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Back-to-school shopping fits both mom and daughter

"How did the school clothes shopping go?" my friend asked. Apparently this was only a rhetorical question. Since she's raising teenagers herself, surely she knew how the clothes shopping had played out. "Mine was a nightmare," she admitted, as though some sad form of shopping condolence were necessary.

My daughter dragged me to three malls and prepared to wreak considerable havoc with a wallet full of credit cards and any cash I had reserved for the yearly occasion known as back-to-school shopping.

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But I ended up with a different kind of deficit. Not in the checkbook, this one was more patience-oriented. It seems the array of clothing availability for 14-year-old girls has been substantially diminished this year – though, of course, the retailers wouldn't agree.

Oh sure, we carried gobs of clothes into each store's fitting room. "Please, let something fit right," I mouthed silently as I parked on countless overstuffed benches and upholstered dressing-room chairs, organizing the piles. Hanging, zipping, buckling, and sorting through this year's selections was my job.

Every few minutes when the fitting-room door swung open and Ashley stood in the space before me modeling the next option in a long line of hopefuls, I'd smile wide-eyed and attentive, voicing my delight.

"That's cute," I said, more often that not.

But rarely did she agree.

I tried harder. "It's very flattering – slimming, attractive."

Perhaps I needed a few teen adjectives worthy of the occasion. "It's fabulous," I mustered when I really loved something. "To die for."

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Unfortunately, we left most of the garments hanging on the reject rack.

Things were too cute, too plaid, too creased, too long, too short, too funny – too Kelsey. Kelsey is a fashion-diva friend of my daughter's who wears only the most trendy, hip, and happening clothes.

You know the type. The one girl in high school who always looks as if she makes quarterly shopping trips to New York City, Paris, or Milan.

"Quit picking out those 'Kelsey clothes,' " Ashley said as I lifted yet another multi-colored mohair sweater-set off the rack and held it up for approval.

But Ashley wasn't interested in the latest tartan skirt or fringed capris.

She's much more fashion-inhibited. A jeans girl to the core. Simple skirts and plain colors, thank you. Hard-to-go-wrong-with stuff.

But this year it was the stuff that went wrong. There were wrinkles and gaps, creases and folds, and a variety of fashion faux pas hidden amid most of the clothing she tried on.

Apparently it has something to do with being young and having the excellent peripheral vision necessary for detecting these flaws.

The good news: I hardly broke the bank for this clothing spree. Three malls, a few odd shops, and a mother-daughter lunch later, Ashley had the makings of only several new outfits.

I'm sure we'll have to repeat this shopping scenario in the not-too-distant future – out of necessity. The necessity of not showing up for school naked, that is.

But I have to admit that I really won't mind another trip to the mall. Like a guilty pleasure, what captivated me most about this year's foray into the clothes-shopping arena was spending this "girlie time" with my teen.

We chatted about an endless array of mundane topics, lunched through schoolgirl giggles, grabbed lattes at the coffee counter, and collectively complained of shopping exhaustion.

As I thought back on it, the best part of the excursion came as I watched my daughter and longtime shopping companion begin to discover herself.