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Back to school in high style for les enfants

The school bell rings early in September. Children will soon be back from the beach, trudging though stores and shops with Mama to replenish school wardrobes.

"My, how you've grown!" echoes in children's ears. Last year's pants and skirts are all far too short, too tight, and definitely slated as hand-me-downs for a younger brother or sister. There may be relatively few tears and tantrums on these shopping excursions, for juniors are acquiring more say in the choice of their raiments. Trying to impose an adult's taste on a French child is comparable to making a high fashion mannequin parade down the runway in an old gunny sack.

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Nothing is getting any cheaper in France. Children's clothes, on the average , cost from 10 to 15 percent more than last year and often are priced almost as high as adult fashions. One may reason that there is less fabric involved, but the Printemps department store buyer explains that kids' sizes necessitate far more labor and intricate sewing, which cancels out any savings on fabric costs.

Children merit their own enormous professional wholesale salon held twice a year at the Porte de Versailles exposition halls. The February showings feature all the back-to-school clothes now retailing in the shops, while the September salon concentrates on summer and vacation togs for children between the ages of two and 12.

The Printemps store wons the Prisunic chains throughout France. As the counterpart of Woolworth's in England and the United States, it features quality low-priced merchandise and, in paris at least, probably the world's rudest sales staff. Both Printemps, the "mother" store, and the Prisunic have their own specialized designers adn manufacturers. While many of the trends have much in common, the Prisunic comes out way ahead with the most advantageous prices.

Three dominant ideas prevail in the current lines for Lilliputians: "Old England," active sportswear looks, and folklore from the far north.

British influence coincides with all the hoopla of the royal wedding in London this summer, though French designers had evolved their versions of many of the traditional classics on their own before the engagement announcement last February. Here are all the kilts and tartans, argyle patterns, lodens and tweeds, knickers, Irish sweaters, and Scottish berets. Styles are equally good for small boys and have a frequent nod to "Little Lord Fauntleroy" thrown in for good measure.

Speaking of England, the genuine imports are right here at Marks & Spenser, the Paris branch of the well-known British chain that has scored such a superhit with the French since it opened here a few years ago. Lambswool and Shetland sweaters made in Britain cost less than comparable French-made knits though are still priced higher than in London. Import duties have also increased, and a cardigan that costs 200 francs in Paris sells for $:13 in London.

Trends from active sportswear very similar to their British counterparts. "Le Training" outfits are just as important for everyday wear-and-tear as they are for actually batting that ball around the school playground. There are jogging suits, sweatshirts, gym pants, one-piece overalls, parkas, blousons, and duffle coats, all in sturdy, hard-wearing fabrics often waterproofed as an additional bonus.

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Many French elementary schools trundle the entire class off to the mountains in January or February to combine skiing with schoolwork, so clothes that can double for duty in the snow as well as the classroom in the city are becoming progressively more popular.

Even if the small fry don't actually make it to the Alpine slopes this coming winter, they'll often turn up in a variety of gear that traces its origins to Scandinavia and regions of the far north. It's a tall tale of folklore galore. Typical jacquard knits and patterns abound with reindeer, snowflakes, and detailed geometrics.

Finally, almost everything comes through in a blaze of strong primary colors -- bright, heartwarming hues destined to make every schoolroom appear almost as festive as a Mardi Gras carnival.

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