10 Back to School Fashion Tips for 2012

By: Kim Williamson

Teen actress Jadin Gould shows off a variety of popular back-to-school styles including skinny jeans and ballerina flats.
Teen actress Jadin Gould shows off a variety of popular back-to-school styles including skinny jeans and ballerina flats.
Michael Bezjian/WireImage/Getty Images

Like George Clooney's latest love interest or Lady Gaga's hair color, fashion trends quickly come and go. For a fashionista, it's a constant challenge, knowing what's hot, what's not and how long it will stay.

In the 70s, it was bell bottoms; the 80s brought Members Only jackets; music paved the way for flannel shirts and grunge denim in the 90's. The 21st century has been unique in that along with being a fashion melting pot, new trends are literally at your fingertips. A click on your phone or computer, and you know what celebs are wearing, which styles debuting in Milan and what's happening in your hometown.


Before we talk about what you'll see in the hallways, let's discuss some trends that will not, or at least should not, repeat. Chicago-Tribune writer Ellen Warren created a list of fashion flops that, like some Republican primary candidates, will fade in 2012:

  • Capes -- unless you're Superman, you don't need one.
  • Shorts with tights -- blending of summer and winter really doesn't work.
  • Toning sneakers -- Sketchers won't be happy to hear this, these are the lazy way of exercising.
  • Platform stilettos -- Voted the top Stupid Style pick of the year by Chicago-Tribune readers, this trend begs for an orthopedic surgeon or a clip for America's Funniest Home Videos.

So now you know what's out, here's what's in for 2012!

10: Color Your Closet

Actress Ginnifer Goodwin embraces the neon-bright trend at the 2012 People's Choice Awards.
Actress Ginnifer Goodwin embraces the neon-bright trend at the 2012 People's Choice Awards.
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Winter fashion often means neutral tones -- browns, blacks, gray and off-whites -- but for 2012, designers are jazzing things up with color, so be prepared to get blinded when you go to the mall. Tangerine, bright blues, pink and purple are just a few of the colors you'll see on the racks in 2012. Actress Ginnifer Goodwin took this style tip to heart, appearing in a hot pink dress at a celebrity event.

While you may like Goodwin's all-over splash of color, you don't have to dive into a paint can to be in style -- you can accomplish a lot by using trendy separates. Spice things up with brightly colored accessories like a belt, scarf or shoes. Colorize your ensemble by putting a bright orange sweater with your black pants or a purple oversized top with your gray leggings. Brightly colored pants (including denim) are another big fashion trend for 2012, so pair a neutral top with your eye-popping pants. Winter may be the season of snowy landscapes and gray, drizzly days, but these splashes of color will keep things radiant until we see the sun in spring!


9: Jazz it up in Jeans

You can't discuss fashion without mentioning denim, a staple that keeps reinventing itself. For 2012, skinny jeans are as popular as ever. Now, you don't have to be skinny to wear these. Skinny jeans can work with almost any figure type because they flatten and smooth out your bottom half; consider them Spanx you wear on the outside! And these skinny jeans are versatile -- long cardigans, blazers, hoodies, and that standard button-down shirt are great partners for them. As for shoes, wear flip-flops, stilettos, boots or sneakers.

Boyfriend jeans are another popular denim style for 2012. The antithesis of skinny jeans, boyfriend jeans are roomy, comfortable and casual. Since these jeans are loose and conceal more of your figure, you'll want to pair them with a slim-looking top or a fitted layered look. After all, a head-to-toe boxy look won't make you look stylish; it'll make you look like a box.


Another 2012 style that will be seen in schools everywhere is denim leggings, or jeggings. Jeggings are stylish yet comfortable -- no worries about squeezing into your favorite denims because these jeans are soft and stretchy. Like leggings, these jeans go with almost anything -- big sweaters, oversized blouses, jackets and hoodies.

For 2012, these are three options for your closet that won't steer you wrong. Another great option? Prints!

8: Get Posh With Prints!

