Back to School

A primer on fashion trend-setting, high school edition

Jon Paul Roby, 16, of Newton North Jon Paul Roby, 16, of Newton North
By Sarah Corrigan
Globe Correspondent / August 29, 2010

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For some teens, back-to-school shopping is a weekend trip to the local mall. For others, it’s a summerlong process tailored by careful imitation of celebrity trends.

For two fashion-conscious students from Framingham and Newton — who also happen to be class presidents — the challenge is to secure a signature style that will set a positive tone for an entire school year.

“The first day of school is like a movie premiere,’’ said Mia Lin, a 16-year-old junior at Framingham High School. “That first day is definitely a time for scoping out the fashion front-runners. Every year is an opportunity to redefine your style.’’

Lin, who describes her own style as “urban,’’ said it’s the shoes that make the outfit for her. “I have about 90 pairs,’’ she said. “I wear whole outfits just to accent my shoes. My favorites are my green, black, red, and gold Supra Chad Muska Skytops, because they’re incredibly comfortable and they give me a swagger boost.’’

For 16-year-old Jon Paul Roby, a junior at Newton North High School, it’s all about cardigans from shops like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. “I describe my personal style as geek chic,’’ he said from behind Buddy Holly-esque prescription black-frame glasses. “I have about 12 cardigans that I wear over V-neck T-shirts and skinny jeans, usually with boat shoes or canvas sneakers.’’

Lin and Roby — like most of their peers — are using the final weeks of summer to rifle through clothing racks in search of clothes that best express their personalities and that do not embody what Roby calls the “cookie-cutter teenager.’’ The object of the high-school fashion game is to accomplish the nearly impossible task of standing out and fitting in at the same time.

With mall retailers like American Eagle Outfitters, Hollister Co., Old Navy, and Abercrombie & Fitch still reigning supreme in most high school hallways, skinny jeans, comfy T’s, and UGG boots are the go-to outfit for girls, while sports jerseys, loose-fitting jeans or cargo shorts, and sneakers are the unofficial uniform for boys.

Jill Simon, a buyer for the Newton-based National Jean Company, said those basic clothing staples are still a must this year, but students wanting to make that movie-premiere entrance can take their style to the next level with a few simple tips.

“Skinny jeans tucked into boots are still one of the most popular styles for girls, but we are also selling a lot of jeggings this year,’’ said Simon, referring to the flexible, spandex-blend leggings fashioned to look like denim. “Jeans for guys are becoming a bit straighter in the leg. They’re still pretty relaxed through the thigh, just narrower in the leg. It gives guys a more tailored, more put-together look.

“But, hands down, the hottest pant this year is the J Brand ‘Houlihan,’ ’’ she added. “It’s a slim cargo-style pant, which looks great because military style is definitely in fashion this fall. We’re also selling a lot of twill, which works out great for private school kids who can’t wear jeans,’’ said Simon, while noting that above all, comfort and confidence is key at school.

“Appearance for me at school is super important, because if you dress like you don’t care, then you don’t care,’’ said Lin. “Kids who look nice for school actually want to be there.’’

And as this year’s Framingham High junior class president, Lin already has her first-day-of-school outfit planned. “I’ll wear my vintage riding boots from the Tannery in Cambridge, and pair those with some high-waisted skinny jeans and a button-down top.’’

As the junior class president at Newton North, Roby has his eye on a casual but put-together look. “I’ll probably wear shorts from Urban Outfitters with a white V-neck shirt tucked in, with flip-flops and, of course, my glasses. I like to make an outfit look effortless, even if I’ve spent a lot of time picking it out,’’ he said. “I care about what I look like at school. When I feel like I look better, I raise my hand more in class and just have more confidence in myself.’’

High school hallways have long been a venue for style-conscious teens to push the fashion envelope and irk school administrators — most recently, with female students arriving for class wearing thin, clingy leggings instead of a more traditional covering, and male students with jeans worn low (very low) or sweat pants.

“We try to reach an agreement where we acknowledge kids’ rights to express themselves, but also acknowledge that we have an obligation to provide an appropriate learning environment for other kids,’’ said Framingham High School principal Michael Welch. “We try to avoid things that take away from the educational process.’’