Trend Talk: JCPenney Design Expert Highlights Top Back-to-School Trends

A new school year represents a fresh start for teens and kids to reinvent their personal style. At JCPenney, we have the top trends and styles they want – at prices that parents will appreciate. We sat down with Elizabeth Melley, vice president of children’s and men’s product development, design and trend, to break down the hottest looks this back-to-school season.

JCP: Let’s start by talking about what the top trends are for the 2018 back-to-school season. What can we expect to see at JCPenney?
EM: Denim is a back-to-school staple and I think we’ve done a great job of interpreting what students are looking for in their ultimate pair of jeans. In juniors, styles will be focused on high-waist, ankle lengths, clean (not destructed) finishes, black washes and exposed button fly’s. For girls, we have age-appropriate denim trends including stretch, embroidery, embellishments, destruction, jean jackets and cuffed and cropped hems. Teen guys and boys will find similar denim trends featuring destruction, cuffed and cropped hems as well as black washes.

We also identified a big trend that we’re calling the “New 90s.” As you can imagine, this includes lots of high-waist jeans, oversized jean jackets, color blocking and cardigans for girls and juniors. Teen girls will also find denim skirts, plaid shirts, mini-skirts and cropped tees. For teen guys and boys, we have retro stripes, checkerboard patterns, retro logos, track suits and more color blocking.

“Throwback Varsity” is another fun trend featured throughout our teen and kids’ departments identified by preppy stripes, sporty graphics and retro-style script details. Varsity-style shirts are big for all ages featuring stripes and numbers and, of course, the classic varsity jacket is a must to complete this sporty style.

JCP: How do you choose the trends for the back-to-school shopping season? What was your inspiration?
EM: We do a lot of research to make sure that we choose the most popular trends for the back-to-school season. Our trend teams are incredibly talented – and quite stylish themselves. They look at runways, work with trend forecasting groups, observe street styles, pay attention to pop culture and follow the fashions worn by celebrities and influencers. Social media is a great source of inspiration and our teams are continually plugged in to keep a pulse on what’s trending. From all of this research, we can identify patterns, predict what will be popular and apply these trends to our JCPenney private brands.

JCP: How do you interpret trends for kids and teens at JCPenney? How will the trends be represented in stores?
EM: We interpret the same trend differently for each brand and age group. For example, side stripes are a big trend this back-to-school season, so you will see them on Arizona girls denim skirts and Arizona boys hoodies and joggers but we’ll alter the stripe to fit the sporty, performance fabric in Xersion kids. If we notice, for example, that donuts are a new food craze on Instagram, we may make a donut graphic t-shirt for teens but add sequins or glitter to a version for little girls.

Our biggest trends are featured on mannequin statements throughout the store. We’re also calling out trends in a bigger way with signage and graphics. We want to make it easy for her to identify what’s stylish, while creating an inspirational environment.

JCP: What color palette can we expect for back-to-school?
EM: Back-to-school fashion is a mix of rich colors.

For teen guys, we have a big black and red statement. We started noticing these colors in fall runway shows last year and we’ve seen it trickle down through stores and ad campaigns. This color combination plays well with our color blocking trend and complements a lot of our streetwear inspiration, specifically our checkerboard pattern and camo statements.

For teen girls, yellow and gold are the top fashion colors, followed by lavender. The blush, dusty pink and burgundy color family will also continue to be an important story.

JCP: Do you have any tips for how moms can maximize their budget when buying for kids this back-to-school season?
EM: We have so many great deals at JCPenney that allow Mom’s budget to go a really long way. Don’t be afraid to mix and match between brands and categories. Active wear and sportswear trends are blending together so an Xersion yoga pant can be worn with an Arizona top for an on-trend, effortless look. A flannel shirt can be worn with jeans one day and then tied around the waist with sweatpants the next for a completely different vibe.

We’ve also put an incredible emphasis on making it easier for moms of younger kids to shop by featuring coordinating tops and bottoms on the same fixture. It’s super easy for mom to grab an entire outfit quickly, and because she’s at JCPenney, she’s confident that it’s both high-quality and affordable.

JCP: What else should we know about back-to-school fashion at JCPenney?
EM: We have completely remixed our biggest private brand, Arizona Jeans Co., and it looks better than ever. Over the past year, we began conducting focus group meetings with real teens to get their thoughts on product samples, what they wear to school, what they wear on the weekends, what trends are popular with their friends and what they want to see when shopping. Our talented in-house design team is quickly able to make changes to our Arizona assortment based on ongoing, real-time feedback and this has been so valuable.

Check out our gallery below for key looks this back-to-school season. To download high-res images, please visit our 2018 back-to-school look book.