their supply lists.

“We have a good selection for preschool up to junior clothing. You’re not paying full retail price for brand names and you’re getting good quality, clean merchandise,” said Kenda Metcalf, co-owner of the Bird’s Nest in Shadyside.

Trying to spend less is a trend all over the U.S. Most families, according to an AP article, are putting store brands or generic items in their carts when back-to-school supply shopping- 34 percent when compared to 32.8 percent last year, the Retail Federation survey said. And 25.6 percent are reusing last year’s items, up from 23.7 percent last year.

Giving back is also on trend. Companies such as Sydney Paige are donating a filled backpack to a child in need for every backpack purchased. Target also had a program through Aug. 1 to donate one supply item for every one of their store-brand (up&up) items sold, up to $25 million.

This year’s popular licensed products feature characters from Frozen, Monster High, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Minecraft, among others. Slap bracelets doubling as rulers serve both fashion and function. In backpacks, a new company called MadPax has broken the mold with its colorful soft-spike and bubble designs.

And don’t forget the three Rs! No, we don’t mean reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. In the 21st century, the three Rs stand for recycle, reuse and repurpose. Recycled plastic can be found in everything from change purses to pencil cases. It’s also much more common today for kids to use plastic containers for lunch instead of the ubiquitous zippered plastic bag. The market is flush with lunchtime solutions including “lunch systems” by Lunchopolis, FUEL by Trudeau, and Rubbermaid. FUEL is a new BPA-free brand that comes with a five-year warranty on its bento boxes, snack ‘n’ dip containers and tear-resistant, washable sandwich pouches.

Looking for the latest in locker accessories? According to the AP, LockerBones keeps lockers from becoming dumping grounds. Invented by Mississippi resident Greg Cronin for his daughter, the concept of an adjustable system of interlocking shelves landed him and his partner, Stephen Coachys, on TV’s “Shark Tank” show, which features investors looking for inventions they think will be profitable. The sharks bit, and LockerBones landed a deal with Staples. The shelving fits standard lockers and comes in pink and blue plastic or natural wood.

Back to fashion, accessories complete outfits, whether your look is sporty-chic, hipster-inspired or fashion-forward.

“This year, back-to-school accessories are all about having fun,” Wacksman said. “Accessorize with bright colored bracelets, layer silly socks that don’t quite match, sport a quirky printed backpack, add some patches – all are an easy and affordable way to update your look without breaking the bank.”

Summing up this year’s back-to-school independent, anything-goes vibe, she added: “Mix it up and make your own fashion story.”