The Cool School Crowd: Trio of Celebrities Drives Must-Have B-T-S Items

Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson and Lindsay Lohan are the role models for schoolgirls this year, with buying up at the high end and off at mass.

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But moderate department stores and mass merchants like Wal-Mart and Target are having a tougher time with the b-t-s season, the second busiest of the year after the Christmas holidays. August sales were a washout for many nationwide as a result of soaring gas prices, the Labor Day shift to September, hurricanes in Florida and the Republican National Convention in New York. As a result, retailers across the country are counting on key fashion items to save September.

They will need some really irresistible items because they already face big hurdles. While gas prices have stabilized recently, they remain high. Hurricane Frances, which swept through Florida over Labor Day weekend, already has such retailers as Federated Department Stores estimating it lost $20 million in sales as a result. Meanwhile, stores continue to come up against tougher year-on-year comparisons as they head into the holiday season. And another hurricane, Ivan, is brewing in the Caribbean and could potentially result in more damage to Florida.

At Proffitt’s, a division of Saks Department Store Group based in Alcoa, Tenn., Toni Browning, chief executive officer, described b-t-s as “a nonevent.” Consumer buying patterns have shifted to a buy-now-wear-now philosophy, rather than big buys before school starts.

“People are delaying fall purchases through August, but September should be strong,” she said. “In juniors, anything new, unique or price sensitive is selling well now.”

As one major retailer said, “Business is just OK. It’s slightly up. Business has been getting progressively softer.”

Still, some strong trends are emerging. At Bloomingdale’s, chairman and ceo Michael Gould, noted, “The kid’s business is good. The designer portion of young men’s is extremely good, and Young East Sider [contemporary sportswear] is spectacular.”

At Macy’s East, ponchos, babydolls, hoodies, bouclé jackets, belted denim jeans, and denim with back-pocket details are strong trends, according to Daphne Pappas, vice president and divisional merchandise manager, junior sportswear.

“We’ve also seen some preppy trends à la Le Tigre, including polos and rugbys, and we’ve got some strong early reads on outerwear,” including items with fur trim and fleece hoodies, which will be “maximized” for fourth-quarter selling, she added.
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