They're a powerful force. Most of them aren't even old enough to vote, but they carry a lot of weight in the marketplace.

The likes and dislikes of this country's 27 million teen-agers are closely studied by market researchers to help companies figure out just how to get a portion of the $80 billion that teens spend in a year.

A sizable portion of that money is spent on items related to clothing and personal products, so careful analysis is made of adolescent fashion trends.

The most significant influence on a young person's wardrobe, which all the researchers agree upon, is the music world.

"The musical tastes of teen-agers change very quickly," say Marla Friedman, manager of research services for Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU). "A lot can depend on whether or not someone has had a new album out lately and then their popularity can also go down if they're overexposed."

According to TRU's most recent teen survey, Madonna is falling out of favor, but Paula Abdul and M. C. Hammer are tops.

As M. C. Hammer has risen in popularity, his signature style of baggy pants has become widely copied by young men around the country.

Paula Abdul's influence among teens, says Ms. Friedman, is evident in the "very tight leggings and tightly fitted clothing style that is in right now."

Whatever the surveys might say, several teen experts believe Madonna remains a force to be reckoned with.

TEEN magazine fashion and beauty editor Tina Vilicich points to the growing trendiness of the cinched waist baggy pants as an example.

"Madonna was the first to popularize that look," she says "and that's what they're all wearing now and it's definitely going to be important this fall too. Kids are very away from tight denim now."

Most teen-agers receive their exposure to musical performers through television. Programming such as MTV rate tops in creating fashion trends, but awards ceremonies are also very influential among teen-agers, says Steve McLerran, marketing director for the locally based Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, which has successfully targeted the youth market for the past 20 years and now counts more than 700 stores around the country.

TV shows such as the Grammys probably have the most impact, but many teens will also be watching -- and will be influenced by -- what they see on the Academy Awards ceremonies Monday, says Mr.McLerran, who has studied teen-agers in focus groups around the country. "People who are high profile make an impression on them." These findings are also confirmed by the research of Xtreme Inc., which in its most recent survey, hypothesized that the growing popularity over the last two years Estee Lauder makeup among adolescents might be the result of its advertising campaign that features model Paulina Porizkova, who is also the wife of rock star Rick Ocasek.

Unlike their elders who must conform to corporate dress codes, this age group, says Mr. McLerran, is very concerned about not wanting to be "carbon copies."

Sure, they may all want Gap jeans but putting a personal twist on the basics gets high praise from their peers. As they would say, "It's all how you hook it up."

The desire for individuality is crucial to understanding teen trends.

"They like to have their own unique identity that classifies them as special, and as soon as another generation picks it up, they tend to reject it because they want to stand out and be important," says Ms. Friedman.

Tie-dye T-shirts suffered such a fate.

First revived by teens several summers ago, they quickly lost cachet as adults began wearing them.

While the 1960s look is still quite new for adults, says Ms. Vilicich of TEEN, for teens, "it is definitely there, but it is not the newest."

The latest silhouette, she says, is "real vintage: '40s summer sun dresses in soft, romantic floral chintzes."

*Top teen trends

* For young men -- whatever M. C. Hammer wears.

* For women -- whatever Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson and Madonna wear.

* For both -- the introduction of a variety of colors, where once only black and white were worn.

* Patriotic clothes are expected to grow through the summer, building to a peak in July.

* Sixties looks continue, but even newer for teen girls are vintage '40s sun dresses.

L * Skirt lengths, either miniskirts or very long to mid-calf.

* Replacing last summer's gold accessories are silver lame shoes and bags.

* Baggy blue jeans for both sexes, but also for women, tight Lycra dresses, tops and leggings.


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