Back-to-School Fashion a Study of the '60s

This photo released by Justice shows some of its 60s influenced designs. This celebration of feel-good prints, including peace signs, flower power and butterflies, occurs against a backdrop of psychedelic colors and runs straight through teens to toddlers, fueling a 1960s redux by way of the '80s. (AP Photo/Justice)
AP Photo/Justice
Peace, love and neon. Those are the back-to-school buzzwords for a generation too young to remember those fashion themes the first time around, or even the second.

This celebration of feel-good prints, including peace signs, flower power and butterflies, occurs against a backdrop of psychedelic colors and runs straight through toddlers to teens, fueling a 1960s redux by way of the '80s. (There also were a lot of '60s influences in '80s fashion; everything was just bigger and brighter in the "me" decade.)

For today's young, style-conscious set, born during the grunge and techno fashion phases, these are fresh and exciting looks.

"I think the reason the girls like it is this is all something new," says Lece Lohr, co-president of Justice, formerly Limited Too. "And it gives the mother a new reason to spend money because it's something the daughter doesn't already have."

Yet for anyone just a little older, defining '60s silhouettes - including the miniskirt, shift dress and peacoat - are must-have classics, and young girls are always looking to emulate what they perceive as "grown-up fashion," says Gloria Baume, fashion director at Teen Vogue.

Justice reports strong sales of tie-dye and peace signs in its spring-summer lineup, so both motifs will move forward for fall, although some colors will be a little muted in keeping with the autumnal season. They'll play off highlighter hues.

Then there are the Woodstock-infused bohemian touches, such as peasant tops and fringe, which lasted into the early 1970s. The young customer isn't a purist about the periods, observes Lohr with a laugh. "I don't think they have any idea that something is from the '60s, '70s or '80s - they just like it. Because the styles were so extreme, there's something a little bit about it like a costume shop."

There's also a fashion freedom that was celebrated in the late 1960s that kids connect with, says celebrity stylist Art Conn, adviser to "American Idol." "That casual vibe - that's easy to recreate and keep in that theme."

Sonya Cosentini, the TJ Maxx/Marshalls style expert who collaborated with Conn on the upcoming fall ad campaign, notes that starlets like Nicole Richie, Miley Cyrus, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen all embrace their inner boho, influencing girls everywhere. "The style has been mainstream for a while, but it's hitting big for back to school."

Why now?

Fashion is always cyclical, says Cosentini, but today's economy might be having an effect too, putting shoppers in that "I-don't-need-everything mentality" that ruled the hippie years.

"Because of the economic situation the whole country is in, people are looking for better days, comfort zone," says A.K. LaMonica, senior director of apparel for The Children's Place, which is emphasizing printed corduroy, "artsy-craftsy" silhouettes and rock 'n' roll florals in its girls' collection. "Hearing stories about the '60s makes them think of a time when things were freer and not living under this cloud."

Meanwhile, Rachel Panetta, director of marketing at Stride Rite, points out parallels between the modern environmental movement, strongly influenced by youth, and the peace movement of yesteryear. Children are aware of the world around them - and they dress accordingly, she says.

Who could argue with a little peace and love? wonders Mindy Meads, president and chief merchandising officer of Aeropostale and its new younger sibling line, P.S. From Aeropostale.

"Kids seems to understand a positive influence," she says. "They totally respond to it. Maybe they don't understand why, but it just feels good and looks good."

Many of the children's looks mimic what's coming down the pike for adult fashion, which also has a rebellious side for fall.

"We do a tremendous amount of research to explore fashion trends. We explore online resources, junior clothing and accessory stores, and runway," Stride Rite's Panetta says. "From these venues we interpret the colors, materials and styles and adapt them into kid-appropriate fashionable footwear."

Expect to see moccasins, hand-stitching and more fringe on girls' feet.

It's harder to recreate a retro feeling for boys, LaMonica explains, but The Children's Place is aiming to do it with faded washes and a few key pieces, including stadium windbreakers.

As for mom, she can try to capture the spirit of the '60s in a way appropriate for her age, knowing the limits of a largely youthful look, Conn says.

"For a mom, tights work for any generation, and so does a fringe boot or a handbag with fringe. That's your nod to the '60s," he says. "You don't want to see mom in a leather headband - I don't want to see that, and their daughters will run the other way."

Samantha Critchell