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Beyond uniforms: Peace, neon

Peace, love and neon. For those middle- and high-schoolers who get to choose what they wear to school, these 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.''

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