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Back to school shopping, from the trendy to the essential 

Back to school requires shopping for the essentials

Back to school requires shopping for the essentials no matter where your child's fall learning will take place. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/FamVeld

Back to school this year may be fraught with uncertainty, but retailers have addressed what is annually a booming shopping season by scaling back on fashionable clothes and putting the emphasis on comfortable basics that can straddle the divide between home and school. For parents, the focus leans sharply toward protecting their kids from germs. While they’re significantly paring down on that big back-to-school shopping spree, one thing hasn’t changed: Kids grow, so some shopping is a must. 

And yes, while there are trends this season — comfortable, casual clothes with an inordinate amount of tie-dye thrown into the mix — it’s all a little different. 

At Lester’s in Greenvale, the shopping shift is palpable. Hottest item in the store? “Masks,” says Jill Oralevich, the divisional merchandise manager of the chain. “I’m selling thousands of them.” Beyond that, she says, “Customers are taking a more conservative approach to buying because there’s so much uncertainty right now … They’re gravitating to a more casual lifestyle though they still have an interest in wanting to purchase newness.”

The pandemic has changed the shopping habits for Cara Perry, 43, of Sands Point, a mother of four including 12-year-old twins, a 13-year-old, and a 14-year-old. “After last year, you realize how much you don’t need. I bought so much stuff they stopped wearing in March when schools closed — it was a waste. I’m going to tone it down and keep it simple — T-shirts, sweatshirts, comfortable jeans and sneakers.” On the flip side, Perry will amp up her stock of basic hygiene products. “In each of their backpacks — if they even have backpacks — they’ll have hand sanitizer, extra masks and Clorox wipes.”

So, what to buy? Here’s a look at back-to-school essentials whether at home or in school that can help keep it fun, comfortable … and most importantly, clean.     

Bento box

Lunchboxes can be all kinds of cute, but this season we want one that can be plunked in the dishwasher (top rack) like this colored, leakproof bento box by Yumbox Panino that features an easy-open latch that can help make lunch a creative affair with it’s four individualized compartments; $28 at LL Bean, Smith Haven Mall and

Later gaiter 

In lieu of the standard face mask, some prefer the gaiter which can sit around your neck bandanna style and be pulled over the nose and mouth. The Top Trenz gaiters modeled here by twins Kayla and Abby Glassberg, 6, of Smithtown (whose father Jamie Glassberg owns the Ronkonkoma-based company) are made of a breathable stretch poly blend, come in 14 different designs and are good for warmer weather; $12 at and area boutiques. 

Fruit-scented pens

Six fruit-scented gel pens topped by silicon charms add a mouthwatering aroma to schoolwork; $9.99 by Yoobi at Target and

Lap desk

Schoolwork is happening in all kinds of places these days and this handy lap desk functions in tight spots as a comfortable place to operate your computer and features a built-in carrying handle to bring it wherever learning takes you this year; $59.99 by Honey-Can-Do at Kohl’s and

Fun sanitizer cases 

Pack a small hand sanitizer in this sweet unicorn sanitizer case to remind your young one to use it; $4 at Target stores and

Handy holder

Keep two masks at the ready with this cute pouch that features an interior divider to keep masks separate and an easy-to-clean interior lining; $10 at Ronkonkoma-based company Top Trenz ( and area boutiques. 

Inspiration pencils

Go beyond the ubiquitous yellow pencil and deter sharing (your child will know these are hers) with these #2 jobs that feature inspirational quotes, erasers and come in a clear plastic case; $4.99 for six at Target stores and

Cozy clothes

Sweatshirts and T-shirts are all part of the “new” casual during the pandemic. These deliver a gentle reminder and help keep social distancing top of mind; Sweatshirt $60, T-shirt $42 by Rock Candy at and Lester’s in Greenvale. 

Clean machine

Phones can pick up germs everywhere, so this handy wireless charging hub fits most phones and utilizes a UVC light to sanitize; $39.95 by Vie Oli at Urban Outfitters Roosevelt Field and

Touchless keys

Colorful hooks can be used to open doors and punch keys — a good substitute for gloves when trying to stave off germs; $15 at and Lester’s in Greenvale.   

Modern Mickey

A cool spin on the ubiquitous tie-dye trend, this round neck Mickey Disney print is fun and comfy in 50% ecologically grown cotton; $25.90 at Zara Roosevelt Field and

Printed masks

Encourage mask wearing for the younger set with a unisex, two-layer, washable tiger print face mask that features back ties for a custom fit; $15 at Bloomingdale’s, Roosevelt Field and Walt Whitman and at Or a sports-themed mask (pictured) worn by Logan D’Elia, 10, of Bay Shore; $12 at Top Trenz and area boutiques.

Plugged-in headphones

Worry-free kids’ headphones feature a built-in volume limiter that protects hearing and an over-ear design with comfy eco-leather cushions; $19.99 by JLAB at Kohl’s and

Blue light blockers

Lightweight kids' glasses offer zero magnification but powerful blue light filtering with coated lenses that filter harmful blue light emitted by mobile and fixed screens and can help reduce digital eye strain because you know one way or another your child is going to spend ample time on a computer, photo or tablet; $19.99 by ICU Eyewear at Target and

Rejiggered jeans

For those attempting to work their way out of sweatpants, American Eagle has a brand new take on jeans dubbed the AE AirFlex. What looks like standard denim boasts breathable stretch and lightweight comfort. They come in several styles for both men and women. These, the Athletic Fit, are $39.95 at American Eagle and

Beaded lanyards

Don’t leave home without it: Handmade, jewelry-like mask holders for teens and off-to-college types come in lightweight suede and feature a variety of cool beads and clip on to your mask ensuring that it’s always with you ($15 each). There’s a simpler style for little kids featuring two wooden beads (two for $20) at Nancy Sinoway Designs, Port Washington. Learn more at

Sticker pack

This massive pack of 1,700 stickers is major fun, educational and motivational with a variety of themes including farm animals, globes, wild animals, basic shapes and of course, smiley faces; $29.18 at Target and

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