Zooey Deschanel demonstrates a good way to pair a print skirt with a plain top.
Zooey Deschanel demonstrates a good way to pair a print skirt with a plain top.
Todd Williamson/WireImage/Getty Images

Prints are another fashion trend that is everywhere in 2012. Designers are seeing just how crazy they can go with prints, and retailers love it. Topshop is sporting abstracts, Ann Taylor has black-and-white boxes, and Edun is going tribal. Plaids, patchwork, stripes and polka dots are also appearing on everything from T-shirts and flannel button downs to rain boots and ballet flats.

The great aspect of prints is you can go all-out -- wear a block pattern shift dress or floral sundress -- or simply add a few separates to spice up your wardrobe. A tribal patterned sleeveless top with your skinny jeans, a plaid jacket with solid-colored pants, or a striped T with capris are great ensembles. Or, just choose a printed handbag. With myriad prints out there this year, there is definitely something for everyone.


7: Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize

Flip through the pages of Teen Vogue, Seventeen or InStyle, and there'll be advice on finding a knock-off of Blake Lively's purse or Kim Kardashian's earrings. Because though you might have the outfit, you still need the accessories!

Now, unlike the tabloid stars, your classmates probably aren't sporting Birkin bags or Harry Winston jewels, but in 2012, what will they be wearing?


  • Bangle bracelets, cuffs and chunky silver and gold bracelets are all the rage. Pile them on so that people can hear you coming. Whether it's a slim gold bangle or a textured, silver cuff, wristwear is in style this year.
  • Big Brooches: Channel your inner Blair (from the CW's "Gossip Girl") and add a big shiny brooch to your sweater. (Floral is a great brooch approach.) You can also add a smaller one to a black sweater or jacket, or pin on several, as long as they're concentrated in one area of your outfit.
  • Woven handbags of wicker and raffia are all the rage at design houses like Givenchy, Proenza Schouler and Emilio Pucci. Large roomy shoulder bags and brightly colored clutches are also popular.

6: Choose a Chunky Knit

Throw a big chunky sweater over a pair of leggings, like Nicky Hilton does here.
Throw a big chunky sweater over a pair of leggings, like Nicky Hilton does here.
JB Lacroix/WireImage/Getty Images

Sweater styles have long extended beyond mohair, cable-knit and cardigan; now you have ankle length coats, cropped tops, and everything in between. With skinny jeans and leggings compressing our bottom halves, it's OK to add a little weight and texture to our upper body, and big chunky sweater are the perfect way to do this.

Throw on a long, belted duster with a camisole top, leggings and your boots, and you're set for a comfy Saturday at home. A nubby, brightly colored sweater with a long tee underneath goes great with a mini or a maxi skirt; pair it with ballet flats and a layered necklace, and you've got a date look or night out with your girlfriends. For some extra flair, add faux fur at the collar and cuffs.


5: Step Out in Sleepwear

Oh yes, she did! Designer Rachel Roy wore a pair of pajamas to a movie premier.
Oh yes, she did! Designer Rachel Roy wore a pair of pajamas to a movie premier.
Michael Loccisano/WireImage/Getty Images

You know those days when you just don't want to get out of bed and get dressed? Well, now you don't have to! Loungewear as everyday clothing continues to hang around in 2012. That girl at the grocery store or the mall who is sporting plaid flannels and a T-shirt didn't forget to get dressed; she's embracing the loungewear trend.

And designers are getting in on the act. In August 2011, designer Rachel Roy sported her jammie pants with Manolo Blahniks at a movie premier. The New York fashion label and retail store Rag & Bone is another designer embracing the lounge look, and they'll have plenty of cardigan and comfy PJ bottoms displayed. Of course, for those of us who don't get to the Big Apple for our shopping needs, you can find the same looks at Old Navy, the Gap or Aeropostale.


And if you don't want your pajama pants to look too much like pajamas, there is that strange hybrid, the pajama jeans, as seen on TV.

4: Embrace Femininity

A bright lace top goes well with black pants, as worn by actress Yvonne Strahovski.
A bright lace top goes well with black pants, as worn by actress Yvonne Strahovski.
Ilya S. Savenok/FilmMagic/Getty Images

2012 is about letting your inner girlie-girl shine through. While the androgynous look of straight pants and boyfriend jeans still lives on, this year is also about ruffles and frills, sugar and spice and everything nice.

