'Sweet rags' set you back a bundle

For parents, buying season for back-to-school attire - pumpkin-orange parachute pants? - is under way. How much are families around the country spending? The American Express retail index (AERI) survey of 1,000 adults estimates parents will spend a surprising $548 on average (that includes school supplies), up from $455 in 1999.

Teens will spend $124 of their "own money" (80 percent get some of that from their parents). Parents in the Northeast spend the most, says the survey - $594 on average - while parents in the Midwest get by spending $282 on their kids' school needs.

Mass merchandisers like Target and Wal-Mart are preferred by parents, while teens like trendy brands. But youths don't admit to buying for brand name: 61 percent say "personal style" influences buying habits, while 39 percent say comfort and fit come first. Ten percent say MTV influences clothing purchases, down from 20 percent in 1999. Here are the top brands this season, according to the AERI survey.

*Tommy Hilfiger 28 percent

*Old Navy 27 percent

*Nike 26 percent

*Gap 24 percent

*Polo Ralph Lauren 17 percent

More than a third of teens favor the "athletic/sports" look. Almost a quarter of girls prefer "preppy."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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