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From ‘jorts’ to clear backpacks, US back-to-school spending to hit record high this year

By Kailyn Rhone

(Reuters) - See-through backpacks and jean shorts are among the popular last-minute purchases ahead of the new school year, several retailers said, as heat waves sweep the U.S. and security concerns grow at many middle- and high schools.

Though U.S. student debt repayments will resume on Oct. 1, straining many Americans' budgets, 2023 is expected to be the most expensive back-to-school shopping season yet. The National Retail Federation, a retail trade group, predicts spending will surpass $135 billion, an increase of more than $24 billion from last year.

"Despite any financial economic challenges, consumers are finding a way to buy the products and services they want,” said Chip West, a retail and consumer behavior expert at Vericast.

Jorts, denim jean shorts, "are the trend that never seems to die,” said Melissa Cohen, former vice president of production at Polo Ralph Lauren and founder of MBC Consulting Solutions. “They are unquestionably one of the hottest apparel items for teens and tweens.”

Social media influencer Nikki Mcneri from Georgia also links the rise of jorts to the weather. "People don't want to stop wearing their perfect jorts of the summer and the weather is still hot.” Mcneri has bought jorts from thrift stores or Urban Outfitters with prices ranging from $5 to $90.

The U.S. experienced record-breaking temperatures this summer, sparking forest fires, water shortages and a rise in heat-related hospital admissions. Scientists have linked the extreme weather to human-induced climate change.

The popularity of transparent backpacks this year is linked to security concerns of children carrying weapons, as a small but growing number of U.S. schools are requiring them.

“The larger the school, the more they are needed,” said Leslie Sparacello, a school superintendent in Austin, Texas, whose former school required clear backpacks. “The problem seems to be that the plastic is not as durable as the other materials," she said, adding some schools prefer mesh.

Clear backpacks available on Amazon.com's marketplace are priced starting at $9.97, according to its website.

Calvin McDonald, CEO at Lululemon, an athletic apparel company based in Canada, said on Thursday that bags were among the top sellers this quarter without specifically mentioning clear book bags. Its Clear Backpack Mini, priced at $68, was "sold out" online in the U.S. as of Friday, according to its website.

Major retailer Walmart said back to school items were selling "ahead of plan" during its most recent quarter through July. A spokesperson said Walmart has recorded an increase in demand for clear backpacks in the last two back-to-school seasons, specifically in Texas, Florida and Mississipi. The company has a separate section for clear backpacks under its backpack category starting at $4.89.

Even in schools that do not regulate see-through backpacks, transparent pouches are a big trend as they are more portable from class to class, said expert West.

On Tuesday, Matthew Bilunas, chief financial officer at Best Buy, said demand for electronics was "a little better than we expected," adding that back-to-school shopping is "running a little longer and a little later into the season."

Nearly 70% of back-to-shoppers surveyed in August said they were likely to pick up electronics such as laptops and computer-related accessories, according to the NRF.

(Reporting by Kailyn Rhone; Editing by Josie Kao)