It has been suggested that students today are more fashion-conscious than students of the past. It is not uncommon for teenagers to spend hundreds of dollars on clothes, jewelry or other material goods in the effort to be accepted or keep up with the latest styles.

Are students today too materialistic? Who sets the fashion trends? Does "fashion-consciousness" affect a student's academic performance?

The girls and guys who set the fashion trends in most schools are usually those who are the most popular. These students, because they are always being watched by their peers inside and outside of their respective cliques, feel a very strong pressure to wear "the" designer labels and spend a large amount of their parents' money on an enormous wardrobe.

Many parents reluctantly loan credit cards or give large sums of hard-earned money to their kids for extravagant shopping trips. They feel guilty if their kids do not have clothes as expensive as their peers.

As a result, these students will not have learned important monetary values. Upon entering the real world as adults, the students that have been handed money without learning its value, will realize that their parents really did not do them a favor. STACY LIMBERGER High Point

High school students today are very materialistic. Often, kids base their choices of friends simply on the way they dress. Most of the time the "fashion plates" have friends who are fashion plates. It is rare to find an up-to-date dresser with a person who might have to shop at the Salvation Army.

The most popular kids set the trends for everyone else to follow. Kids see the popular people with nice clothes, so they want them too. The fashion-consciousness often affects a student's performance. It's quite easy to tell which people were honestly trying academically and failed, and which people spent the year parading through the halls.

Unfortunately, there are not enough jobs for all of us to get to be able to afford expensive clothes and that's where crime comes in. Teens get desperate to get the expensive things, so they begin to steal, shoplift, and anything else they can get away with.

Teens need to realize that it's not the clothes that make the person. No one will get hired for a job because they dress well. It is the brains -- not the clothes -- which will help us get ahead. KIMBERLY URQHART Regina

Students today are fashion-conscious, but what has changed? The styles are different and goods cost more, but people, in general, will always be fashion-conscious. Students do spend hundreds of dollars on clothes in order to be accepted and keep up with the latest styles. Not all students buy the more expensive clothes just because they want to be like everyone else, but instead because they like the styles and are comfortable wearing them.

If teenagers feel that they look good in what they're wearing, then their self image is better and they may even have better performance inside, as well as outside, the classroom. HEATHER BECKMAN Laurel

Expensive name brands in clothing and jewelry represent one thing to students: money. Anyone who can afford to buy the latest styles will set the fashion trends. Students who do not have wealthy parents may use illegal means to support their costly clothing budget. Others will attempt to shoplift. These materialistic students will display their stolen merchandise, thus fitting in to the "rich" group.

These factors contribute to a pressure situation in schools that hinders the learning process for students who do not wear the latest styles. ERIC PHELPS Laurel

Today in our society it is a stone fact that students are fashion conscious. What teen isn't? However, I don't believe that today's teens are going overboard. Every teen, in the past or the present, wants to be in the in-crowd. In the past, teenagers were going just as crazy about the latest styles and keeping up with them as teenagers do today. Teens are insecure about their appearance as it is, so to have the right clothes helps them to feel more secure about themselves.

Another stone fact; clothes are expensive today, so of course teens spend 200 dollars today on what used to cost 75 dollars. To say students today are more fashion-conscious than kids in the past is just an irrational statement made by somebody who doesn't remember how it was to be a teenager. REGINE ROMAIN Laurel

I do not believe in conforming to fashion. So naturally I would say that if students worry at all about fashion, they worry too much. Adhering to current fashion standards for the sake of acceptance is wrong.

Whatever happened to individuality? People must learn that they can be themselves and have their own opinions. A teenager spending a fortune on clothes is absurd. If most teenagers are very fashion-conscious, I'm afraid that shows that most teenagers today are very shallow.

No one needs fashion. I pay no attention to fashion (as anyone who has seen me would probably attest), and I have friends and am accepted. I'm not saying that one should make an effort just to be a nonconformist. That is just as shallow as being trendy. Wear what you like, whatever is comfortable. If it's fashionable or not, who cares? If people don't accept you, they're not worth being with. Find real people and you'll be accepted. AARUN RATH Queen Anne

In the last two years, students have become very materialistic; it has gotten so bad that the young ones are selling drugs to get the expensive clothes that the fancy, rich, hustling (drug distributing) people have. The young ones who can't get a job go to the streets for money. In school, if you don't have expensive clothes, you're considered a nerd.

Since everyone wants to be somebody, they either find a job or hustle drugs to buy the clothes, gold and fancy shoes to be fashionable. In other words, there is a fashion show being put on in school, on the streets, and just about everywhere you go now, and it's being put on by the young.

This epidemic is having a serious effect on students' academic work. Students skip school to sell drugs and make enough money for a brand name sweatsuit they want. Students sit in class and dream about the car a big-time hustler was driving. Students fall asleep in class because they've been up all night trying to sell drugs to buy a gold chain.

Fashion-consciousness is a fad that's getting students in trouble and making designers rich. STACY TUCKER Northwestern

School in this day and age has taken on a whole new meaning, becoming a social center instead of the simple educating forum of the past. This is partly due to the new emphasis on individualism and its effects on fashion.

Today, fashion is not only a statement, but a whole paragraph. Kids aren't the only ones making the judgements, though. Teachers will approach a student wearing something classic with more seriousness and understanding that to a girl in a tight black leather mini and 3-inch spike heels.

Most kids will take on a part-time job just to pay for those special outfits instead of concentrating on homework. Grades do tend to suffer.

