US Back-to-School 2017, Part 5: Top Apparel and Accessories Trends



This is the fifth and final part of our US Back-to-School 2017 series of reports. Here, we focus on five apparel and accessories trends that are impacting the back-to-school shopping season:

  • The denim trend continues to be strong for back-to-school 2017.
  • Popular sneakers for this school year are modern takes on classic designs.
  • Backpacks are making bold statements, and the mini packs a punch.
  • Students are expressing their personalities with graphic, embellished tops.
  • Back-to-school 2017 is all about accessorizing and DIY personalization.

US Back-to-School 2017, Part 5: Top Apparel and Accessories Trends

The back-to-school season is big business, especially for apparel and accessories retailers. According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF’s) annual back-to-school survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, back-to-school spending in the US is estimated to reach $83.6 billion this year. Of that total, back-to-school shoppers plan to spend:

  • $10.2 billion on clothing (which 95% of survey respondents plan to purchase)
  • $8.8 billion on electronics such as computers and calculators (which 60% of respondents plan to purchase)
  • $5.6 billion on shoes (which 93% of respondents plan to purchase)
  • $4.9 billion on school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes (which 97% of respondents plan to purchase)

Back-to-school 2017 apparel and accessories trends are all about students expressing their individuality and personality. According to the NRF survey, 65% of back-to-school shoppers say half or more of their purchases are a direct result of their children’s influence. The majority of students heading back to school this fall are Gen Zers, who were born in the year 2000 or later and tend to place a good deal of importance on their appearance and individuality.

This year’s must-have apparel trends for school range from classic sneakers to individualized T-shirts, bold mini backpacks and “no rules” denim. Hot school accessories this year include emoji erasers and do-it-yourself (DIY) school supplies that allow students to express their personality.

According to video advertising company Zefr, YouTube is one of the biggest sources of back-to-school inspiration for Gen Zers. YouTube videos featuring influencers who offer back-to-school product suggestions, photos, style inspiration and DIY school supply ideas have racked up millions of views.

In this report, we explore the five trends in clothing, footwear and accessories that characterize the 2017 back-to-school season.


1. The Denim Trend Continues to Be Strong for Back-to-School 2017

Denim has always been a back-to-school staple, and this year, it is at the top of every young fashionista’s list. Popular denim styles include distressed denim, jeggings, oversized jackets, overalls, colored denim, denim on denim and even acid-washed denim. There are no rules for denim this year, except to wear it often and with everything.

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In an article titled “47 Flawless Back-to-School Outfit Ideas,” Seventeen magazine featured patchwork denim, sporty denim on denim, paper-bag-waist denim (another big back-to-school trend) and mismatched denim looks.

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American Eagle Outfitters continues to innovate its denim collection and show that it is serious about the category. The company offers 12 denim styles: Jeggings, Hi-Rise, Skinny, Mom Jean, Tomgirl, Vintage Hi-Rise, Hi-Rise Slim, Hi-Rise Straight, Boot, Flare, Favorite Boyfriend and Crop.

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American Eagle Outfitters also offers denim by fit, size, wash, color, destruction, rise, stretch, fabric and fabric effect. This focus on denim has paid off for the retailer, which has credited denim for positive comps in men’s and women’s bottoms. The company said that jeans achieved record first-quarter sales and that driving sales of bottoms, including denim, was a key component of its back-to-school strategy for 2017.

Within the overall denim trend, oversized, slouchy denim jackets are particularly popular. These are often worn off the shoulder, long and loose, even if it leaves the wearer with cold shoulders. Retailer Forever 21 is featuring many denim jacket variations, mostly faded and distressed styles. For men, the company offers 38 denim jacket options.

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The only rule for denim this back-to-school season is that anything goes.


2. Popular Sneakers for This School Year Are Modern Takes on Classic Designs

It is no surprise that sneakers are popular back-to-school shoes. This year, the hottest styles are modern takes on classic designs. Matt Powell, VP of Industry Analysis at The NPD Group, said that classics, lifestyle running and casual athletic will remain the strongest growth categories for back-to-school footwear. In a blog post titled Sneakernomics: Athletic Footwear and Activewear Back-to-School 2017 Predictions, Powell predicted that performance footwear sales will remain soft this back-to-school season.

Adidas is the go-to back-to-school shoe brand. The company’s Originals line is a consumer favorite, with updated classics that incorporate new materials and continued collaborations with celebrities. Adidas management reported on the company’s August 3 earnings call that it is seeing growth in three new styles, the NMD, Tubular and EQT, which use innovative fabrics such as primeknit, mesh and shoe socks. Management said on the earnings call that the “Neo business grew 45%, reflecting more than 50% improvement in footwear.”

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At the Adidas 2017 Investor Day event, we heard that innovation is fundamental to the company’s development and that Adidas has devised an “open source” strategy that is grounded in collaboration. The company uses its consumer base as creators and collaborates with celebrities, athletes and musicians. Collaborations include the Yeezy Boost with Kanye West and the Tennis HU with Pharrell Williams. The Tennis HU launched earlier this spring and is an update on the classic Stan Smith tennis shoe, with modern materials and primeknit uppers. According to Euromonitor International, Adidas has 2,800 of its own retail locations and 50 e-commerce sites, and is progressing with plans to develop its omnichannel retail operations to ensure that the business is aligned with consumer purchase behaviors.

