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The A to Z of school fashion for fall

Maybe you already have been clothes shopping. Maybe you're putting it off until you try on last year's stuff, or scrape up more cash.

Either way, a smart shopping strategy is this: Get set with basics -- jeans, tees, go-anywhere cardigan -- and add on trendy items from there.

And don't worry about buying everything at once.

Claire O'Connor of Grand Island shops some this month but also likes to add occasional updates throughout the year.

Not a bad idea. Kids grow. Tastes change. New merchandise arrives.

Claire, who is entering seventh grade, also offered this tip: "Buy clothes that are hip but not out of your personality range."

Well said. Here is our A-to-Z list, including basics plus some trendier items.

*Animal prints. Leopard prints lead the pack, but not always in real-life colors. Pops of color appear in some, and the pattern itself might be distorted.

*Bright colors. Some combos to look for, according to Cotton Inc.: For girls, bright yolk yellow with purples and grays; bubblegum pinks with maroons and taupe; hunter green with dark blues, teals and pale yellow.

For boys: off-beat red, white and blues; faded blues, powder blues and mints combined with marine tones; rusts, oranges, khakis. Color-blocking is in.

*Collegiate. Preppy, varsity -- huge trends for all ages. The word from Macy's: "Girls get schooled in prep academy chic, with varsity jackets and collegiate sweatshirts taking center stage. Add some fun to your buttoned-up look with folk and Fair Isle accent trim and border detail in cropped jersey tees, woven shirting, lightweight sweaters and flirty skirts."

For boys: "Varsity and pep squad-inspired tees paired with washed denim and topped with striped collegiate tops create the perfect back-to-school outfit."

*Dresses. Think floral prints and floaty fabrics.

*Embellishment. Sequins appeal to many ages, but elementary school girls often take a big shine to them. This season, the P.S. store from Aeropostale offers sequined tops, hoodies, even backpacks. It's a girl thing.

*Flats. Ballet flats continue to put a cute spin on fall favorites such as skinny jeans and skirts.

*Graphic tees. In every size and style, for both guys and girls. Many girls will love the licensed tees (Snoopy, Mickey Mouse) at J.C. Penney.

*Hello Kitty. For the preschool set right up through high school (and beyond?), Hello Kitty is still top cat.

*Intarsia sweaters. A trend for girls and boys in playful designs, in a wide assortment of animals and characters.

*Jeans. Skinny jeans are still popular but flares come on strong -- as do colored jeans. We spotted some at dELiAs at Walden Galleria in yellow, teal, fuchsia, coral and more.

*Knee socks. A cute look for girls, for a change of pace.

*Loose tops. Look for tops with dolman or kimono-style sleeves and "circle" tops with rounded designs. Capes, capelets and ponchos in various styles also come into play.

David Hacker, vice president of trend and color for Kohl's, offered this tip for selecting ponchos: Create a balanced shape.

"Pair a maxi skirt with a cropped poncho to expose the hip and avoid looking too voluminous; or, wear a more traditional style, bias-cut poncho, with a pair of shorts or flare-leg denim to create an on-trend vintage-inspired style," he said.

*Monochromatic. Bright colors not for you? Dress tone-on-tone. But how about adding one bright accessory to break it up?

*Nail polish. In a word, crackle. Nails painted different colors are another popular option.

*Oxford shoes. A nice change from sneakers and ballet flats.

*Plaids. H&M, Aeropostale, Children's Place and other retailers are mad for plaid. Red, blue and green plaids are popular; girls may prefer purples and pinks.

*Quality matters. Many parents know that when it comes to items such as backpacks, it pays to buy one that will last. Test the zipper. Feel the fabric. Follow your instincts.

*Ruffles. Ruffles add charm. GapKids has a Portobello Road collection with a ruffle trench, ruffle cardigan and more.

*Stripes. Simply stated, they're everywhere, from skinny to bold. Stripes even show up on knitted blazers.

*Tribal patterns. On backpacks, wristlets, dresses, tops.

*Utilitarian. We're talking workwear-inspired pants and cargos for girls and guys in a range of hues. Also spotted: denim overalls.

Vintage. This word keeps popping up -- from bold graphic tees with vintage-style screen prints to the "Elements of Ivy" collection at abercrombie kids inspired by "vintage prep school style."

*Watches. The bigger the better. Can't be late to class.

*X-tra credit points. That's what you deserve if you keep within your back-to-school shopping budget.

*Yellow. Red. Olive. Purple. These are a few colors you'll find in canvas sneakers. Converse has a range of colors. Urban Outfitters, American Eagle and others have cotton canvas sneakers in various hues and patterns as well. You'll see both low- and high-tops. Canvas slip-ons are another option.

*Zip-up hoodies. Last here but first on many back-to-school lists. Available in solids, stripes or graphic prints, hoodies are a wardrobe staple and key layering piece.