Spending on school clothes is on track to meet last year’s $37bn record, with inflation the key driver. This has led to retailers like Primark freezing prices of kidswear to support consumers as the cost of living crisis accelerates.
The challenging landscape makes it more essential for retailers to nail back to school offers. This report looks at the most dominant schoolwear trends stocked across UK retailers ahead of the trading period.
Need expert support on your back to school strategies? Reach out to one of our dedicated Retail Strategists.
Bottoms – Retailers are providing solutions to the quick turnover of children’s schoolwear, integrating grow-proof strategies like adjustable waists and extendable hems.
Dresses – While newness targets traditional fall pinafores, the overall in stock assortments maintain a majority proportion of gingham dresses, reflecting retailers attempts to balance stock during a period of historically unpredictable weather.
Tops – Despite a small YoY drop in products in stock, polo shirts still remain a dominant area of focus for brands ahead of the key BTS period. Breathable 100% cotton compositions dominate retailer and consumer preferences.
Footwear – Despite their obvious lack of practicality, patent aesthetics account for 30% of all school footwear in stock, of which the majority can be attributed to girlswear options.
Accessories – Backpacks and drawstring rucksacks are positioned as a majority of retailers as a gender-neutral schoolwear accessory, utilizing abstract tie-dye patterns and unisex licenses like Minions.
Skirts are the most dominant bottoms category for girlswear, accounting for 44% of intake with an assortment overwhelmed by winter hues of grey, black and navy. ‘Pleated,’ ‘flippy’ and ‘skater’ silhouettes account for 74% of these. New Look’s tennis shape used the growing interest in the sport to reframe a classic box-pleated style, while Matalan introduced a more casual button-front design reminiscent of non-uniform aesthetics.
Retailers employed innovative techniques within trousers to extend the lifespan of the shapes, modifying waist sizes and hem lengths. At Marks & Spencer, 3cm extra room can be added to both areas by unpicking the stitching, while Studio integrated an adjustable hidden waistband.
Gingham & Pinafores
A fragmented dress assortment reflects retailers’ tussle with the unpredictability of British weather, with shapes in stock arriving in the last three months favoring grey pinafores, while the overall assortment maintains a 65% proportion of gingham summer styles. Recent investment at Matalan sees the retailer attempt to unite both aesthetics, working a belt and box pleats into a selection of gingham designs.
Easy Dressing & Adaptive Shirts
Retailers show consideration for the difficulties young pupils face getting ready for school, addressing dexterity challenges with specially modified designs. At Matalan, riptape fastenings are used instead of buttons for sizes 4-8 years, while Tu at Sainsbury’s Dress With Ease pack integrates elasticated cuffs. Marks & Spencer is the only retailer to stock adaptive schoolwear currently, removing ‘itchy internal labels’ for customers with sensory issues.
Despite a YoY reduction of 10% in the number of options, the sporty shape is the second largest tops subcategory in stock. 100% cotton compositions dominate 65% of current intake, a lightweight, breathable choice for the sporty shape that also accounts for 88% of majority SKU sell outs in the subcategory this year.
Retailers are welcoming experimental cardigan designs as part of newness this year, embellishing with details like bows, scalloped trims and decorative buttons. Among new in cardigans at New Look, a cropped hem cardigan proved a directional step too far, sitting as the only silhouette having arrived this year to have received a first discount.
30% of school footwear in stock featured ‘patent’ as a descriptor, of which 70% of designs fall within retailer’s girlswear assortments. Though patent aesthetics are largely associated with premium pricing, models maintain the same majority price bucket as non-patent styles, of £45-£50.
Of school shoes in stock to arrive this year, 62% feature strap fastenings. Designs within the boyswear assortment are reflective of the vast influence of sneakers, with newness over the last month including a Clarks x Pokémon ‘school-ready sneaker,’ which includes sporty rip-tape fastenings, elastic laces and a ‘grippy rubber sole.’
Marvel at Matalan & Kickers at Studio
Presiding over the accessories assortment with 60% of current intake, retailers continue to place importance on functional backpacks and drawstring bags. Patterned designs out-stock plain, with aesthetics spanning film and gaming licensing, classic motifs like dinosaurs and unicorns, and abstract tie-dye patterns. Peacocks is the only retailer to fail to utilize the gender-neutral capacity of this accessory, adding gender suggestions in the product names of 75% of its stock.
Matalan dominates the current school hair accessories space, providing an expansive assortment of hair bows, Alice bands, bobbles and clips. Uniform hues of forest green, dark navy and red are most popular for the impending fall term in September, while lighter summer options of pink and baby blue show advertised discounts of up to 50%.
Peacocks & Matalan
Enjoyed this report? Don’t forget to sign up for our weekly Insider Briefing for more news and analysis.