Fashion has turned into a prerequisite to being included in a clique. There are the "go-go" people, the "trendy" people, and the list could go on and on. Peer pressure, along with slick television advertising and MTV, help to promote this obsession. Often, the most fashionable people are the drug dealers because they are the ones who can afford to spend $500 on merchandise at one time. They set the trends.

Some students are intimidated into joining the fashion train, or else are subject to ridicule and harassment. Parents find themselves paying $80 for jeans by getting a second job. No parent wants to feel responsible for their child's rejection.

What was once healthy competition and a search for self has turned into an obsessive materialistic quest that defeats its own purpose.

For now, at least, I'll stick to my old pair of jeans. HOLLY STEWART Frederick Douglass

I can't see where teenagers today are any more worried about what they wear than teenagers were in the 50s. Whether it be a poodle skirt and saddle shoes or Guess? jeans and Filas, wearing the latest styles has always been of great concern to most teenagers.

I don't believe that the way a person dresses affects their academic performance at all. If the student is comfortable in what he or she is wearing, they should be able to concentrate fully on their work and do it to the best of their ability. I understand some people can't afford to buy designer clothes and feel out of place or "lower" than someone who can. The point is, there will always be someone who has something bigger and better than you. Face it, that will never change. DENISE SOPER Friendly

When teens of today call their parents "old-fashioned," it can probably be takened in the literal sense.

As a student, I can see that most teens strive to buy the most expensive brand names to keep up with trends set by fashion models and other celebrities. Although this seems materialistic, one must look at how we students feel. I don't want to be in the outside group and unfortunately, one of the main criteria for being accepted in a "cool" clique is to dress well.

A harmful aspect of this fashion-consciousness is the effect on students' academic performance. In the time it takes to plan tomorrow's ensemble, a student could write the essay due in the first period, and the latter usually loses out.

I think it is valid to say that teenagers today are too materialistic, but can we help it if we are being brought up in a society where the amount of money one has is used to judge a person's worth? SUSAN DEGRESS Queen Anne

Being in style has always been a critical issue for teens. In my opinion, however, today's students are placing much more emphasis on fashion than those of yesterday.

One reason for this increased materialism is the fact that most parents work. Parents who spend little time with their children may try to compensate by allowing them to go out and charge great sums on clothing. Since many teenagers shop with their friends rather than mom and dad, they opt for the expensive brand name items in order to be accepted by their peers. In this way, I feel the fashion designers are the trend setters. They know teens will buy their items just because of the label.

I don't think fashion interferes with academic performance, It may make some poorer students feel inadequate, but they can excel in school just as well. LAURA CARPENTER Friendly

School is a place to learn and study, not a fashion show. When it comes to a student's academic performance, nothing as trivial as designer jeans, $100 sun glasses, or even having something just because everyone else has it, should interfere with that performance.

Today's students are taught to say "no" to drugs, and the same should should apply to those students who feel they have to have thousands of dollars worth of clothes just because their friends have them. ELIZABETH MEADE Laurel

I believe today's students are more fashion-conscious than those of the past. I also believe that they are more mature these days. Society in the past decade has changed the traditional role of the teenager. More are driving at a younger age, owning their own cars, and working to pay for many of their expenses. Fashion is definately a part of this change.

To say that students are too materialistic is hypocrytical of the adult world. With costs at their highest, it is not surprising the amount students spend on clothes. It is the world around them that sets the standards and students merely follow them. These fashion trends are set by the same sources as before, they change with the times.

Does this "fashion-consciousness" affect students' grades? I think not. Those who have bad grades do so because they do not know any better. It is an injustice to blame fashion for the academic performance of a fraction of the whole. ROBBY HOAD Friendly

"What to wear?" This seems to be an issue for all teenagers. When we are going to a special event, we pick out hundreds of clothes to wear and put on all sorts of make-up. By the time we finish deciding, the party is over.

There has to be a better way! The media tries to sell us commercial products, and we all judge ourselves and others by external appearances.

I have not seen one commercial trying to promote the idea that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Commercials say, "Buy this cream and you will look like Miss America." Advertisements tell us we must be "physically" beautiful in the eyes of others.

Yes, we are fashion-conscious because television gives us the idea that good breath, a clean face and an hour-glass figure are what we all should have. If we don't -- we're a failure.

If we spend all our time deciding whether the mini-skirt should be yellow, green or on top of our heads, it means there is less time for our studies.

The interesting thing is that if we wear make-up and Reebok tennis shoes, we're no different than the rest of society.

Advertisements and commercials set the fashion trends. Videos present the idea, as Madonna says, "We're living in a material world and I am a material girl." Television, movies and ads prey on our minds and make us believe wat they want.

Commercials might end up controlling us. Right now, they influence our minds by encouraging us to keep up with the fashion trends. LORETTE WELDON Regina "Speak Out" Topic for October 22:

In recent years, low student turnouts at ballgames, pep rallies and school dances have led many students and school administrators to believe school spirit is a thing of the past.

How would you rate your "school spirit?" Do students find school-sponsored events interesting? Why or why not? What are some ways to renew student interest and participation in school events?

Responses should be no more than 150 words in length and typed or written legibly. Political-style cartoons on the topic are welcome and should be drawn on posterboard. All submissions should include the student's name, school and grade.

Responses should be addressed to: Weekly High School Section The Washington Post 1150 15th St. NW Washington, D.C. 20071

Deadline for responses is Monday, October 12.