Neon heads back to school

Highlighter hues fuel looks for students, from tops and skirts to shoes, jewelry

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photoThe Children's Place A camel sneaker with orange neon laces and a navy sneaker with green neon laces.
photoLia Sophia A Parfait Leather Bracelet
photoLia Sophia Birthday party earrings, part of the Sisters collection
photoThis product image released by The Children's Place shows an orange neon skirt. Unlike so many looks that trickled down from the designer runways into mass retailers and into teenagers' closets, the almost electrifying shades of pink, green, yellow and orange have been hanging out in high school hallways for a while. And they're back again for the new school year.(AP Photo/The Children's Place)
photoThe Children's Place A neon yellow tank top and a neon orange skirt.

Neon is a fashion trend that might be best suited to the cool kids -- or real kids.

Unlike so many looks that trickled down from designer runways to mass retailers and into teenagers' closets, the almost electrifying shades of pink, green, yellow and orange have been hanging out in high school hallways for a while. And they're back again for the new school year.

"Teens stayed with neon because for them, it's so easy to wear. It taps into youth, emotion and standing out, which they like doing," says Seventeen senior fashion editor Marissa Rosenblum.

The highlighter colors have evolved this season into accessories, beauty products and outerwear. There are still the T-shirts, colored jeans, hoodies and athletic apparel, but Rosenblum says the way to wear neon is as a single bright pop, not head to toe. (It's probably a safe bet that lots of pint-sized athletes will buy into the bright footwear that has made Nike's track and field sneakers one of the most buzzed-about looks of the Olympics.)

"This is the season of color: color on color, color back to neutrals. Neons are just one of the amazing color trends that are important right now," says Anu Narayanan, vice president of women's merchandising for Old Navy.

She'd like to see mint green jeans with a yellow neon tank with a gray cardigan. "Neon looks best as a surprise within a look."

For its largely grade-school customer, The Children's Place will pair neon with navy as the cooler weather moves in. The brand started introducing neon through bright accents for its summer products but "you'll see even more for the holidays," says TCP senior vice president of design Michael Giannelli. "And it will continue into the spring and probably into next fall. … We grabbed onto it because we have more freedom in kidswear to play with bright color."

He adds, "The children have a sense of humor about their clothes."

Elena Klam is creative director and co-owner of the jewelry brand Lia Sophia, which is launching a fashion jewelry collection called Sisters aimed at the tween and teen set. It includes neon, preapproved by Klam's teenage daughters and their friends.

"They can be a tough crowd. They're changing all the time, reinventing themselves all the time, trying new things. It's an age of experimentation, but they're also a part of the population who knows what's going on," she says. "They're very savvy."

If everyone is wearing neon, they'll also want it for their accessories, says Klam, adding that schools with strict dress codes will likely allow superbright friendship bracelets or earrings. Her uniform-wearing girls don't get a lot of variety in their school-day clothes, so "they change up their jewelry for a little bit of self-expression."

She expects neon citrus yellow-green to be particularly popular with kids and -- as with everything -- neon pink. "You don't have to be the 'pink girl' when it's neon. That has a bit of an edge to it," Klam says.

Neon, however, isn't just a chick thing. Giannelli points to the 1980s, when it was a staple in every kid's wardrobe, and he says the skater-snowboarder-surfer look has brought brights back into favor for boys. "Skater kids and surfer dudes are wearing bright pinks and deep purples, and they're also getting into orange and banana."

These colors work surprisingly well in snow gear, particularly fleece, which often is done in one color and trimmed in another, Giannelli says.

Neon hues are probably more traditional for warmer months -- and that's what makes them so fresh for fall, says Old Navy's Narayanan. Each year, it seems there are deep shades of brown and purple in stores, but shoppers might not have seen them with a top that has neon pink, she says. "The rules are out the window."

A word of caution, though, from Rosenblum: You might need to be a little more selective about a neon shade than you would a neutral.