Puffy shoulders and peplums on jackets and shirts, recycled styles from the 1980s, are some examples of feminine flair that you'll see this year. In case you don't know, a peplum is a strip of fabric attached to a top and flared at the waistline. This look goes great with a skirt, pair of skinny jeans or your favorite leggings.


Continuing the girlie trend, design houses like Oscar de la Renta and Christian Dior are playing up pleats and lace, and young celebs like Lea Michele ("Glee") and Nina Dobrev ("The Vampire Diaries") are sporting lace on the red carpet, ensuring these styles will make their way to a mall near you. Pair a lace dress with tights and boots or a brightly colored lace top with black pants, and you'll be set for a date night or a movie with friends

If you follow the runways, you'll notice that design houses like Zac Posen and Alexander McQueen are embracing their feminine sides with silhouette and hourglass shaped dresses and blouses. Rather than covering up our curves, this is the year to flaunt them!

3: These Boots Were Made for Walking

Boots have been popular over the last several years, and 2012 is no different. So, if you're looking for something new in bootwear, here are just a few trends for the New Year:

  • Textures: Textured leather is a popular look. You can go big and clunky with squared-off heels or toes, sophisticated with pointed toes and kitten heels or anywhere in between. Features like shiny buckles, lace-ups and zippers add a little extra something.
  • Go colorful: As we've mentioned, color is making a splash, even on your feet -- red, purple and other brightly colored boots are on the runways. This is one trend where it pays to go the faux-leather route. Today's yellow suede boots could be tomorrow's yard-sale donation!
  • Highs and lows: Thigh-high boots are in for 2012. These boots come just over your knee, and you can pair them with a mini-skirt, leggings or skinny jeans. On the other end of the spectrum, you've got ankle boots, or booties. Whether they're flat, heeled or wedged, booties are a cute look and go great with pants.


2: New Styles for Your Noggin!

Leighton Meester wears a pretty hairband on the set of "Gossip Girls."
Leighton Meester wears a pretty hairband on the set of "Gossip Girls."
James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images

When you think fashion, you probably think from the neck down, but your head is more than just a hat rack -- it's a fashion statement. Headwear is changing in 2012, and here are some of the pieces that you'll want to peruse:

  • Beanie caps: It's no wonder that knitted caps, whether made by you, Grandma or The Gap, are a popular headwear item this year -- they tie into the I-stole-this-from-my-boyfriend look. Pull this cap over your hair, letting little tendrils show through on the sides, for a fun, flirty look that's not just for warmth.
  • Flowered Headbands: Once again, we can thank the CW's "Gossip Girl" for this fashion trend. Used by Blair Waldorf and her friends as a way to jazz up their private school uniforms, flowered headbands have gone mainstream. They brighten up your outfit and can be used for a formal occasion or a casual day out.
  • All That Glitters: In this case, it's definitely not gold; it's sparkly hair pins. Incorporating colors like gold, black or platinum, these hair pins can be worn alone or with several at a time. You can even alternate sizes. Use hairspray for a look that won't move, as you place these on the side opposite your part.


1: Finish Your Look with Fancy Footwear

Brightly colored sneakers are everywhere this year.
Brightly colored sneakers are everywhere this year.
Garry Gay/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Boots have already on our style list, but what other kicks will classmates show off in 2012?

  • Brightly colored sneakers may have you reaching for your sunglasses to cut down on the glare! Pair neon green or yellow high tops with your favorite pair of jeans and a casual cotton Tor hoodie.
  • Ballet flats are no longer just for arabesques; this fashion staple has been around for a while but has some new twists this year. Try bright patent leather in a bold red or blue to add excitement to a casual outfit or extra flare to a dressier look. Or, go jungle fever with an animal print on your prima ballerina flats. It's a stylish but understated way to embrace the prints craze (see Tip #8).
  • For those who want to bare a little more, colorful sandals make a splash in 2012. Trendy pastels like pale aqua, light yellow and rose will be in style, but the recurring fashion theme of bright, bold colors for 2012 will show in sandal wear as well. Sandals will shine with metallics, gold and silver sheens -- and don't be surprised if you see extra accents like lacing, rivets, buckles and braids.

Lots More Information

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