To understand what's new for back-to-school wear, you need only take a look at what trendy adults are wearing on weekends.
This fall, 4-year-old girls, their 14-year-old sisters and even their mothers will be pulling on leggings and minis and slipping into oversized jackets.
For men and boys of all ages, the basic uniform remains a pair of loose-fitting pants, a one-pocket T-shirt and bomber-style jacket.
A vivid rainbow of colors usually associated with spring and summer is brightening up every category, and plaid madness has touched them all.
While the overlap between the children's market and adult wear is increasing, certain distinctions remain, especially among the young set.
Black has become a basic in every size range, but when it comes to choosing a shade to pair with it, the perennial favorite for little girls always seems to be pink, according to Toni Le Trent-Jones, a spokeswoman for Health-tex. "This fall, it's a bright, hot pink."
Other big shades among the back-to-school set are purple, orange, turquoise, lime, red and gold.
For younger boys in particular, the most influential hues are orange and coral, says Jeff Isom, general merchandise manager for boys for Health-tex.
"Overall, colors are staying very bright as we move into fall. We're even seeing white being used as a background, which we haven't seen before. Usually it would be a dark color."
While brights and blacks are often paired together, washed-out colors are frequently chosen to wear with the distressed-looking denims that we'll be seeing again this year.
Since many of the schools in the Baltimore area have dress codes, children's fall fashion trends, espe-cially as they relate to denim and leather, will be confined to after-school hours.
"Denim has been incredibly strong," says Ginny Rupp, fashion ++ director for Woodward & Lothrop. "Even with the high temperatures we were having, it's been selling everywhere."
Embellishment is what's making it especially popular, according Nancy Chistolini, vice president of creative merchandising for Hecht's.
"Some years it's just a replacement item, but with all the novelty happening, it's fashion this year," she says. "And it's in a lot of classifications -- in jackets, skirts, shirts and jeans. You'll see little pearls all over a jacket and colored stones on a collar or cuff."
Straight-legged jeans and baggy are selling, she says, "anything that has some interest to it -- zipper treatments will be important too."
A favorite item for topping off jeans, she says, is the leather motorcycle jacket, which some teens are also contrasting with a short, pleated skirt.
When it comes to a general silhouette, kids alternate between skintight Lycra looks and oversized layering, often combining the two.
One of the best-selling new items for girls at the Kids Connectiostores are stretch denim leggings, says owner Rosalind Goolst.
The top of choice is always loose, however, such as an oversized sweater or the store's top-selling rhinestone-trimmed houndstooth boyfriend jacket.
For boys, loose is more often the rule. "It's the same wide-bodied, pull-on pant and boxy shirt," she says.
At Health-tex, Mr. Isom says, "we've made everything loose-fitting because kids like to layer things, to wear two or three garments at one time. They'll wear a pair of pants with shorts over top. It's a look that started with the skateboarding industry and has been going for a couple of seasons."
The same easy-fitting printed cot
ton pants boys wore all summer long are now available at Sears in darker prints and heavier-weight fabrics, such as twill and flannel. As days get cooler, a loose rayon print shirt will substitute for the basic one-pocket T-shirt, favored by boys and girls.
Plaid is the most pervasive print.
"We feel very strong about plaid," says Ms. Rupp of Woodward & Lothrop. "It's predominantly red, black and white and yellow, but there's also the traditional Black Watch pattern in black, blue, green."
"We've always had plaid," says Kathyrn DeVincentis of the Pied Piper children's store. "But now it's updated in bright colors -- fuchsia, teal, orange and purple."
The second most popular print, especially for girls, is floral. "Prints are more important in leggings now than solid," says Ms. Le Trent-Jones. "It's a more printed look overall." In addition to florals, hearts and stencil designs decorate clothing.
At Sears, clothing is also decorated with pictures of the 101 Dalmations and Barbie logos. Hypercolor T-shirts, which change color with body temperature, are selling like hot cakes in every age group, says Marci Schaffer, a Sears spokeswoman.
Tie-dye prints studded with colored stones are a novelty item at Kids Connection that's catching the eye of children and grown-ups alike. A '60s influence also turns up at the Pied Piper in Pucci-like prints, geometrics and black-and-white stripes.
While many children are enamored of the wild and crazy world of prints, ruffles and rhinestones, others, especially teen-agers are starting to move back to the basics.
Fashion forecasters sense a shift ahead, away from the trendy, following the success of retailers like the Gap, which stresses updated classics
Looking forward to next spring and fall, Ms. Le Trent Jones says, "Things are getting cleaner and more conservative, less froufrou -- although lace and flounces will always be true for little girls to some extent. People seem to be moving away from things that look dated quickly. They're looking for value for money and longer-lived products."