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US-Back-to-School-2017-Part-5-012Urban Outfitters’ entire shoe collection is devoted to inspired, classic looks. The retailer sells a sneaker collection by Vans called Old Skool and also offers selections by Adidas, Puma suede sneakers with platform soles, original Tretorns and Nikes, New Balance nylon sneakers, and Converse Chuck Taylor All Star ’70 Vintage Canvas high-top and mid-top sneakers. According to Google Trends, “Chuck Taylor All Stars” searches are currently at an all-time high.

US-Back-to-School-2017-Part-5-013Vans Slip-On sneakers are a growing trend, based on social media buzz and online search patterns over the past three months, according to Trendalytics, a merchandise intelligence platform that tracks trends. Online searches for “Vans Slip-Ons” are up 35% compared with last year.




3. Backpacks Are Making Bold Statements, and the Mini Packs a Punch

Mini backpacks are another big trend this back-to-school season, inspired by celebrities such as Kendall Jenner, the Kardashians, and Bella and Gigi Hadid carrying luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Prada. The mini backpack is trending up by 82% online compared with last year, according to Trendalytics. The trend has grown over the past three months, according to social media buzz and online search patterns, reflecting high seasonality: the number of searches for mini backpacks accelerated in July and peaked in August.

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Forever 21 has an entire page on its website dedicated to mini backpacks, including the Fuzzy Heart Clear Mini, the Faux Fur Mini and the Structured Mini. The minis on offer are bold and expressive, and are made with metallics, faux fur, vinyl, velvet and leather. Some even have animal faces. Zara’s mini backpacks include faux fur–covered packs that look like mini monsters, ones that say “girl” and are embellished with pom-poms, and others with a patch that reads “cutie.”

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Embroidery and embellishments are big back-to-school 2017, trends, too. Many backpacks this year are not only made from interesting materials, but also feature embroidery, metallic studs, pearls or patches.

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According to Trendalytics, the Alexander Wang, Fendi, River Island and Mansur Gavriel brands were the top brands referenced by social media influencers in posts related to backpacks over the July 20–August 20 period. The top mini backpack brands referenced over the same period included Fjällräven, MCM, Marc Jacobs, Fendi and Alexander Wang.

The main takeaway is that students are demanding mini backpacks that make a bold statement this school year.


4. Students Are Expressing Their Personalities with Graphic, Embellished Tops

In back-to-school fashion, making a statement is not confined to backpacks, as nearly every major retailer has a section devoted to graphic tees. For example, J.Crew, Zara, The Gap, The Children’s Place, Old Navy and H&M all feature fun and festive tees that enable kids to express themselves. The shirts feature graphics that range from smiley faces to skateboards, rainbows, sneakers and karate.


Some popular tees feature glitter, sequins, expressions, words or colors that enable kids to express their personality without saying anything. There are fun tops in every price range, color and size for students this back-to-school season.


5. Back-to-School 2017 Is All About Accessorizing and DIY Personalization

Expressing one’s individuality goes beyond shopping for off-the-shelf products. This year, students are finishing their fashion looks with add-on accessories and DIY personalization. Backpack “flair” is a huge trend, and many kids are adding embellishments to their backpacks to show off their personality. Pom-poms, fur clips, tassels, emojis, key chains, lipglosses, Rubik’s Cubes and pins are just some examples of the accessories that kids are attaching to their backpacks for extra fun as they head back to school this year.

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Students are accessorizing and personalizing everything from planners to notebooks, pouches, pencils, gel pens and binders this season. Retailers such as Target and Office Depot have special back-to-school displays with pencil toppers and emoji erasers throughout their stores. In addition, students can watch DIY videos online to learn how to create their own pins, pencil holders and notebook covers.

Tweens and high schoolers are even personalizing their lockers with special shelving, chandelier mirrors and rugs to make them unique. YouTube influencers are also helping to inspire and influence back-to-school product trends: according to Think With Google, Entrepreneur magazine and eMarketer, there was a 100% increase in views of back-to-school videos on YouTube from 2016 to 2017. Social media influencer LaurDIY uploaded a Back to School Supplies Haul 2017 video that has been viewed more than 2.1 million times on YouTube. She is just one example of many YouTube stars who provide informational videos and DIY tutorials on fun new products and projects.

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Key Takeaways

  • Denim continues to be a strong back-to-school trend, with retailers such as American Eagle Outfitters innovating and growing sales in the category with new styles and fit selections. There are no rules for denim this year, and students are wearing it in every iteration and combination, including denim on denim, oversized jackets, patchwork styles, distressed denim, and overalls and skirts.
  • For back-to-school 2017, students are choosing classic-inspired sneakers with a modern twist. Adidas is a go-to brand, and its Originals line is a favorite that features updated classics using new materials and collaborations with celebrities. Vans Slip-Ons and Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars are also trending up this season. Sneakers are less about performance this school year and more about casual style.
  • The mini backpack trend is bold. Students are carrying minis made from nearly every material imaginable, including faux fur, metallic fabric, vinyl, leather and animal print fabric. The trend was inspired by celebrities carrying luxury mini backpacks by Louis Vuitton and Prada. Many bags are also embellished with studs, pearls, floral appliques or embroidery.
  • Students are expressing their personalities with graphic tees this back-to-school season. Gen Xers are happy to express their identity through tops that incorporate glitter, sequins, words, colors, animals and emojis. Nearly every major retailer is offering top options at almost every price range, and in a variety of colors and sizes.
  • Back-to-school 2017 is also all about add-on accessories and DIY personalization. Backpack flair is a huge trend, and kids are adding embellishments to their backpacks to show off their personality. Many are also turning to DIY tutorial videos to help them personalize their notebooks, lockers and school supplies.