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Choosing the best school fashions for your child

School Shopping 101: the short course.

Why short?

Because there no longer is one season to shop for school clothing and supplies.

Gone are the days when most schools opened their doors the day after Labor Day. Now, you see kids starting classes as early as July and pretty much throughout August - some year-round.

So how have retailers, parents and students changed their agendas as school calendars flip from year to year?

Here are some of the 2007 shopping trends, according to retail experts:

Parents and kids shop for bargains, many of which appear as early as July.

About two-thirds of moms say they set a budget - mostly between $150 and $200 - but admit that their children usually persuade them to go over.

About 97 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 12 love the idea of wearing a new outfit to school.

As for supplies, students say the two items they want most are a new and improved backpack and an updated calculator.

Don't skimp on a lunchbox, especially for younger kids. It makes it easier on parents in the morning, easier for kids at lunchtime.

If your school has a uniform policy, stick to it. That way, you don't get the "come pick me up - I have to change clothes" call.

Make sure your kids are outfitted with shoes that fit and are easy to get on and off.

We talked to retailers and local parents about their back-to-school itineraries and, as expected, they've been amended.

For example, Lands' End, which sells online and via catalog, went right to the source, conducting a shopping survey of 520 moms and 520 kids (ages 6 to 12) nationwide.

What surprised Lands' End the most?

"That parents were the key influence with their kids for back-to-school shopping," said Michele Casper, a Lands' End back-to-school specialist.

"I know moms want to believe this because of outside pressure from friends, peers and, now, celebrities and sports figures," she says. "Almost half of the kids surveyed say they value what their parents say. They even want to go shopping with them!"

According to the NPD Group, a market-research firm, 76 percent of consumers say they will spend $500 or less this year, down 5 percent from last year. School supplies are No. 1 on the shopping lists, followed by clothes, shoes and electronics.

At Karen Mallory's home, her four children receive $300 each for back-to-school shopping.

"We put the cash in an envelope with their name on it, and we're in charge of the envelopes," Mallory said. "Seeing the cash seems to help them appreciate the amount, as well as making it clear that it is not an unlimited nor negotiable amount of money."

Mallory says $300 generally covers the basics, but the kids look for sales and avoid high-end designer labels. Her youngest son often waits until the weather changes to spend his money.

"They also make sure they are buying items they will really wear," she added.

And carry.

A cool lunchbox ranks second to a cool backpack. Look for a container that's easy to clean, is leak-resistant and provides easy access (exterior pockets) to snack or milk money. Some lunchboxes can be clipped onto a backpack.

Lands' End offers monogramming on backpacks and lunchboxes, including initials and maybe a child's favorite sport like a soccer ball or football.

And many parents are turning to online shopping - especially for shoes - with the ability to download size charts and measure their kids' feet at home before ordering.

Piperlime.com, which is based in San Francisco, specializes in shoes. Kate Torres, director of marketing, says a good rule of thumb is to measure kids' feet every two months.

"The downloaded size chart is an easy way to keep up because there's nothing worse than kids wearing ill-fitting shoes," she said.

For fall, Torres says to look for closures other than laces, including Velcro, zippers, bungee cords and buttons.

"And look for something we call Sunday-Monday shoes, something children can wear to a weekend function and then to school," she said.

If sweaty feet are a problem in your home (and who doesn't experience this?), consider the Geox brand, which is waterproof and breathable. It wicks away perspiration because kids sweat almost double the amount of adults.

Phew!

And having a variety of shoes to pick from is also a way to add a fashionable touch to a school uniform.

For schools with uniforms, some schools either sell entire outfits (skirts, shirts, tees, sweat shirts, jackets) at a school store or choose a uniform that can be purchased either online (Lands' End) or at a retailer (Mervyns or Target).

High schools are opting for monogrammed polo shirts.

Because parents of private-school students pay hefty tuitions, it helps when the uniform makes it from one year to the next.

That's good news for Liane Leavitt, a nurse at the University of California, Davis Medical Center. Her daughter, Chloe, will be a high school junior this fall.

Next to the family's mortgage payment, tuition is the second-biggest expense.

"I count my blessings her uniform (skirt, shirts and sweat shirt) will survive another year," Leavitt said.

Mom and daughter did spring for a new backpack ($79 from North Face) and an updated graphing calculator and school supplies ($127 from Office Depot).

"Chloe guards her sweat shirts with her life," Leavitt said. "And she scored a school skirt at a vintage store for $3!"

At other schools, one change in the uniform policy involves removing "kangaroo pockets" from sweat shirts.

What's the beef?

Illegal text messaging inside the pocket's confines.

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