In kids' fashion, plain `bo-bos' are a no-no

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

HIS school clothes may not always match perfectly, but one thing's for sure, Myron Douthit will never, ever, get caught in a pair of ``bo-bos.'' ``You know,'' smiles the soon-to-be fifth-grader, twirling around a pole on a Boston street. He points to his sneakers. ``If they don't have a name, they're bo-bos.''

Myron already sports a pair of black-and-white Reebok high-topped sneakers, but he and his father, Myron Douthit Sr., are going to buy a new pair for school.

But not just any kind.

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In the fickle and costly world of fashion for elementary, junior high, and high school years, dressing for success usually involves wearing specific styles and brand-name items. And as clothing prices creep higher and higher, back-to-school shopping portends an uncomfortable pinch for many parents.

``I'm going to get Adidas, or maybe Avias,'' says Myron the younger. ``No, you aren't going to get Avias,'' says Myron the elder. Top-of-the-line high-tops, he points out, cost from $40 to $110. ``I remember when I used to go get just any kind for $20,'' Mr. Douthit says, shaking his head.

For retailers, back-to-school clothes sales, which extend through September, are usually eclipsed only by the pre-Christmas sales of the fourth quarter each year. In 1987, American apparel and accessory stores saw more than $13 billion in sales in those two months alone, which is almost double what was spent during those months in 1978.

``From Labor Day to Christmas - that is retail,'' says Ted Allen, sales clerk at an Eddie Bauer store near Boston, which is bustling with back-to-school shoppers. The chain specializes in men's clothing, but it attracts a lot of junior high and high school boys and girls who buy its large-size sweaters and shirts for the more trendy, baggy look.

``If you're in the retail business, you have to have back-to-school sales,'' Mr. Allen says.

``August is a big month for the stores,'' says Rosalind Wells, chief economist at the New York-based National Retail Merchants Association. Her eight-year study of national sales patterns in general-merchandise and apparel specialty stores shows consistently high sales in that month.

Having felt the pre-school shopping pinch before, Leigh Ann Mason is already planning such a strategy for her son, Lucien, who starts the fourth grade this fall. If she waits until midseason, she says, prices will drop. Ms. Mason, who lives in Boston, may also make a run to the suburbs. ``You can get name brands cheaper there,'' she says. ``But it's kind of hit or miss.''

``It's kind of a dilemma,'' she says. ``You dress them up in these fancy clothes, and they tear them up on the playground.'' Mason adds that she probably feels more pressure than Lucien, who attends a small, private school in Boston, to have ``appropriate clothing.'' If a child doesn't have the right shoes or pants, she says, ``it reflects on the parents.'' She recalls having to scramble to make sure Lucien was dressed ``right'' for a classmate's birthday party that was catered by one of the swankiest restaurants in Boston.

Providing stylish clothes for growing children has been such a distraction and burden in some communities that the old tradition of school uniforms is, in a few cases, being revived. In Baltimore and Washington, educators and community leaders at several schools decided last year that it was time to do away with the stigma of not having the right jeans or jackets.

The children, most of whom were from low- to moderate-income families, were made to feel a kind of peer pressure to be stylishly dressed, school officials said. Now, elementary school students in five Baltimore public schools and one in Washington wear uniforms.

At Lucien's school, several students are on financial aid. ``Uniforms,'' his mother says, ``would kind of be a relief for those families, so they wouldn't have to worry that their kids have name-brand clothes.''

Young Myron says this kind of name-brand pressure exists at his school. An outfit should match, he says, pointing out that this reporter's clothes do not.

``If you don't have the right clothes, you can't get a girl,'' says Myron. ``It would be amazing if I saw a nerd get a girl.'' Although he admits he is only the ``second coolest'' in the class, he still has a reputation to uphold as the ``strongest.'' And clothes, one gathers, make the young man.

``I get up at 5:30, I iron my clothes, fall asleep until 6, and then leave my house at 6:14 to catch the bus,'' says Myron Jr.

Yes, clothes are important, but the top priority for Myron, as an all-around athlete, is to have the right shoes. And for those who don't, he says, ``This is the song that we sing'':

Bo-bos, they cost a dollar ninety-nine.

Bo-bos, they make your feet feel fine.

Bo-bos, your shoes don't shine.

Myron stops. ``Hey, what kind of shoes do you have on?'' he asks a boy striding by in white high-tops. ``Spot Bilts'' - a popular brand-name shoe - the boy replies, never turning his head, never missing a beat.

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