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Not only do school shoes need to be cool enough so children will want to wear them, they also need to fit well so they'll be comfortable and last a busy day, and they need to offer value to win over parents who foot the bill.
AP photo by Dan Goodman
Not only do school shoes need to be cool enough so children will want to wear them, they also need to fit well so they'll be comfortable and last a busy day, and they need to offer value to win over parents who foot the bill.

1, 2, 3, 4 ... BOOTS, FLATS, CLOGS & MORE
5, 6, 7, 8 ... HOP TO THE STORE BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE

It's sneaking
up on you

Fall shoe shopping ritual
getting more fashionable

By Samantha Critchell

AP Fashion Writer

NEW YORK — The silver lining for children who aren't happy that a new year of school is just around the corner is that new stuff — clothes, accessories and supplies — is likely to come with it.

And if these children are anything like their mothers, one of the highlights will be new shoes.

But we ask more of school shoes than summer's flip-flops or sandals: School shoes need to be multi-taskers. They need to be cool enough so children will want to wear them. They need to fit well so they'll be comfortable and last a busy day, and they need to offer value to win over parents who foot the bill.

"School shoes are shoes that go with a lot of outfits," says Celeste Risimini-Johnson, who is overseeing The Children's Place expansion of its shoe collection this fall. "They need to be versatile. Children tend to gravitate to the most comfortable shoe and wear it everyday."

She adds: "The love for shoes starts early."

It's widely believed in the industry that children start influencing purchasing decisions around age 3, with girls showing a particularly keen interest. From May 2006 to May of this year, market researcher The NPD Group tallied children's shoe sales as totaling more than $5.7 billion, with the average price of $18.06 a pair. That marks a $1 billion increase in sales from only two years earlier.

Part of the growth could be attributed to more fashion-focused footwear — there certainly seem to be a lot more rhinestones, appliques and European-style designs than ever before. Also, top women's styles for the past year have favored flats, especially ballerina flats and motorcycle boots, which translate into children's shoes much easier than stilettos.

Women even have adapted patent leather and Mary Janes, both traditionally found in the children's shoe market, into their own wardrobes.

"It's a lot more fun to shop for little girls so moms and girls get a little more involved," says reports Todd Murray, director of children's brands and licensing for Brown Shoe Co. "It's an experience to share together."

He adds: "Moms tend to make more of the decisions for boys, who are not as vocal about their opinions."

Mary Janes continue to be the No. 1 back-to-school shoe for girls at Buster Brown, Murray reports, but they've been updated with a sportier bottom, contrast stitching and other decorative details. Black, brown and navy ones are consistently the favorites, he adds.

Durability

Dark colors play into the durability factor, says The Children's Place's Risimini-Johnson. "We will offer pink but the darker colors are more popular. Mom doesn't want to have to buy new shoes in a month because they look trashed."

One of her favorites of the season is a black leather boot with pink rhinestone buckles that she thinks will pass both the parent and child tests. "It's real leather and has that stretch comfort factor. It also comes in camouflage, which also is hot, but the pink rhinestones makes it really girlie and stylish."

For 10-year-old Alexandra McErlain of Wilton, Conn., her school shoe purchases are swayed by color. She's looking this season for black, silver or a sparkly pink because they'll complement the clothes in her closet. Her sister, Britt, however, wants the balance of comfort and fashion, which likely will come in the form of ballet flats. "My shoes for school can't hurt me," Britt says.

What about sneakers? "No, not sneakers for everyday. I carry them to school for gym," she says.

When the weather finally forces Paige Lester, 12, of South Salem, N.Y., out of her flip-flops, she'll put on the suede Birkenstock clogs she just bought. She's also considering ballet flats and a new pair of sneakers. "I do still get excited about back-to-school shopping," she says with a smile.

Mixing textures

At Stride Rite, one of the key fall trends is mixing textures, such as suede, patent leather and metallics, says Rachel Panetta, marketing manager at Stride Rite. "Patent leather is no longer for a dress shoe anymore, it's used to accent sneakers and for casual shoes."

There's been a recent evolution in boys' shoes, too, moving from a dressier shoe to a Euro-influenced oxford, also with a sportier bottom and contrast stitching, Murray says. The shoes are mostly black and brown but there are hints of gray, red or orange. "It's a shoe that spans a few categories. It can be casual, sporty, but not as casual as a sneaker."

For younger children, alternative closures — "magic tape" (known as the trademarked Velcro to most of us), Z-strap closures and slip-ons with elastic gores — are a key element of back-to-school shoes, according to Murray. The children can put their shoes on and take them off themselves, something they consider an accomplishment and a godsend to any parent who has several children do get out the door in the morning.

The alternative closures also keep feet squarely in their shoes and prevent children from tripping over laces.

Group gives shoes to children in need

While shopping for back-to-school shoes is a ritual for many families, plenty of others can’t afford it. And hand-me-down shoes are often worn out, don’t fit properly and can even be unsafe.

Shoes That Fit tries to change that. The non-profit works with local community groups and businesses to find schools with children who need shoes, says Lee Kane, program manager for Shoes That Fit. The children are measured and receive new athletic shoes donated by those groups, she says.

Shoes are a tough issue for many families for several reasons, she says.

“They’re expensive, kids grow out of them so fast and wear out of them so fast,” Kane says. “You can wear a used coat that’s in good shape, but used shoes are really difficult for kids.”

The group, founded in 1992 and based in Claremont, Calif., also provides clothing and other items, she says. During the last school year, the group provided more than 95,000 new items to children in need, she says.

To donate or find out how your local community group can help, call (888) 715-4333 or visit www.shoesthatfit.org.

The Associated Press

How to get a perfect school shoe fit

Some advice from Dr. Jane Andersen, a podiatrist in Chapel Hill, N.C., and a member of the American Podiatric Medical Association on how to get the best fit:

  • With the child standing up, check to see if there’s a finger’s width of room from the end of the toe to the toe box. That’s enough room to grow.

  • Check to see if the foot’s heel lifts up when the child walks. If it does, it becomes a candidate for blisters.

  • Wear new shoes with socks on the carpet at home before they hit the street. If they turn out to be uncomfortable, you can probably return them.

  • Ask children a series of questions: Does any part of the shoe poke your foot or feel too tight? Does anything feel like it’s pushing on your toes? Does it feel too stiff?

  • Most importantly, does the shoe feel comfortable?

  • Don’t pass down shoes from child to child. Not only can fungus and warts be spread this way, the supportiveness of the shoe is probably diminished.

  • Don’t expect that children’s shoes will last the whole year. Signs that it’s time for replacements include a weakening of the rounded part of the heel or if you can bend the shoe in half. “You want the midsole to be rigid enough that it doesn’t really twist,” she says

    SAMANTHA CRITCHELL,
    Associated Press Writer

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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