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 colours have evolved this season into accessories, beauty products and outerwear. There are still the T-shirts, coloured 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 colour: colour on colour, colour back to neutrals. Neons are just one of the amazing colour 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 colour."
He adds, "The children have a sense of humour 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 colours work surprisingly well in snow gear, particularly fleece, which often is done in one colour 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.
"You have to choose the colour that looks good on you. That funny off-green is definitely an important colour but it's not for everyone. But all the colours for teens are very popular so you can find one."