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Fashionable future
Students already seeking right look for back to school
Eventually, children start to notice trends, rules and peer pressure, but until then, experts say, let them wear their plaid on plaid, shocking pink with neon orange, and argyle with polka-dots. And different colored socks, of course.

With local students heading back to class in less than a month, many families are officially in back-to-school shopping mode.

Although picking out a special outfit or two for the first days of school have been a tradition for decades, the shopping process isn't exactly what it used to be.

"My mom used to leave home and come back with clothes for me and my brother," said Susan Parrish, a 34-year-old Gainesville resident.

"We never knew when she was going to do the shopping and we didn't get to have any input. Nowadays, my daughters are very involved. All summer long, whenever they see someone on TV with an outfit they like, they call me into the room to look at it and say, ‘Mommy, I want a shirt like that.' or ‘Mommy, I want to dress like that.'"

And many kids these days aren't content with being too "matchy," so shopping excursions can be quite an experience.

"The first time my daughter tried to convince me that she should be wearing this crazy patterned shirt with these striped tights, I nearly had a cow," said Debbie Johns, a Jackson County resident.

"That was three years ago when she was 10. Her fashion sense has only gotten funkier, but I'm learning to adjust."

Johns' daughter isn't alone. In general, young shoppers today are more likely to look for coordinating colors, not matching patterns.

"Kids are interested in high fashion," says Sarah Hough, vice president of design for 77 Kids, a label under the American Eagle umbrella.

"Our assortment plays into that. We design not an eclectic mess, but we suggest ways kids can be more individual."

Be the sporty girl who'll wear a glittery top, floral denim jeans and canvas high-top sneakers, Hough says.

Moms often warm up to the crazy combinations once their eyes adjust, observes Lori Twomey, chief merchant of the membership website Zulily. How can they resist their little prince or princess who is loving styles that are bright, fun and whimsical?

"They'll mix fabrics together and colors that you say, ‘They don't go,' but then you see it and all of a sudden it works really well," Twomey said.

More good news for parents paying for all this, according to Twomey, is that children have sharp opinions and deep loyalties. While an adult might buy something and then leave it in the closet for months never sure if it was worth purchasing, kids often want to wear their new items day after day and, when they've worn it out, they want a very similar thing in the size up.

On the flip side, if they don't like it on Day 1, you're probably never getting them in it. Little Miss Matched, a 7-year-old brand that markets such fashion independence, encourages kids to find their voice in an arena that's safe and still respectful.

"It's about allowing kids to break the rules - saying you can wear argyle and polka-dot socks - but it's all still mother-approved," says spokeswoman Kerry Brown.

And, she adds, her brand does put a lot of thought into the seemingly crazy combinations.

"I wouldn't be caught dead in some of the things my kids wear, but that's fine by me and I'm sure with them too," said Julie Brown, a Gainesville resident.

"You never want to dress like your parents. I certainly didn't want to wear anything my mother liked when I was a teenager. If they're covered up and don't have anything offensive printed on their clothes, then it's fine by me.

"I may cringe when I see their selections, but it's not enough to make me fight with them to change."

Associated Press contributed to this story.